Tipperary are ready to fly - again

RIGHT, cards on the table from the off. For starters, this observer can’t see Tipperary not beating Cork tomorrow despite some qualms about their half-back line, and if it’s easy and lazy to speculate that the underdogs will give ‘em plenty of it before the MacCarthy Cup holders assert their authority in the closing quarter, then so be it.

Secondly, he expects Tipp to win the All-Ireland, quite feasibly after a couple of wide-margin victories en route, and he has money on them to do so (for the first time since 2001, if you really want to know).

Last but not least, he thinks Tipp could, subject to theusual terms and conditions, be a three-in-a-row team. So there.

Readers with nothing better to do are invited to cut out this intro, put it in a safe place and come back to it in September and/or in September 2012.

Either I’ll be a certified genius, the Enda who should be running the country (and incidentally correcting Barack Obama’s grip, not that a Mayo man can be blamed for not knowing the right way to hold an ash plant), or Tipperary will have made me look very foolish indeed.

The reasons for such faith in Tipp? Numerous and obvious.

They’re young. They’re progressive. Their line on the graph is going the opposite way to Kilkenny’s line on the graph. They know how to win. They’re confident without being full of themselves. They learned a harsh lesson this weekend last year about the perils of believing one’s own press cuttings.

They have strength on the bench, though perhaps not as much strength as we’re led to believe.

They appear to have ample scope for improvement. They have Noel McGrath, the most gifted youngster of his age since Jimmy Doyle and Eddie Keher graduated from minor ranks half a century ago. They have Brendan Maher (when he returns from injury) with his prowling perceptiveness and versatility and clean stickwork. And they have an attacking carousel, the hurling equivalent of Barcelona’s midfield carousel, all lateral movement and creation of angles and space.

It took three years for Cork’s running game to be decoded. The Tipperary variation may be more difficult to combat for the reason that their forward line contains considerably more high explosive than Cork’s did.

Give them a ball and a yard of grass out the field and instead of trying to run it in closer to goal before shooting, as was the norm with Cork, they’ll seek to put it over from there.

Unlike Cork too, they score goals. Whaddaya do? But there are caveats. There are lots of caveats, the first and most important of them being the matter of how well or otherwise they deal with winning. And Tipp haven’t dealt well with winning for a long time.

This is a county that hasn’t won successive All-Irelands for nigh on 50 years, a period in which Galway, Cork (more than once) and Kilkenny (umpteen times) have done so. Put titles back to back, whether this season or maybe a few seasons down the road, and Tipperary will have joined that select group of modern hurling superpowers. Not until then, though.

Other ponderable imponderables are easily pointed to.

Misfortune.Injuries, on which point at least Brendan Maher is unavailable now rather than being unavailable in two months’ time.

The ever-present threat of being caught by Galway on one of their good days (all enquiries to B Cody, Bennettsbridge Road, Kilkenny). A failure by some of their younger players to train on. The question of who’ll steer the car should the long-time designated drivers — Brendan Cummins, Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett — doze off at the wheel. The possibility that last September was this team’s high-water mark. The possibility that a novice managerial trio will make a critical mistake while learning their trade.

On top of that, the present group of players have done plenty of hurling over the past three years and punched their weight in big matches. It’ll be interesting to see how long they continue to do so. The supporters too — whatever about the players — must be alive to the dangers of disappearing up their own posteriors in the event of a triumphal procession in Munster this summer. Hubris, like measles, can be contagious.

In the end, however, Tipperary’s fate over the coming couple of seasons will be an issue not of supporters, nor even of players, but of management. Can Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson create a structure that will nurture character, maintain hunger, reward ambition, keep everyone’s eye on the ball and thereby potentially transform a team into a machine?

This is not a matter of good coaching; such is Dunne’s reputation on that count, we can take it for granted Tipp will be imaginatively coached. It is, rather, a matter of Ryan proving he’s a leader of men.

He wasn’t always that on the field, for all the paeans to him when he retired as a player. Think back to the Tipp team of the 1990s. The truth is that John Leahy was an altogether more vibrant and vital figure.

You always knew that Leahy would do something, whether good or bad (it was seldom indifferent); you never knew whether Ryan would or not. But that doesn’t mean Ryan might not be the ideal man for the Tipperary job at this time.

He’s no Liam Sheedy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Sheedy gave every fibre of his being to the task last year. Could he have repeated the trick? Even if he could, how soon before the law of diminishing returns kicked in? Cumminsdescribed Tipp’s performance in the All-Ireland final as a “perfect storm”.

Perfect and therefore unrepeatable.

The clear precedent for Ryan moving things on successfully comes from Leeside.

Six years ago John Allen took charge of the reigning All-Ireland champions from Donal O’Grady and the join was imperceptible. O’Grady had been the right man to dig the foundations; Allen, a chairman rather than an MD, a delegator rather than a micro-manager, turned out to be the right man to take it from there and oversee the continued development work.

An annexe here, a new bedroom there. Steady as she goes.

As with John Allen, so too with Declan Ryan. Right man, right place, right time?

Tomorrow is where he can, and must, start to show it. Tomorrow is where he makes a statement.

Picture: Noel McGrath (Inpho)


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