Five years of failure clearly didn’t sit well with Tipperary but the task facing Michael Ryan and his squad as they digest the consequences of Sunday’s epic and epochal All-Ireland final defeat of Kilkenny is how to deal with such a victory.
Over 50 years have passed since the county’s hurlers were up to the task of putting All-Ireland titles back-to-back. The two claimed in the three seasons between 1989 and 1991 is, by a distance, the closest they have come to establishing anything like a span of dominance since.
Their failure to kick on from 2010 should focus minds.
A senior and U21 double that year fuelled all manner of wild expectation. Kilkenny looked spent then too and Tipperary’s abundance of riches at senior and underage levels stood as an inarguable barometer of future success.
Or so we thought.
Paudie Maher reflected on that failure to relaunch yesterday morning as he navigated the thronged lobby of the team hotel. He, like most others, took that gilded future for granted only to find the best efforts of Kilkenny and others to be beyond them for the next half-decade.
Sunday’s success offers the chance to right that wrong.
“This group are mature,” said manager Michael Ryan. “The example and leadership coming from those guys is second to none, it really is. They wanted this so badly for Tipperary and it showed in their play. That’s our job. We are going to have to refocus. We will certainly keep our feet on the ground.
“We are renowned in Tipp for getting carried away with ourselves when we win — we’ll see how we get on with that. The backroom team of people we have is very, very strong, very mature people. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons over the years: We need to manage victory a lot better than we have done.”
Keeping the band together would certainly help. Formulating plans isn’t foremost in most minds in the immediate wake of an All-Ireland success but Ryan sounds hopeful his management cadre will all commit to another few gallops around the championship paddock when the hubbub dies away and winter draws in.
What could be in the future will form the core of their thoughts but Paudie Maher spared a moment yesterday to think about what could have been had Tipp yet again fallen short of a Kilkenny side that did more than any other to hold back the Tipp tide before now.
“We always had full belief, 100% belief, but if we had lost it would have been very hard to come back. I know it’s very easy to say it now when you have won, but … to be beat in another All-Ireland final, no matter who you are beaten by, it would have been some sucker punch.”
Kevin Kelly’s goal could have been that roundhouse.
To be trailing 42 minutes in having done so much of the hurling was the type of blow to the solar plexus that would have pinned Tipperary to the canvas before and Maher admits the question on everyone’s lips at the time was which way it would go from there.
The response was, of course, sensational but Maher saw the seeds of it even before Tipp began to rack up the next 1-5 without reply when he scanned the ranks of his fellow defenders and saw them tapping their heads to a man.
Think. Concentrate. Keep calm. Radio waves of positive energy.
As Ryan said Sunday and again yesterday, they are signals that will have been picked up far beyond the Premier borders.
Waterford, Galway, Clare and more besides will read between the lines and see a landscape far less oppressive for the manner of Kilkenny’s downfall.
For Tipp the motivation will come from within. Literally.
“We are after catching up now with Larry (Corbett), and Eoin Kelly and Nicky English,” said Maher. “They all have two (All-Irelands) I think. Declan Ryan has three so he’s the next target for Tipperary guys and we’ll worry about the rest after that.
“Look, we have experience now of the six-year gap between the two of them and we don’t want that to happen again. Mick said it after the game, we don’t want to leave as big a gap again, so it’s going to be vital to get back next year and give it our all and defend our title.”
Everything must feel possible right now.
Sunday’s script seemed written with Tipp in mind: A win for the minors, the presentation of the ’91 Jubilee team before the senior game and then the wondrous manner in which Kilkenny and all the county’s self-doubt were put to bed.
Ding dong, but the witch isn’t necessarily dead.
“Ah stop. No, no. Absolutely not,” said Ryan. “I know the Kilkenny scene quite well, I worked down there for three or four years, made a lot of good friends down there. The hurling in Kilkenny is stronger than in any other county. That is the simple fact of the matter.
“With their geography, Kilkenny city is the centre and north and south gravitate in. Really strong clubs are in the city, with the exception of Ballyhale. St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny CBS... Nobody should be writing an epitaph or a changing of the guard for Kilkenny. It won’t happen.”
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