By Noel Dundon
As Tipperary prepare to kickoff their 2012 championship campaign, Manager Declan Ryan says that his charges are a championship team and always find it easier to get right mentally for summertime hurling.
The Clonoulty Rossmore man has been through a rollercoaster eighteen months or so, since taking over from Liam Sheedy as Tipp Boss. Everything was going swimmingly with the 2011 Munster title in the bag and a place in the All-Ireland Final won.
But then, a poor performance in the All-Ireland against Kilkenny, followed by another poor display against them in the Allianz NHL opener in Nowlan Park, and another bad outing against Cork in the semi-final, left many a Tipp man scratching the head.
Lar Corbett withdrew from the panel and the rumour mill was in overdrive - Tipp were in freefall, it seemed.
But, Corbett returned; Tipp got back down to serious championship preparation; they have a clear bill of health with the exception of Adrian Ryan; and Limerick loom on the horizon.
“Limerick are in a building phase at the minute. One thing you can say about them is that they have a lot of potential in the forward line and that’s something every team wants to have, and need, to win championship games. We’d be very mindful of that when playing them and it will be a good start to the championship. Top quality league games are something every team likes to have but I don’t think it will matter on May 27th that we were in the top division, because Limerick will come up with a good game plan. John Allen is a very good organiser and a good Coach and Donagh O’Donnell has done a lot of good work with Limerick. Championship is on the day, we know that from experience, and we are just looking forward to performing on the day,” the Clonoulty Rossmore man said.
Tipp’s last outing left a bitter taste in the mouth - a timid enough disaply against Cork in the league semi-final. It has resulted in a lot of criticism in the media and amongst the hurling public in Tipperary. But, Tipp have learned from it and Declan, Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson have “tweaked things a little bit” in the hope that the approach will be sharper and with more of an edge.
“It was a disappointing performance really against Cork. The result didn’t matter too much -we set out at the start of the year to get to a league semi-final and we performed very poorly in that game. Giving all the preparation we put in, that was very disappointing. It’s no different from any other Tipp team that when you go out and you are not at the level you should be at mentally, you struggle to perform and when that happens in Tipp, any team is a match for us. We realise that when we are up to speed and play as well as we can play on a given day, we are difficult to beat, but the opposite is also the case.”
So how do you know if the team is up for it in advance then?
“Well you try to guage that in the week before in how lads are reacting and body language really in training. In Tipp when we decide that we want to play as best we can, we are a match for the best and Sunday week we play Limerick and the guys have prepared very well. We had a difficult week after the Cork game but since then we have prepared very well. We are looking forward to May 27th. Going from league to championship is like going from 3rd gear up to 6th when you are driving along the motorway. Our guys are more a championship team than a league team – they relish the big occasion and this particular group are more mentally geared towards championship.
“Cork proved in the league final that any team on any occaion can be a bit flat. That happens in all sports and it is just a psychological thing. You can never be certain that it won’t happen again – there are no certainties in sport, we all know that. You just have to prepare as well as you can and go out and hurl as hard as you can and hope that it happens on the day,” he says.
The biggest thing he has learned from the experience?
“Regardless of how physically well you are prepared, and our lads are very well prepared and in great physcial shape at the moment, if you don’t get the break of the ball and are not tuned in mentally and prepared to go for every ball as if it is your last, your will struggle.”
Admitting that he finds it very hard to cope with watching the team not living up to their potential, Declan says that a number of changes have been made to preparations in a bid to ensure that the team are clued in and straining on the leash to get out of the traps prior to a game. He has heard the criticisms and while they hurt, he knows too that hurling people appreciate the effort and commitment players must give in order to get to the field of play in the first place.
“As manager of the team, and as a backroom team, you are always trying to tweak little things in the preparation and warm up and build up. We have been looking at some of those areas over the last couple of weeks and will be putting them into practice on the 27th. Everyone is entitled to their opinion in Tipp – it doesn’t matter who is involved in the management team or what team is playing. Everyone in Tipp has an opinion on the game and that is a positive thing. It is no different to Cork or Kilkenny or Limerick or anywhere else. Any real hurling people who know what goes into preparing these players and who knows the lifestyles these guys live during championship time would be very fair in their comments. We had a couple of games last year when we didn’t play to form and the lads shipped a bit of criticism for that, but that’s part and parcel of the game. You just get on with it and prepare as best you can for the next game,” said the man who won All-Ireland senior hurling medals in three different decades for Tipp.
So, Lar is back. It’s a big boost to Tipp and while Declan doesn’t think that he will feature on Sunday against Limerick, the smile which accompanied the soundbite betrays a devilment which might just see the Sarfsields man in the squad.
“We are delighted with it. It was a big surprise when he decided to opt out earlier in the year and we were all delighted when he decided to come back.
“He was in training during the week and Lar is lucky that he doesn’t put up a lot of weight but it will take him a couple of weeks to get up to speed. Good to have him back.
Sunday week is too soon I would expect,” he smiles.
So what about the lack of goals in his absence - are we likely to see a flood of green flags again?
“We have 31 guys on the panel and they have all trained very well since the 1st January. They have put in a huge effort and are in fantastic shape.
“Lar’s goal scoring record over the years is well documented but we have plenty of goal getters besides Lar in our squad as well.
“Whatever 15 we decide to pick against Limerick will be going out to get goals or points – as long as we have more scores on the board at the end, we don’t mind.”