Declan Fanning has the mental and physical scars to prove Wexford don’t hold back.
There was that 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat, and then the 2010 qualifier, when he ended up with 25 stitches, after an altercation with Stephen Banville.
He can make light of it now: “As any good back would do when a forward comes in, I greeted him and welcomed him to Thurles. After that, I felt nothing. I only realised it when Brendan (Cummins) said there was blood coming from my ear. You’re coming from that high-octane environment and the gander is up, so I felt nothing, but I obviously did when I was stitched-up.”
Coach and selector under Michael Ryan for three seasons, and with Eamon O’Shea the year before that, Fanning foresees a brute of an All-Ireland semi-final tomorrow, but considers Tipperary in a better place than most believe.
The preliminary quarter-final win over Laois he considers “the hangover,” after the Munster final loss to Limerick.
“What stood out to me, before that Munster final, was their energy.
“There was a massive energy throughout the whole team and they were full of running and movement: Noel McGrath, in the middle, was dominating games; Seamus (Callanan) looking really sharp inside; and the forward unit working well. That was the big change from last year.”
Questions about Tipperary’s lack of speed are irrelevant, Fanning argues, when they are compensated for in other aspects of their play.
“You take a player like John McGrath: He mightn’t have burning pace, but he has a hurling brain. Having a hurling brain outweighs pace, in my opinion, every day of the week. It wasn’t a lack of pace that cost Tipp in the Munster final: We were getting beaten in a few areas of the field.
“I believe you need to break even at least in 12 positions and then you can inflict your style of play on the opposition. For the first time all year, we looked heavy-legged against Limerick. Was that down to Limerick’s running at us? I’m not so sure. I think we have really good hurlers and the more possession we have in a game, we will inflict our style on the other team, rather than any lack of pace being a problem.”
In his Killenaule club-mate, John O’Dwyer, Fanning has seen a rekindling of the flame this summer, although that was not evident in his most recent displays. “Knowing him, and meeting him weekly on our own home patch, he looks in as good a shape as he has in a good number of years. He’s in a good place, enjoying his hurling. He’s had a day or two where he has been quiet and that’s always going to be Bubbles’ main issue, getting into a game quickly and staying in it. We know, when he’s on the ball, he will cause a lot of damage, so it’s about getting him on the ball as much as possible. It’s about him getting himself ready for Sunday, because, physically and mentally, Liam (Sheedy) has him where he wants him.”
Coach with Kevin Martin in Offaly earlier this year, Fanning was absorbed by the frenetic nature of Wexford’s draw with Kilkenny, in their final round game, last month.
“Physically, the intensity of that game was incredible and it was my favourite game of the season. Taking that in context, Wexford are going to come with everything on showSunday. Tipperary will expect nothing else and they’ll come with all that they have.”