By Brian McDonnell
THERE are no two ways about it: next Sunday, August 19th manager Declan Ryan is expecting a big performance from his Tipperary players.
“Our guys have been going very well in training over the last number of weeks and I think that there is a big performance in them. And, we’re expecting to see a huge performance out of them,” Declan Ryan told the assembled press corps in the Horse & Jockey Hotel last week.
Following last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny the “hunger” of the Tipperary players was questioned, but manager Declan Ryan has described his players as “extremely hungry” this time around.
“I suppose it was a word that was used an awful lot after the All-Ireland final last year,” Declan Ryan explained.
“The fact that Kilkenny were hurting from the year before and they had the hunger going into the game. I think that it’s all down to the day now and whatever little edge you can get and where ever you can get it from that could be the vital score or the vital period of dominance that will win you the game. That’s the way it was last year in the All-Ireland final. We’ll be certainly looking to improve on our performance. I think the guys have trained hard enough and they are going to be extremely hungry going out on the 19th anyway.”
Since the 2009 All-Ireland final the series of games between Kilkenny and Tipperary have taken hurling to a new level and enthralled the country. Declan Ryan insists however that they will prepare for Sunday’s semi-final as they always do. Every opponent is treated with the same level of respect.
“In Tipperary we’re just concentrating on our own performance and hope that we can turn up and play as well as we can on the day. We know that if we can do that we can get through to an All-Ireland final,” Declan Ryan said.
“There has been very little between Tipp and Kilkenny for the last couple of years. I know it’s a well-used phrase, but it is all on the day. The managers and both sets of players will just have to turn up and both play their best on the day,” Declan Ryan said.
“Obviously it’s a massive game for both counties. There’s a huge prize there for the winner - to get to the All-Ireland final - and that’s what both sets of players and both sets of management teams will be looking for.”
The Clounoulty-Rossmore man smiled when asked how long it took to actually watch the DVD of last year’s harrowing four-point All-Ireland final defeat at the hands of Kilkenny.
“Any game you lose, it doesn’t matter what game it is, it’s difficult to watch afterwards. And, the All-Ireland final was no different in that regard,” Declan Ryan explained.
“I suppose I had seen snippets of it from time to time, but to sit down and watch it from start to finish was very difficult. It was weeks anyway, months maybe, it was nearly Christmas I think.
“The most disappointing thing in any game is if you don’t play to your potential. We didn’t do that the last time we played Kilkenny in the championship and win, lose or draw the next day and we play to our potential that will be a huge improvement on the previous encounter,” Ryan added.
“I think the guys have put a massive effort into their preparation and I think we are in a better mental space than we were last year. That’s all down to working very hard together and working collectively and the guys know that they have put in a massive effort. Any day that you go out and you’re not properly tuned in you’re not going to get the results.
“I think all those things have added to the fact that these guys are in a good space at the moment. We know it’s going to be a massive battle the next day and if we are on top of our game then we have a chance.”
A most obvious problem with last year’s performance was Tipperary’s failure to score until the 16th minute, but Declan Ryan is expecting a much-improved display on Sunday.
“We were blitzed for the first ten minutes last year, but I think we are in a much better frame of mind going into this game,” Declan Ryan said.
“In every game we have played in this year our guys have been improving steadily. Going on their performance in training over the last number of weeks we are expecting a further improvement in their performance in the semi-final. I think there’s a much better atmosphere in the camp particularly since the Limerick game. All the guys have realised that if this Tipp team plays to their potential they can be the best team in the country. It’s as simple as that.”
A significant aspect to Tipperary’s performances this year has been the impact made by a series of key substitutions, most notably against Limerick in the Munster championship.
“From a management point of view it’s very nice to look around and have options on the bench,” Ryan said.
“And it gives management a huge lift to see guys coming off and wishing the fella going on the very best of luck.
“The guys who have come on have all made a huge contribution. We have thirty-one guys on our panel at the minute and every one of them is as important as the next.
“In the big games that we have played so far the bench has made a huge contribution. It’s difficult to be telling guys that they are not starting, but all these guys have taken it on the chin. They have made whatever contribution they have been asked to make. And, that has been fantastic from our point of view,” Declan Ryan added before heralding former captain Eoin Kelly’s reaction to finding himself on the substitutes bench.
“It’s absolutely fantastic and I think the day that Eoin came off he showed fantastic leadership.
“He gave the management and the panel a huge boost that he has continued to make a fantastic contribution to the squad,” Declan Ryan said.
“From a management point of view he’s a fantastic guy to have around the place. For the younger players he is a huge influence as well.
“He’s always very positive and always willing to give. That has added to the atmosphere and the buzz that is around the Tipp camp.”