By Brian McDonnell
TIPPERARY intermediate hurling manager Michael Ryan now hopes that his players can build on their All-Ireland winning campaign and step up to the next level.
“I said it before about the character in the team and the way they have worked for us throughout - they have given everything,” Fethard’s Michael Ryan said in the aftermath of Saturday’s two-point win.
“You saw there now that when the pressure was on they stood up to the challenge. They showed great character and when you have that in players you’re on a winner. They stood up to the task and fair play to them. I am proud of the team and of the background team. We really worked hard to get this tonight and thankfully we got over the line.
“There was some pressure,” Michael Ryan explained.
“It was Tipp and Kilkenny. It’s the biggest rivalry in hurling.
“We didn’t want to let down the supporters tonight in Semple Stadium. We wanted to bring a bit pride back to the county. Hopefully there are players out there now who can make the next step up.”
And, to see members of this intermediate step up to senior level would fill this particular Fethard man with pride: “definitely, I would definitely like to see them make the step up. This has developed these players and they are ready to take the next step up now”.
At the final whistle Michael Ryan could afford himself a smile, but for the majority of the second half the Tipperary manager had to deal with the stress of seeing Kilkenny cut a twelve-point lead down to a very manageable one.
“I could have done without that. That was a bit tense there in the second half,” Michael Ryan said with a smile.
“We hurled some super stuff there in the first half. I suppose we were aided with the wind as well, but we were sending in some quality ball to the full-forward line. Mikey Heffernan and the boys were winning some great ball in there and we were putting up some great scores.
“We knew at half-time that Kilkenny were going to come back at us,” Ryan added.
“We didn’t think they would come as hard as they did, but Kilkenny are Kilkenny and they don’t do half measures. They came back and they hit us with everything. It was heart-stopping stuff. We did lose our way there for ten of fifteen minutes there in the second half.
“They started dominating the half-back line and the middle of the field. We were under fierce pressure. They kept tipping over the points and they were back within six points and then they got the goal. It was squeaky bum time then,” Ryan admitted.
“It was down to a point, but in fairness we had Mikey Heffernan in there at full-forward and I suppose at that stage we felt he was being starved of the ball. So, we put him out at wing-forward and he scored two points straight away. He was outstanding.”
Manager Michael Ryan (Fethard) was joined on the management team by coach Michael Ferncombe (Holycross-Ballycahill) and selectors Seán O’Meara (Shannon Rovers) and Eamonn O’Dwyer (Arravale Rovers).
“We had a great year,” Michael Ryan added.
“I would have to give great credit to my back room team.
“Seán O’Meara and Eamonn O’Dwyer were selectors and Mike Ferncombe was coach.
“We had a great team there and we worked well together. We got on great. Hopefully that transferred into the team.
“The boys came in and developed into a team and into a unit. It was like a club team eventually,” he said.