While talk of legendary practice games in training on the part of rival counties, may well have grown legs down through the years, Tipperary senior hurling Manager Eamon O’Shea has defiantly proclaimed that The Premier County also picks teams based on form.
In a wide ranging interview in advance of the Munster championship clash with Limerick on Sunday, you get a sense that the Kilruane MacDonagh man is a little irked over the raising of others to the status of legend, while Tipperary, embarking upon the same course of action can be somewhat dismissed.
Granted, this is a results driven game, and Tipperary’s results have been iffy to say the least. But, the message from Eamon is clear - the prefer of being ruthless or willing to do what is best for the team and the county, does not lie solely across the border - whichever direction your gaze may take you.
Asked if he knew, ten days out from the big game, what his starting fiteen for Limerick would be, the NUIG based lecturer said, “I think if you are ten days out from a game and you know 12 of your fifteen, that’s a good ratio. I have a fair idea of our team at this stage, but things can change in training very quickly. Players can get injured and all that. We’ll be announcing our team on Saturday at lunchtime as usual and we’ll be picking on form. People seem to think that only some managers pick their team on form, but so do we,” Eamon said when interviewed in the Horse and Jockey Hotel this week.
The question, not for the first time, involved the situation with Lar Corbett who has little enough training done following a knee injury, but who has played in a number of challenge and training games. So, is he in or out at this stage? - remember a similar scenario twelve months ago didn’t work out with Corbett coming on in the hope of rescuing the game against Limerick, but failing to make an impact.
“I wouldn’t rule him in or out at this stage. He is doing fine and it will be the middle, to the end of the week, before we can make a proper assessment. His problem is match practice,” Eamon said.
There are also problems with Paddy Murphy and Michael Breen, both of whom will not feature against Limerick, while Eoin Kelly and Michael Cahill both have hamstring strains which are taking time to heal.
Should Tipperary be without these players, the hope is that they would be better equipped now to deal with their loss, than heretofore. The league campaign, testing though it was, has thrown up options and Eamon confesses to have seen “a lot which has been good from the players.”
One of those ‘good’ points has been the emergence of Captain Brendan Maher as a centre back in the mould of Mick Roche. Maher, a name synonmous with maning Tipperary’s central spine, was outstanding against Kilkenny in the NHL Final while his namesake, but of the Christian name, Padraic, is ‘a very fine full back’.
Both are hurlers who like to beat their opponents and drive out with the ball, a trait which Eamon admits, changes the dynamic of the way Tipperary go at teams. It has resulted in Tipp taking the game to the opposition and has been successful in key clashes.
Management is a learning curve and while Eamon is adamant that the days of ‘the big three’ dominating the hurling scene are dead and buried, the game continues to educate and asks questions of those in charge, as well as those operating between the tramlines. Tipp learned a lesson last year - this year will tell if it was retained.
“The period between the League Final and the Munster championship cost us because we didn’t have the kind of focus we required. I take responsibility for that and this year we have made sure that this cannot happen again,” he said.
Tipperary will not be fooled into thinking that the problems which have been highlighted in the Limerick camp will result in them being any less determined to put back to back defeats of their neighbours into the history books. The Munster champions’ woes have nothing to do with Tipp - “What’s going on down there has nothing to do with us. The only team I can control is Tipperary and you would have enough to worry about without worrying about something over which we have no control.
“ I would say that the Munster championship is so competitive that on any given day any of the teams can beat each other. Clare are perhaps slightly ahead of the rest but the pressure is really on teams now because of the competitiveness of the championship. It’s fabulous and it’s what we all want to see.
“I know our attitude is good and solid and if that is good enough to get us over the line against Limerick, well then, that’s what we will be judged on. Nothing else. We have worked very hard, to get our free count down for instance, and I think people appreciate that.
“We have the support of our people - I think that was evident at our open training night. And, when you have the support of the people around you then you are in a decent position. We, and the players, are very well aware that we need to help foster the next generations. I am a great believer in handing the thing on and passing it down and I think the players know and appreicate that too, because we have spoken about it. It’s very important and those kids who came to our training and gave us a big lift, are the ones we will be handing it on to in time to come.”
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Charles Dickens probably never saw Tipperary hurling, but the opening line of his ‘Tale of Two Cities’ could well have described Tipperary mid-league campaign. The worst of times - three straight humiliating defeats - were possibly the best education Tipperary could have received. Management could see how players coped with pressure; caught a glimpse of their own reflection in the mirror too; and were able to admire the manner in which they shovelled out of the tunnel and back into the light - the worst of days could well lead to the best of times for Tipp this summer. Remember Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 2010? Fast forward to Croke Park in September. Education.
“Things were not going well on the field, but we knew the structures were OK and the attitude was OK. It was a concern for some especialy from the outside looking in. But, we knew we were doing things right and that meant a lot. You have to have a bit of belief and confidence too,” Eamon said.
As Tipp face up to Limerick on Sunday, confidence should not be a problem. The hope is that when Limerick come tearing at the blue and gold jersey, which they certainly will, belief will not be a problem either.