This is a fairly startling statistic of Tipperary hurling: Of the U21-powered team that won the 2010 All-Ireland senior title, only six started against Clare in the recent Allianz Hurling League semi-final win.
A big turnover? Yes, says Michael Ryan, involved then and now as a selector, but a welcome development too.
“That’s something I would have been very conscious of, that we hadn’t moved on or blended in enough new guys over the period, and it was very tempting not to because they weren’t an old team bar four or five fellas,” he said. “We’re always talking about the eight U21s we had on the panel in 2010 and they should be there to sustain you, be the core of your team for five or six years.
“It doesn’t always go like that though. Some of those guys haven’t played since. Seamus Hennessy is one example. His health just hasn’t allowed him to keep playing at this level and that’s a loss.”
Injury and natural wastage are factors. Perhaps another reason, though, is circumstance. At the start of this league campaign Tipperary were suffering from a spate of injuries and a lot of those newcomers were thrown in at the deep end. Several of those have thrived.
In the first four games Tipp struggled, lucky to get past Waterford in the first round then beaten in their next three games. Galway was their worst defeat of all, resulting in some home truths being told in the dressing-room in terms so forceful they echoed out into the halls and were overheard by the assembled media.
No apologies for that, says Michael.
“It wasn’t a realisation that things weren’t going right, it was just that we weren’t able to find our levels.
“We were very happy with our performance levels in terms of training but we weren’t able to get it out onto the playing field in matches, particularly against Galway. That was frustrating for us all and look, as you say, the walls are thin.
“But anyone who has either been in charge of teams or within teams, dressing-rooms are charged affairs. They’re not for the faint-hearted. You’ll be told a few home-truths from time to time and we all need to hear it. There’s an occasion when you need to say it as well and we are no different.
“Look, guys care. This hurt us. We didn’t plan any of those poor results but that was probably the worst, to be honest, up in Galway.”
It wasn’t just in the dressing-room that there were raised voices and inside Tipperary itself questions were being asked, not just about the players but about the management. Par for the course, says Michael.
“Just bear in mind that I drive down to Kilkenny five days a week to earn a living. I’ve very good friends down there and I get worse in the tea-room in Kilkenny than anything that was felt around Tipperary — and I get it daily!
“Look, we never felt under pressure because we knew we were on the right road. I’m not trying to sound like we have all the answers because we don’t, but we were very happy with the level of effort we were getting back from the lads. There was nothing we could put in front of these guys that would leave you unsatisfied.”
And so Eamon O’Shea, Paudie O’Neill and Michael showed faith in those players, faith that has paid off. Many of the old guard are there. Noel McGrath, the Mahers Padraic, Brendan and Patrick, Mickey Cahill and Conor O’Mahony all showing the kind of form that won that 2010 title for Tipp. But they are now augmented by Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Kieran Bergin, Denis Maher, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and Niall O’Meara along with the more experienced Seamus Callanan and James Woodlock to give Tipperary a much-changed but equally potent look.
This Sunday, the league final against Kilkenny, will be a true test of that team but if Michael is correct, the signs for Tipp are positive.
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