Limerick and Tipperary: Two counties at a crossroads

Limerick turning Tipperary over is hardly something the Munster championship or the Gaelic Grounds hasn’t seen before yet there was something novel and different about this.

It wasn’t an ambush like 2013, or another one-score grindout like the wins down in Cork in ’95 and ’96 or the stirring comeback in the league final of ’92 when, not for the last time, Ciaran Carey showcased his capacity to surge upfield and score inspirational, clutch points.

It wasn’t even like 2014 when Shane Dowling roofed a bullet to the net in a shootout below in Thurles and they arguably outhurled Tipp even though Tipp had the better hurlers.

Yesterday Limerick didn’t just outfight and outthink and outhurl Tipp — they looked the better, more skilful group of hurlers. While they might not yet have as sublime and proven stickmen as Bubbles, even Jason Forde and the McGraths, whatever limited hurlers were on display here were in blue and gold.

It took until the final minutes for that superiority to tell, yet by the end they’d won pulling up, by six points, the most a Limerick side has beaten Tipp in championship since 1981 when Tipp were in the depths of the darkest era in their long history.

After Limerick’s exit from last year’s championship, John Kiely told the assembled reporters in Nowlan Park: “It’s just very, very difficult to accept we’ve come out of the championship without a win. We’ve so much work put into this, it’s off the charts. It’s very hard to take.”

If all that work didn’t show over two games last summer, it, and all this year’s toil and thought which compounded it is telling now: Kiely’s steady hand, Kinnerk’s innovative coaching, Joe O’Connor’s holistic conditioning programme, while Caroline Currid, who at the start of the decade would have assisted Tipp’s mental preparation under Liam Sheedy’s management, is now in the green and white corner.

It’s early days in this year’s Munster championship yet but yesterday it felt like the storied old competition may be about to experience the joy and the freshness that comes with the emergence of an vibrant young team, a la Tipp ’87, Clare ’95, Waterford ’98, Cork 2003, Tipp 2008.

Tipperary 2018 are a lot further down the road in their journey, possibly even approaching the end of it.

After the game Michael Ryan refused to talk to the media, only to say that he and his team wouldn’t be saying anything else until their series of four round-robin games were over.

Maybe it’s a policy he would have also been rolling out had Tipperary won — ‘we’re only halfway through the first half, lads, I wouldn’t be talking to you after 18 minutes now, would I? Sure nothing’s won after the first quarter’ — but the optics are awful, a normally genial and gracious man now looking like one feeling the pressure, and inadvertently, inviting more of it.

What should concern the Tipperary public and even media more though isn’t so much that the media will no longer be hearing from Ryan but are the players listening to him anymore?

Yesterday, for all the new faces they threw into the starting lineup, Tipp looked jaded more than stale, like a team that have heard it all before from their management and have possibly done all that they’ve wanted and can.

This is Ryan’s 10th season in the past 12 years being part of the Semple Stadium boot room while four of the side that finished the game yesterday are also involved in their 10th championship campaign.

That’s a long time on the road, and while when they started out on it, they’d have envisaged more than two All-Irelands to show for it, maybe everyone — pundits, punters and players alike — have or should come to accept that that’s at least one more than everyone else bar Kilkenny managed over that timespan.

At the start of every championship the question is asked what a particular team got out of the league but with Tipperary it seems to be more what it has taken out of them.

This is now the fourth consecutive time over the past six seasons that they have played all the way up to the last game of the league only to lose it and then lose again the next day out in Munster.

They certainly didn’t find a second reliable corner-back in that campaign, or at least one to start in Munster in the corner opposite to Alan Flynn. For a side that in 2016 could afford to have proven warriors like Michael Cahill and Paddy ‘Saint’ Stapleton watching the All-Ireland final from the bench, the past two seasons Ryan has had to recycle a corner-back who had been around the fringes of the panel near the start of the decade without ever establishing himself.

Last year against Cork it was John O’Keeffe, back for another shot at glory after the chastening of the 2011 All-Ireland final, only for the Clonoulty-Rossmore man to never feature for the rest of the season.

Yesterday Donagh Maher, who came into the team for O’Keeffe having barely featured since 2012, similarly had his limitations exposed.

Cathal Barrett and Michael Cahill can’t return quickly enough.

Their unavailability might be behind Ryan’s own unavailability to the media afterwards as Tipp’s exceptional and over-generous adherence to the GAA’s club month would have been a contributing factor to their injuries.

Ryan’s preparations have been compromised more so than any other team in Munster, leaving them vulnerable now to not even making it out of the group.

But by the same token, Ryan must surely now that the way he set his team up, leaving Maher and the rest of the fullback line so open, hindered Tipp’s chances here more than any series of club games in April.

Upfront they were also remarkably subdued.

Last summer Tipp were getting tallies such as 1-6, 0-13 and 5-10 from play from any three of Callanan, Bubbles, McGrath and Forde; in the 2016 All-Ireland final, it was 2-15. Yesterday the four of them combined for just the 1-4 from play.

The good news for Tipp and Ryan is that they’ve been here before and they’ve got out of this jam before: 2014, 2010.

In those years they got back to September, after ‘crashing’ out of Munster.

They haven’t crashed out of Munster — yet.

But August seems out of sight based on this.


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