Michael Ryan saw the signs.
He saw Cork’s improvement through the springtime fog of inconsistency, and he saw his players burdened by an intense workload throughout the league and in the rounds of club fixtures since losing to Galway.
He was concerned to the point of cancelling a ‘work session’ for the squad less than a fortnight prior to yesterday’s championship opener. And still, despite that precaution, a Cork side littered with new faces showed up fresher and more energised.
“Cork just trumped us in that middle third (in terms of) energy and intensity. It was theirs rather than ours. They were really sharp all over the field. They had a lot of ball and they seemed to have fresher legs.
“The energy in that Cork team was as good as anything that we’ve seen. The signs were there. They came all guns blazing. We were within a point or two of them most of the time, but they seemed to have the greater energy and probably hunger.
“This is by no means an excuse, but four weeks ago we got beaten by Galway after eight games in 10 weeks. We immediately turned around and the bulk of our fellas had two competitive club games in the intervening four weeks.
“Every county has a unique situation but we’ve certainly got something we’ve got to look at. Are our boys allowed enough time in terms of preparation? It’s a very delicate balance between club and county and we’ve got to be fair to everybody here.
“I’m just concerned for our boys that they’ve been on the go and on the go and they didn’t look fresh enough out there.”
Did he detect that lack of energy in the camp beforehand? “I was concerned when I saw the fixture list, and that’s not an excuse — I can’t emphasise that enough. But I do feel for these fellas.
“We pulled a session last week (less than two weeks prior to yesterday’s game) which would’ve been down as a work session for ourselves, purely because of what we were seeing in terms of the load on the boys. Every county team are measuring in terms of fatigue, rest and that kind of thing, and everyone makes adjustments.
“That one would’ve been in the back of my mind. It was a fast lead-in time to this.”
Can those club fixtures be managed better in the long gap until their July 1 return?
“The only thing I’ll be trying to influence in some way is the internal stuff. We’re looking at six weeks until our next outing and we’ve just got to manage that to a point where we’re all happy.”
In between, Ryan is again left to examine and re-examine the clues of a surprise defeat. Before the post-mortems around the county resume, Ryan shields his players from excessive blame. Fair enough, Tipp weren’t good enough. But there wasn’t a gulf in class as in 2010, and Cork, well, they’re back.
“Look, this is Cork, lads. This time last year we were here saying they weren’t themselves. But I tell you, they’re back and we can take that as a certainty.
“It’s going to be a very interesting year. I love to be right sometimes, but I told ye fellas last September that next year was going to be a fantastic year for hurling, and so it is.
“Our lot is to find a new route and the challenge is ours. We’ve lots of soul-searching to do, but a couple of facts need to be absolutely confirmed here. We’ve a super bunch of fellas down there. They care a huge amount about Tipperary hurling. They didn’t do anything wrong here today.
“They just came up against a really, really good Cork team, and we weren’t sharp enough. We’ve work to do but I’m not shocked.”
The measure of Cork’s improvement is such that Ryan now considers them a match for anybody out there. That established top-four of 2015 and 2016 will have to accommodate a fifth team.
“They’re a top-class side. They’ve worked in the bit of youth that they needed to work in and I think they’re a match for anybody that’s out there. The summer is going to get going from now on, but not for us in Munster.”
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