The last time Kilkenny retained the All Ireland, Enda Kenny was Taoiseach. The last time Cork retained the All Ireland, Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach. The last time Galway retained the All Ireland, CJ Haughey was Taoiseach. The last time Tipperary retained the All- Ireland, Brian Boru was Taoiseach.
Right, that’s today’s gag done. Still, before readers from Bansha to Ballingarry get themselves into a lather they might try responding to a simple question. (The answer is not a simple one, admittedly.) How come Tipp haven’t won the MacCarthy Cup in successive seasons since 1964-65?
There’s a chap out there who thinks he knows. It’s the “complacency they suffer from in Tipperary”, he says. The “typical Tipperary softness that creeps in over the winter months and that’s very hard to arrest”. Their tendency to “celebrate too long and too hard”.
Appalling comments, you’ll agree. What a blackguard. Readers from Bansha to Ballingarry and Thurles to Templederry are invited to send the author of the remarks outraged missives in blue pencil. It’s only fair.
The name and address to send ‘em to? Michael Ryan, Upperchurch. For it was he.
Ryan’s analysis of the wintering habits of his folk was contained in an interview he did with JJ Kennedy for the Tipperary Yearbook.
It runs to 4,159 words and it’s absorbing, immensely readable stuff. Kennedy asks incisive questions and Ryan answers them with verve.
He is engaging, funny, simultaneously sharp and blunt, sensible, self-deprecating, fair-minded and generous.
He comes across as the kind of guy you’d happily go for a drink with. And also the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to leave standing there when it’s your turn to get the round in.
The interview took place in October but already the manager was looking to 2017. If you were a Tipp supporter reading it you’d feel heartened. If you were a supporter of another county reading it you’d feel uneasy. If you were Brian Cody you’d feel slightly disquieted.
Ryan comes across as a man who has seen and lived through the errors of Tipperary’s various MacCarthy Cup pasts and is patently determined not to allow them be repeated. Not on his watch. Julius Caesar, who desired to be surrounded by lardarses and sleepers, wouldn’t have wanted him around the place. Nor is this about Ryan. That makes him, and his team, more dangerous still.
Among the sins of commission that were avoided this time around was an appearance on The Late Late Show after the All-Ireland.
The Late Late Show is all very well for a Clare 1995, a Wexford 1996 or even a Clare 2013. It is not all very well for a Tipperary any year. What would John Doyle have said? Exactly.
What would Cody, watching at home in Kilfera, have thought? Exactly.
The celebrations took place but they didn’t become bacchanals. The younger members of the team were instructed to avoid popping up in the media as the off-season continued. Life continued as normally as the circumstances allowed. There was even Ryan’s quote after the match in Croke Park last Saturday. “Only two of our panel of 41 have National League medals so it’s a great target for us.”
Real Cody stuff. Next ball, next match.
While this is a subject we’ll return to before the championship, it’s not too early to argue that the blue and gold car is in safer hands than it was in 2011. It is certainly in wiser, more experienced hands. The 22-year-olds of 2011 – P Maher, B Maher, Callanan – are late-20somethings now. They have tested and tasted, lost and learned. They comprise the motor that will drive the team, or not, in 2017.
In the meantime it’ll be no surprise if Tipperary win the league or reach the final. It’ll certainly be no surprise if they reach the semi-finals unbeaten. Thinking out loud, the optimum scenario would be for them reach the final and lose it.
No chance of sleepwalking into the championship in that instance.
You won’t be hearing anything more from this quarter about Tipp and their efforts to win successive All-Irelands, incidentally. Let’s be practical: this will only be their sixth attempt to do so in half a century, and for the first four of those five decades Cork were Munster’s incumbent super power. We’re not exactly discussing a story of repeated, vaguely Mayoesque failure here.
Eamon O’Shea would doubtless warn against drawing definitive conclusions from such a small sample size. Ryan more or less said the same thing on Saturday night. Bottom line, one of the main reasons Tipperary haven’t retained the All Ireland since 1965 is the infrequency of their attempts at the exercise.
Here’s a soundbite for Ryan for future consumption, free gratis and for nothing. Tipperary aren’t trying to win successive AllIrelands - they’re trying to win this year’s All-Ireland. Hand of history, what hand of history?
They’ll do well to win in Walsh Park tomorrow nonetheless. After last Sunday at Nowlan Park the hosts will take the field in good fettle. After last July at the Gaelic Grounds they’ll take the field with a cause.
Derek McGrath asserted on Sunday evening that Waterford hadn’t targeted the Kilkenny match. Perhaps not, but they weren’t travelling to make up the numbers either. Thus yet another piece – a small piece this time – of the mosaic was filled in. Ponder the journey they’ve travelled over the past 24 months and the experiences they’ve clocked up. Although not all of them were good experiences, all of them were necessary experiences.
Promotion gained. A National League triumph, only the county’s second national title in half a century. Respectable performances in a Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final. A comfortable win against Kilkenny at Walsh Park in the league. Very nearly a second league title. Abject failure in the Munster final attributable in part to an abject failure to cope with the novel burden of increased expectation. A dazzling display in orthodox formation for 55 minutes of an All-Ireland semi-final and a gutsy display in the replay. And now last Sunday. Victory against Kilkenny in a tight match at last.
The win gives McGrath some short-term money in the bank. As well as experimenting with personnel as promised he can also, after tomorrow, play 15 on 15 to his heart’s content. Waterford will hardly beat Tipperary in a shootout, not that February fixtures tend to be shootouts. But against Dublin and Cork, the next two opponents, he can let the handbrake off. Waterford will not start winning championship matches with a six-forward formation until they start winning league matches with a six-forward formation and the habit becomes ingrained.
Were they being overly careful in battening down the hatches at Nowlan Park when their lead was such a slim one? In the event the end justified the means, though Richie Hogan very nearly punished them at the death. One imagines that the state of the sod and the size of their lead will guide McGrath in this regard in future. Going seven at the back when defending a two-point lead would be tantamount to inviting the opposition on. A five- or six-point lead, in contrast, would mean no reason not to deploy an extra defender in order to ensure full lockdown, particularly on dry ground. Get a couple of speedy subs on up front and keep the other crowd occupied by running at them.
Tomorrow? A wild guess. Waterford by two.
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