By Brian McDonnell
DECLAN Ryan, a man whose whisper is worth more than most people’s shouts, has seen it all before. The Clonoulty man has won Munster and All-Ireland titles in three different decades and knows too that there is no tomorrow. Declan Ryan is not looking beyond Sunday’s clash with Waterford. He knows that Tipperary can’t afford to.
“First and foremost this is the final of the Munster championship so both teams will be focused on that alone, but then you go into a new competition, you go into the All-Ireland series after that. We’re looking at this as a final and a final that both teams will be going hard to win. We’ll take whatever comes after that,” Declan Ryan told the Tipperary Star.
“At the moment we’re concentrating on the Munster final itself and we can think about that (the All-Ireland series) after the game.
“Whether we win or lose that will decide our road after that.”
Ryan is, of course, joined on the management team by Toomevara’s Tommy Dunne and Thurles’ Michael Gleeson who guided the Sarsfields to the county title in 2009 and 2010.
Gleeson began his career as a coach with Durlas Óg. And, while discussing the value of Lar Corbett’s contribution to the Tipperary team, Michael Gleeson illustrates his strengths as a selector and reminds us that what sets hurling apart from other sports is that what you don’t see is often the most important thing.
“Lar does tremendous work on the field,” Michael Gleeson explained.
“It’s amazing the work that people sometimes don’t see that he does. Particularly in terms of his running off the ball, his ability to pass the ball around in addition to his scoring ability. The lads have huge respect for Lar and he’s around the place a while now, they look up to him and he’s a good leader on the field.”
Once the subject of Tipperary’s reaction to Clare’s early assault on the All-Ireland champions in the recent Munster semi-final is touched upon it’s obvious that Gleeson was proud of how the Premier responded to the challenge.
Early on Tipperary trailed 1-3 to no-score in Páirc na nGael, but recovered to lead by the break. Clare threw everything they had at Tipp, but the Premier County responded in kind leaving the Banner’s Ger O’Loughlin to throw up his arms in admiring despair.
“As everybody knows Clare came out of the blocks like greyhounds,” selector Michael Gleeson said.
“I suppose they really tore us apart in the first ten minutes, but the composure of our lads and their experience told. They didn’t let it ruffle them. They stood their ground and stuck to the game plan and the goals came eventually. We turned it around and I think that if our lads play to their ability it will take a good team to beat them.
“We have a good blend of players. We have older guys and younger guys, but even the younger guys have a lot of experience. They have played in two All-Irelands, they have played in under-21 All-Irelands and for young guys they have excellent experience and they didn’t let it ruffle them. They stuck to the game plan.
“In every game, and they (the players) were made aware of this, the opposition will have a period of dominance. As it happens with Clare the period of dominance was in the first ten or 15 minutes, unfortunately. Nevertheless they stuck to the plan and turned it around.”
Although Declan Ryan had been utterly outstanding when Tipperary won the 2001 All-Ireland he retired prior to the 2002 championship and found himself “sitting in the stand looking on” when the Premier lost the Munster final to Waterford.
“It wasn’t a particularly nice day in Cork that day,” Declan Ryan said.
“Waterford had an up-and-coming team and they had a lot of good young lads coming through.
“I suppose it’s not unlike what they have at the moment. They have a nice mix of experienced guys and Davy (Fitzgerald) has introduced some fresh blood as well. They have come out of the Limerick game now and that will be a huge plus for them. They will be a lot more confident now going into the next day and as we have said already we are concentrating on our own performance. We know that if we play to the best of our ability on any given day that we will give a good account of ourselves.”
Declan took some time out to watch Waterford’s semi-final clash with Limerick and was impressed by the Déise’s determination to play to the final whistle.
“Any day that it’s your first day out you don’t know what to expect,” explained the Clonoulty-Rossmore man.
“Everyone prepares as well as they can, but you still need to play a championship game to know how you’re fixed. I think Limerick came out that day and showed that they can have a good say in the championship this year and they were very well organised. They showed that they have a game plan and I think that had they got a little bit more first time ball into the full-forward maybe that the result might have been a bit different.
“Full credit to Waterford though, they showed a lot of experience, good composure as well and they played it out to the final whistle and they are in the Munster final now as a result.”
Although Declan Ryan is enjoying his first year in charge of the Tipperary’s senior outfit he believes that too much is made of a manager’s influence.
“It’s a great honour, but to be fair the responsibility is shared among all the back room team.
“I mean there is a lot of talk now about managers, but there is too much talk about a lot of them in a lot of cases,” Declan Ryan added.
“I am part of the back room team and we are lucky that we have a great squad of players in Tipperary at the minute and that we have people who are behind the scenes that are all very professional and going about their business in a proper fashion. All the responsibility is shared equally among the back room team.
“All the people that were there when we came in were very professional and we were delighted to continue working with them. It’s a huge honour to be manager of Tipperary, obviously it’s a very proud hurling county, but there can be too much talk about managers at times.”
Borris-Ileigh’s Brendan Maher, the 2010 young hurler of the year who already has minor, under-21 and senior All-Ireland medals to his name, is close to regaining full fitness and therefore presents Declan Ryan with a welcome selection headache.
In fact the Tipperary management have declared their squad to be fully fit for the first time this year.
“I suppose it’s the first game that we are going to go into this year with a clean bill of health as regards injuries,” Declan Ryan said.
“Brendan (Maher) played a club game with his club Borris-Ileigh last weekend and he trained away with us during the week as well and we’re just going to have to monitor his progress and see how he is fixed.”
The Borris-Ileigh star is capable of playing in any number of positions for Tipp, but there’s no air leaking out of the tyres with Declan Ryan.
“Well, we have not given much thought to our team yet,” Declan Ryan said with a laugh, “but the most important thing is that he (Brendan Maher) is fit and that he is ready to go for himself first of all.
“He has worked very hard to get back. He had a nasty break of his ankle, but full credit to him everything he was asked to do he has done it and done it very well.
“So, hopefully, he is going to be 100 per cent whether we call on him for the Munster final or not. We will have to wait and see.”