Allianz HL Division 1A: Tipperary v Kilkenny
Padraic Maher has to rack his brain for a long moment to think of an answer.
Sitting in the bleacher seats of the auditorium in the Croke Park museum, you ask when last did you walk off the field satisfied that Tipperary had given a complete team performance?
“The last game?” he asks himself, slowly. “I suppose... the way we kind of ground out a win against Cork back in the Munster championship last year. It was a very loose game of hurling and maybe it wasn’t as physical as other games but to come out with a one-point victory when we lost John O’Brien [to a red card], was nice.”
Maher knows that while it was pleasing to win in Cork, as Tipp have traditionally struggled down on Leeside, he can offer a better answer to the question. “The real feeling [of satisfaction] was the All-Ireland final in 2010. I know we had a lot of victories since then in the Munster championship but I suppose that’s really the last time we had a real feelgood factor coming out of a game.”
You might suggest the seven-goal hammering of Waterford in the 2011 Munster final as an answer. But that was one of those days when the long ball worked against a disorganised defence. You might even suggest there were flickers of the old free-flowing, freestyling Tipperary when 31 points were put up on the Déise during the 2012 league. But Maher points out the pretty patterns woven by the stick-passing that had replaced the direct style were quickly identified and combated by the opposition; as had the route-one tactic before and since.
Essentially, players started getting mixed up.
Now though, there’s a new man in charge. Even before a hurley had been picked up or a lap run, a wave of positivity had swept across the county after Eamon O’Shea’s appointment as manager was ratified.
Arguably, the Kilruane man’s installation led to a complacency that transferred itself to the panel ahead of the hammering in Cork in the league opener.
“Maybe it seeped in a bit into the players, I can’t speak for the rest of the lads,” Maher says.
“The supporters, some of them certainly, thought the good times were going to be coming back just because Eamon was back but even the management have to get used to the whole thing again. But, just because Eamon is back, it doesn’t mean we have the right to success. It just doesn’t work like that.”
With each limp performance, you get the impression that a fire is lacking. We’ve been here with the Premier County in the past: in 2009, they were beaten by 17 points against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park before taking the Cats to extra-time in the league final and to the pin of their collar in an All-Ireland final epic.
In 2010, Cork routed Liam Sheedy and O’Shea’s side before Tipp built towards their most complete ever performance four months later.
They have now lost their two most recent championship and league games by a combined total of 30 points. In two consecutive halves of hurling — the second against Kilkenny and the first against Cork — the Premier could not have been more secondary as a combined 3-29 to 0-7 deficit leaned on them.
“When we started playing for Tipperary back in 2008-09, we didn’t envisage getting beatings like this and, the way we were going, we were sure we should be up contesting All-Ireland finals and stuff,” he continues.
“We don’t want to be falling down the pecking order any more, it’s time to get back up and get the finger out and, please God, we’ll start turning that around.
“People ask what happened [against Kilkenny] but it’s very hard to pinpoint. It’s kind of the same as with the Cork game at the start of the league.
“Kilkenny that day wanted the ball more than us; Cork wanted it more than us the other night and it’s something we have to try and combat.”
So then, what’s happened to Tipperary’s old bite?
“I suppose it’s kinda gone out of our game in the last two years or that. In ’08, ’09 and ’10, when we needed to stand up, we were physical. But I suppose it did creep out of our game a small bit and maybe it is something we need to bring back into our game a bit more. Not dirtiness, more physicality.”
Does Maher feel that both fans and pundits are too quick to dance on their grave?
“When Tipp are winning, the supporters are great, and it’s great to have the support. Tipp supporters, when things do go against us, they are quick to turn,” he admits.
“Fair enough, they’re the ones paying the money, paying to go to Cork and Dublin to watch us play matches, paying €50 to see us play matches.
“They don’t realise the work that goes in; we don’t go out to lose or play bad. That’s a given, any sports person doesn’t do that. When I started out playing for Tipperary, I wanted to win as many medals as I can. I only have one [Celtic Cross] and I’m going into my fifth year.
“I thought maybe I’d have more than that, and I’d get them easier. I’ve learned that we and I have to work way harder than I expected. Things don’t just get handed to you. That all comes back to us, keeping the head down.
“I know people will criticise us but, please God, we can turn them around and get them back onside. What better way than getting results against Kilkenny and Galway in the next few league games?”
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