It’s a long time since a Tipperary defensive unit went through Munster SHC campaign intact, even a successful one at that.
But when the back seven has been that strong it hardly comes as a surprise.
With three former defenders in the management team – Michael Ryan, coach Declan Fanning and selector John Madden – it maybe shouldn’t come as a shock either that their back-line has been that formidable, conceding just 2-40 in three games.
Former full-back Paul Curran, who retired last season, knows what value a settled rearguard brings. “It helps especially among backs – we’re a different breed,” says the Mullinahone man.
“You get confidence from that. When lads are going well beside you and in front of you, you feed off that and it can be quite infectious. You only need two or three forwards to turn it on but it’s crucial that all of the backs work and when that happens you get unbelievable confidence.”
But it’s seeing all of them to a man doing the basics well that fills him with optimism going into tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final. “I was really impressed with them but especially against Cork when they seemed to be doing the basics really well. There was no flashiness or anything. Sometimes we forget defenders are there to defend and if our man doesn’t score then we’ve done a large part of our job. Sometimes you feel you have to be hitting a lot of ball and catching but they all seem happy just to get their primary jobs done, which is great.”
Here he provides the lowdown on the seven:
Darren Gleeson (35), 15 SHC appearances
“Darren hates when a goal goes in. He’s a big, physical presence and he talks well and gets on great with all the backs. He’s a deep thinker of the game and you’d never fear about him. In the first half against Waterford, a puck-out went astray and the Tipp crowd were onto him to drive it but he kept his composure and did things his way.”
Cathal Barrett (23), 12 SHC appearances
“I didn’t get to play with him a whole lot as I was finishing and he was starting but he has plenty of confidence – he doesn’t lack it! I remember a couple of training matches and Larry (Corbett) gave him a bit of a runaround and you knew by him that it affected him. I remember having a word with him – ‘you can’t let that happen again’. And he didn’t. He’s fierce competitive behind it all. He likes to win and he likes to attack the balll.”
James Barry (26), 13 SHC appearances
“I remember him as a minor and saying to myself that he was good. We had heard about him playing with Thurles CBS and we met him on a Tipperary holiday in LA. He was out meeting relatives there and we thought he would be in earlier than he was. His development stalled but when he went to UCC that really brought him on. He was playing wing-back and they really rated him down there. It gave him the confidence to keep defending. Before UCC, he was a bit loose and you could pick a few points off him but down there hardened him. ”
Michael Cahill (27), 27 SHC appearances
“Apart from getting over the hip injuries, the change of career has probably helped him. He’s now doing physio up in Dublin and maybe he was getting bogged down on what he was doing before and that sometimes can be reflected on the field. He seems to really have the hunger back.”
Seamus Kennedy (23), 3 SHC appearances
“You can see Declan Fanning’s involvement with the defenders like Seamus and I’d have great time for Declan. Seamus got a taste of it before and served his apprenticeship when maybe he wasn’t ready.
“I think the run with Commercials seems to have given him huge confidence facing the top footballers and he has the physique for each game. Since given the chance, he hasn’t let go of the jersey.”
Ronan Maher (20), 7 SHC appearances
“The calibre of player Ronan is, he doesn’t get too stressed out over stuff. There’s good breeding there too! He’s another guy who would always listen to you. You knew by him that he would be listening and then you saw it in games.
“He wants to develop and push himself on. Having a good attitude counts for so much.”
Pádraic Maher (27), 35 SHC appearances
“Paudie is such a good hurler he can play anywhere but he probably feels most comfortable on the left wing and it’s probably his most natural spot.
“In my day, backs wouldn’t move around as much but Paudie wouldn’t mind shifting anywhere. He might just have to in a game like this.”
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