James Ryan nods when you mention the Clare game.
When his Limerick side clashed with the Banner in the Division 1B decider he was identified as the man who travelled a long way to get stuck into Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald on the sideline, but he dismisses the spotlight that fell on him as a result.
“These things happen in a game,” says Ryan. “I don’t think the focus was unfair.
“People like to pick up on things in games, but for us it was more that people were saying, ‘They’re not fit’, after the game. The players didn’t buy into that. We’ve worked a bit more on our fitness since that game.”
Now that game’s almost forgotten.
“Going on the timeline it feels like it was the start of the year, nearly. One thing we took out of it was that we zoned out of it for the last 15 minutes or so of the first half and then we came back into it.
“People said fitness was a factor in the last 15 minutes of the second half, but I think we just fell asleep for parts of the game. For a Munster championship game you’ve got to stay awake for the full 70.
Ryan, the Limerick GAA development officer for the south-east part of the county, acknowledges the Premier County are at the very top of the tree.
“There’s no doubt Tipperary are still the second best team in Ireland, no one can doubt that. They were in the last three All-Ireland finals and won one.
“They’re very fit after all the work Cian O’Neill did with them in recent years, and we know all of that, and we know we have to match that. We’ve done our strength and conditioning work ourselves, just as every county is doing to get up to that standard. There’s no one attribute we’re worrying about — strength or fitness — but we have to deal with the whole package.”
Is the game getting more physical, as people are saying? Or is it just the case that players are stronger and fitter?
“Players are definitely better conditioned,” says Ryan. “Everyone is trying to get fitter and fitter, though the ultimate question is, ‘How fit can you get?’, I suppose.
“The big thing is that Kilkenny, say, aren’t just physical, they work very hard. People talk about their physicality, and they are, they’re a strong team and they tog out big, people might say they’re fouling, but I don’t think so.
“They swarm around an opponent with huge intensity. Every team in Ireland is trying to do that, but they have it down to a fine art. People are saying ‘They’re breaking the rules’ — I don’t think so. It’s intensity, workrate, discipline — and on top of it all every one of their players is very skilful.”
That intensity translates into stormy conditions in the opening quarter, says Ryan.
“I’ve talked to a lot of Limerick players from the past and they all say the same thing: you can’t compare a championship game and a league game.
“You can see it in the first 15 minutes of a championship game. It’s visual. You have to get rid of the ball straightaway. After that you know where you are in the game, you’re at the pitch of the game. We’ll be looking to get to the pitch of the game early, but Tipp have been in All-Ireland finals, they’ll know the level they need to reach.
“Can you get used to that intensity? I think that’s all psychological — if you can get rid of the ball quickly you’ll get up to that level. Any player will tell you they’re out of breath after that 15 minutes but you’ve just got to run through that.”
They’ve been getting on with it all year. Even the departure of Ciarán Carey as a selector hasn’t upset the applecart. “That feels like a long time ago even now, we’ve done so much training since then. It’s a shame that he couldn’t be with us, he was a great man to speak and he’d been here last year so he knew the set-up, but it didn’t affect us that much because he left at the right time.
“Periodisation of training meant we had a whole new schedule for the championship; his departure upset things for a couple of sessions but we got back on track soon enough.”
Back on track for the big collision tomorrow.
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