The 2010 All-Ireland winning captain reckons a loss, following on from their league final defeat, could dent the players’ confidence and leave them vulnerable ahead of the Round 2 tie with holders Cork.
Kelly noted that Tipp suffered an early summer dip after last year’s league final loss and said they can’t afford a repeat this time given the intensive new round-robin format.
Should Tipp finish outside the top three in Munster then they would face the nightmare scenario of concluding their Championship on June 10.
“If Tipp win down there at the Gaelic Grounds, they will have a good season,” predicted Kelly. “It’s going to be easier said than done. I think a lot hinges on that game for Tipp after the league defeat.
“There would be a bit of fear, just regarding the confidence. You’ve Cork coming to Thurles the week after. I think Tipp will be on their guard after last year. I’d expect them to win that game but a Clare team coming to Thurles, now could cause problems with their pace.
“I think a lot hinges for Tipp on this Limerick game, just for the reason that they were annihilated in last year’s league final and were very poor against Cork then.
“They only picked it up then as the season went on, but you don’t have time to pick it up now. You don’t have the luxury of maybe a lesser team coming to town. So I think it’s a massive game for Tipperary. If they come out of the Gaelic Grounds with a point, a draw, I’d be very happy. Obviously, they’re going for the win, but you just don’t want to lose that game.”
Kelly said he’s in the dark about what Tipp team will take to the field on Sunday despite the game being just days away.
That’s partly down to the fact that Michael Ryan handed game time to a large number of players, 36, throughout their eight league games. Three different goalkeepers — Paul Maher, Brian Hogan and Darragh Mooney — all started games, Seamus Callanan missed the entire campaign while John O’Dwyer and Noel McGrath missed chunks of it with injuries. Ryan seemed in a mood to experiment and allowed Alan Flynn to nail down a corner-back slot.
Barry Heffernan and Billy McCarthy both started five league games, while Willie Connors lined out in attack for the league semi-final and final.
“We probably don’t know our team,” Kelly admitted.
The real frustration for Kelly, who played for Tipp for 15 years, is that inside information has been increasingly difficult to attain.
He feels this is not necessarily a positive development.
“It’s probably disappointing it’s gone so hush hush,” he said. “I feel it takes from the build-up to the games.
“Training matches now are behind closed doors, you can’t get near a ground now. You’d be afraid to go near a ground just in case you were turned away. I don’t know what’s going on in Tipp, that’s being honest with you. It’s amazing, it’s that quiet. Now I’ve no problem with behind closed doors sessions the odd night too. I suppose you just can’t get in contact with the lads at all. It’s just a pity like.”
Kelly said that one certainty is that, if fit, Seamus Callanan can easily slot into the Tipp attack alongside Jason Forde. Both players are similar, powerful full-forwards who take the frees and in Callanan’s absence throughout spring following back surgery Forde excelled, striking 2-12 in the league final.
“I’d hate to hear that, to hear someone in Tipperary saying you can’t play Seamus Callanan in at full-forward because Jason Forde is there,” said Kelly.
“Have the two of them in an inside full-forward line. I’d love to see them both in there and a game-plan to get plenty of ball into them. I’ll tell you one thing, if the two of them were hitting form like we know they can, Tipp would be a serious outfit.”
- Eoin Kelly is a Paddy Power GAA Hurling ambassador and will feature as a regular columnist on Paddy Power News throughout the Championship.