Ken Hogan: Tribesmen have something to prove

There was a time, of course, when Galway-Tipperary had a toxic edge to it. So toxic, in fact, that a man could be endangered even when mowing his lawn.

Ken Hogan: Tribesmen have something to prove

“I live on the main Birr-Portumna road,” says Ken Hogan, laughing, “When I was playing, the people heading through to Galway would nearly drive over you if you were cutting the grass outside the house.”

Lorrha clubman Hogan barred the goal on the Tipp side that broke their famine and returned the Premier to the promised land in the late 1980s.

As a former Tipp manager himself, he sees the Tribesmen as the side with something to prove in the league final.

“It’s important to both teams, but Galway in particular. They’ve been in the picture for the last few years as potential All-Ireland champions — they were very unlucky in 2010, they won the league final and were beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final by Tipperary in injury time.

“Lar Corbett got the winner in injury time and Ollie Canning, who was a key man for Galway, had to go off injured with a couple of minutes left — Tipp went on to win that year’s All-Ireland.

“Galway have been there or thereabouts since then, in the All-Ireland final draw and replay of 2012, of course, so it’s not as though it’s a youthful team.

“There’s plenty of experience there at this stage, apart from a couple of new lads who’ve come in. There’s a lot expected of Galway — ‘which Galway team will turn up’, that sort of thing — so it’s a big game for them.

"There’s been very little between them and Tipp in recent years; Galway won by a point in 2015 and Tipp by a point last year, so the aggregate score at the moment is level.”

Hogan pays tribute to the competitiveness of the league, even if managers occasionally grumble about how narrow the margins for error are.

“It’s obvious from the last few years that teams are paying due respect to the league — a great final in 2014, the Clare-Waterford saga in the final last year — and, to be fair, Kilkenny drove much of that.

“They dominated the league in a big way when they were also dominating the championship, and you can see that continuing now, which is why Galway and Tipperary will be hungry for success in the Gaelic Grounds.

“As a manager you’re never happy anyway. No matter how it goes, both Mick Ryan and Micheal Donoghue will be looking to the championship, and the league final is like a championship game.

“For instance, Seamus Callanan is a huge loss to Tipp but Mick (Ryan) will have no qualms about giving one of the other youngsters a chance to impress, because the game will be a tough test.

"Everyone is working towards the ambition of playing championship hurling and — like the Lions selection during the week — a guy can come into contention from nowhere.

“Both managers could spring a couple of guys because they’ll be thinking, ‘If this player can survive the league final then he’ll survive come May or June in the championship’.”

For all that, Tipp remain favourites for the All-Ireland, though Hogan feels that won’t seep through to the panel.

“It suits every other county to say ‘Tipp are nailed on’, but it’s far from nailed-on within the panel because there’s so much competition for places. Seamus Callanan has been the best full-forward in hurling, for example, but John McGrath has settled in there and Seamus is playing at 15, not 14. There’s no complacency there I can see because everyone is looking over their shoulder all the time.

“Tipp management are demanding high standards from the group, and the group is a very grounded one. There was no huge fuss over the winter, nobody was going around showing off his All-Ireland medal — there was none of that.”

It might suit other counties to say Tipp are nailed on but the squad and management are well aware it’s a process: To even win a Munster title, Tipp would have to win three games, so nothing’s being taken for granted.

“It only takes one hiccup for everything to be thrown out of sync, one injury to a key player. I’m looking forward to today because even though the two semi-finals looked one-sided, Tipp had a tough physical battle with Wexford, and Galway have a powerful team.

“So do Tipp, but take the size of the Galway half-back line alone — it’s going to be a stern test for Tipp.”

Whatever the result, cutting the grass in Lorrha should be safe enough. “It’s worse now,” says Hogan. “You’d be two hours getting done, because the former Galway players all stop for a cup of tea and a chat.”

Better times, even if the lawns of Tipperary suffer as a result.

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