It’s a fair journey. In June, Tipperary were plunged into gloom when Limerick dumped them out of the Munster championship.
Now Tipp are three sleeps from an All-Ireland final.
Did the Limerick defeat help them in the long run?
“I think some of that is that we were in a horrible place,” says Tipp selector Michael Ryan.
“You lose your first-round game and it brings you to places that ordinarily you wouldn’t like to go. But maybe you have to go there to figure out exactly what you’re doing, where you fit in, and whether everyone has bought into the idea — where we’re trying to go on this journey.
“From that perspective I think it did, I think it galvanised guys.”
Everything was on the line against Galway in the qualifiers, certainly.
“If we’d shipped a defeat to Galway here in Thurles you wouldn’t be talking to us. That’s an absolute certainty. I don’t think the county would want us.
“I think the county demands to be led in a certain way, and with that comes a little responsibility. We hadn’t achieved what we set out to achieve, which was to set up this team so that they’d always be competitive. We have something good and unique, that befitted Tipperary as far as we were concerned.
“This is our history. You play for lots of things and those are on the line every day. There’s a lot riding on every time you take a team out to represent the county. This is what we’ve grown up with. I remember the very early days, going to see Tipp with my dad and the neighbours at home, and never seeing a victory until 1987, when I was 17. That puts it into some kind of context.”
They came back from defeat in 2010 to win the All-Ireland, but Ryan prefers to stress on the here and now.
“I wouldn’t overdo the similarities [with 2010] because the two teams were in different places. I think the road map became similar but it comes back down to belief.
“In the aftermath of the Limerick game I never wavered about the team, neither did Eamon [O’Shea] and Paudie [O’Neill]. It starts there. If we had doubts and started chopping and changing or bringing in guys willy-nilly, that would send the wrong signal through the team and undermine what we were working so hard for all through the winter and spring — to get them to compete.
“I wouldn’t underestimate last year’s experience either. We lost two out of two — almost a carbon copy against Limerick, up in the Gaelic Grounds, and then down to Kilkenny to what was probably the greatest atmosphere of a hurling match I’ve ever experienced.
“I can only give my view of it and it was phenomenal. We would so love to have won but Kilkenny felt exactly the same way, and they did win.”
He didn’t see the All-Ireland semi-final panning out the way it did.
“No, is the honest answer. We prepared for an absolute ding-dong battle that was going to go down to the wire. And we just hoped that we’d have a point or two to spare at the end.
“I absolutely still believe that Cork team is well improved on last year and I don’t think the semi-final did them justice. I think they’ve found players at three, six, midfield and corner-forward, those extra players that I thought made them a really, really good team.
“They were deserving Munster champions and I honestly went into the game thinking that if we could compete with these guys, be there in the last few minutes, get our noses in front, then we’d take it.”
Is winning the Munster title a disadvantage?
“It’s a difficult one,” says Ryan.
“Kilkenny have the same five-week break and it doesn’t seem to impeded them. Certainly momentum has helped us this year, I can say that for sure. But when we sat down last November, December to try to plot a course through 2014, we absolutely aimed to win the Munster title.”
Ryan says he can’t imagine ever starting out the year saying he didn’t want to win Munster: “And put yourself into a situation where it’s knockout hurling and you could be gone after the next game? No. We’ve been there and it wasn’t nice.”
As for the other semi-final, Ryan credits Kilkenny’s experience with helping them over the line.
“It became a battle and it probably favoured the more experienced team. Kilkenny’s experience is priceless really and it’s on an occasion like that that it really comes to the fore.
“But could you have called it five minutes out? I thought it was alive right up to the very end. Great game, especially in the conditions. A week later, we had perfect conditions against Cork and it went another way.”
The Upperchurch-Drombane man isn’t fixated on Kilkenny’s superior record in recent years against Tipp: “Well, it’s a fact. You can’t change it. They’ve had the better of it and we’re acutely aware of that.
“You can choose to look at it anyway you want. You can make a mountain of it and decide that if you were Paddy Power you would know exactly how it will pan out. I honestly believe that there’s no such thing as a repeat game. Each game is a unique thing. And I also happen to believe that the team with the greatest desire will win. You can control that. That’s a variable that’s up to you to take care of. You can’t do one thing about the opposition other than to expect that these guys are going to be in top form and as good as they ever were. The challenge is ours.
They won’t try to second-guess the Kilkenny manager, either.
“Look, we try to cover all bases. We could sit around going, ‘Yeah — he might to this, he might do that, he might do the other’. But it wouldn’t even be 90/10 in terms of percentages.
“I’d say it would be closer to 95/5. Because ultimately we can only control the decisions we make.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved