MICHAEL RYAN has got good wear out of the black tux these past few weeks, more so than he’s ever done at this time of year.
He was the Munster GAA manager of the year recipient, while his presence was also required at the All Stars, the Philips manager of the year award ceremony and the RTÉ sports awards.
“When you don’t win, these ceremonies don’t exist to you. When you win, you’re invited along and you get to chat to people you’ve never chatted to before or may never chat to again,” says the All-Ireland winning hurling manager.
“I got a few words with Joe Schmidt and he is a wildly entertaining character. Martin O’Neill was at the Philips ceremony and I’d have loved to have got a few words with him. This is all new territory for me, but it is a nice time of the year and nice to be able to reflect on the year gone.”
The year started with Ryan promising not to overstay his welcome: “It will either be successful or I’ll move out of the way and let someone else at it.” Why put pressure on yourself so early into your tenure? Or perhaps there was an ulterior motive given much of the conversation surrounding Tipperary at the time centred on a team supposedly in transition. Lar was gone. So too were Shane McGrath, James Woodlock and Conor O’Mahony.
“Neither. It was a statement of fact. Roll it back a bit. It wouldn’t have been universally agreed with that I was the right successor to Eamon O’Shea or the fact that it was called out so early. It was within that context that I made that comment.
“I wouldn’t have been entitled to the honeymoon period that you’d afford another manager because I had been around. 2016 was my seventh year involved with Tipperary. When you look at the whole mass of that, that is one person involved in the set-up for quite a long time. Now, the roles have changed. Nonetheless, it would have been a very logical argument if someone said we’ve had enough of that and I would have fully understood that. Hence, that is where that was coming from.”
Talk of transition didn’t interest him. He feels it’s a word too loosely used within the GAA.
“What’s transition? When you a see a manager move on, a team is in transition. Or if you have had a particularly bad spell after success, then you’re in transition. We hadn’t won an All-Ireland since 2010. Does that mean we were in transition since 2011?” Winter turned to spring and focus moved back inside the four white lines. The Premier County fell at the quarter-final hurdle in the league, losing to Clare by the solitary in Ennis. Talk now returned to Tipperary’s inability to close out tight games. Adding fuel to the fire was an Austin Gleeson free which clinched a 1-18 to 1-17 win for the Déise above in Thurles in round three.
It wasn’t until they edged out Galway in August that this argument was put to the bed and while Ryan admits that their tidy catalogue of narrow misses going back the years was discussed throughout the campaign, it is clear that he takes umbrage with the fact that Tipperary were singled out.
“A lot of the time, not all of the time, we suffered at the hands of Kilkenny. And we don’t need to talk about how successful they have been. They’ve been the benchmark for every other team in this country for the past 10 years. Are you a damaged team or a damaged player if you keep losing? Only one team can win. How many other teams have failed to cross the line in those other tight games? Every single one of us.”
There were five steps to be taken to get them across the line first on this occasion and Ryan has placed significant emphasis on the first of those, that their championship opener against Cork on May 22.
“I wouldn’t underestimate for a second that result. The backdrop to that was we had finished our league with defeat to Clare in the quarter-final. That is not where we wanted to finish.
“We had the longest wait from the conclusion of our league to the playing of that game. I can tell you that all we were thinking about was how good Cork had been against Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Rinn in the league. That was a blistering performance from Cork and that was the performance we were getting ourselves ready for. I felt that performance from Cork that night was a performance that had everything.” He continued: “The game against Galway, we could have quite easily gone out of the championship there and then. A one point win is a saviour. A one point defeat is a killer. On that day, it was our saviour.”
The final is a well-worn tale at this stage. He’s watched it back and believes it was plausible to expect the Tipperary response we got following Kevin Kelly’s 42nd goal which propelled the Cats into a 1-14 to 0-15 lead — the winners outscored their opponents by 1-7 to 0-1 in the subsequent 13 minutes.
“I would have witnessed first-hand how hard our lads would have worked, how determined they were to reach a high level of performance. In terms of us being aware of the Kilkenny attack and how potent they are, they can conjure a goal and punish a mistake out of nothing. Yes, of course, it was a setback, but I fully expected us to be able to deal with that. You have to be able for these setbacks. What do you next? That is the important reaction. And we reacted.”
The final was probably the greatest example of the work-rate of the Premier forwards; the net result was that deliveries out of the opposition half fell, more often than not, on the incoherent side. Stats compiled by Tipperary Star journalist Brian McDonnell show that the full-back line of Barrett, Barry and Cahill conceded just 18 frees across their five outings and effected 50 tackles. What that’s phrase that Tom Ryan coined all those years ago? Defending starts with the corner-forward, aye.
“Kilkenny would be the greatest exponents of this down through the years. The pressure they put on the opposition backline is phenomenal phenomenal. The templates were there for us all. Executing it is more difficult.
“We are very pleased with how it turned out for us. Our guys are a mature bunch. They bought into the intensity levels that we needed to be hitting in order to compete.
“You don’t have to do something magical to be a successful team. You have got to do everything right. The majority of things that our guys attempted to do they did very well. They got a lot right. Success is not an accident. They have worked worked to achieve it. I’m excited about 2017. The guys are looking forward it to again. We’ve got to find the right level of competition within the group. 2017 will be a cracking year for hurling and we want to be as big a part of that as we can.”
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