Tipperary defender Paddy Stapleton is relishing the chance to return to Croke Park on Sunday and dismisses out of hand any suggestions that the venue can be an intimidating place for newcomers to the side.
The Borris-Ileigh clubman, a PE teacher in Colaiste Mhuire in Thurles is shooting the breeze at the present time with school out for summer. But, he is hoping that September will be a very busy month, what with the return to the school routine, a date with destiny in Croke Park on Sunday 7th, and further action with his club in the North and County championships.
It seems alsmost a shame to be wishing the summer away, but the reality is that Paddy and his Tipperary colleagues cannot wait for the clash with Cork and are counting down the days for the weekend to come.
“We had a break from the county scene with club action on and it has been all about recovering from those games and getting things right in terms of preparations for the Cork match now. We had a good result with the club ( they beat Toomevara in the North championship quarter final tie) so I came back into the county training in good form,” he told The Tipperary Star this week.
Paddy, or Saint, as he is known to most in hurling circles, forced his way back into the Tipperary team earlier in the season when circumstances dictated that a strudy corner back was required. The SOS signal was picked up in Borris-Ileigh and since then Paddy has nailed down a place in the starting fifteen - a place which was his own for a long time until injuries started to take their toll.
They are all in the past now and Paddy is content to focus on the present and on the future for Tipp - that future looks no further than Sunday and the threat posed by the Rebels in Croke Park.
“Cork have a few very good forwards and you could end up marking any one of them on any given day. I know Cork teams well. They are very economical with the ball and they don’t give it away too easily at all. They are skillfull and fast and with a team like that you just have to make the most of the ball you get yourself. That’s what we’ll be striving to do and our hope is to capitalise on any advantage we may get during the course of the game,” Paddy said.
Emphasising the importance of the Tipp defence having kept a clean sheet in the game against Dublin, Paddy says that this was a big boost to keeper Darren Gleeson who had the unenviable task of taking over from long serving Brendan Cummins. That wasn’t easy for the big Portroe man, but because he had served as understudy to Cummins for so long, he was very familiar to the players. This certainly helped according to Paddy.
“People often ask if Darren was more vocal or less vocal than Brendan, but the reality is that you cannor hear anything from three yards away on the day of a big game. The noise around is such that you just cannot pick up what anyone is saying. You are more looking for body language or hand signals but I would say that we all feel very assured with having Darren watching our backs. He has made a few vital saves and gotten us off the hook a few times this season and I am sure he will again. A lot of goals have been scored, especially in the league, but they haven’t been his fault in any shape or form,” Paddy says.
While the Dublin victory obviously paved the way for the clash with Cork on Sunday, Paddy pointed to the win over Galway as being the most important of the season, and indeed in recent times. It was the proof the players needed that they are capable of reacting to difficult situations, getting themselves out of them and moving on. They did that and have learned valuable lessons from the experience which will surely stand to them when the backs are to the wall on Sunday - and the likelihood is that their backs will be to the wall at some stage during the course of the semi-final.
What about the Croke Park factor? This will be Tipp’s first return since the anhiliation by Kilkenny in 2012 - how will that work out? What about the younger players?
“I hadn’t thought about the 2012 game to be honest until the question was asked. I don’t think that will have any bearing on us at all. It’s a different game, a different season, different opposition. As for Croke Park - to me it’s just a green field like any other green field. I don’t think it makes much of a difference. You are not looking around the place during the course of a game and if you are maybe it’s not the place for you to be. None of the younger players have asked me anything about playing in Croke Park anyway but then I didn’t ask anyone about it either when I went there for the first time. You just get on with it and concentrate on the first ball coming your way - the same as you would do for any game really,” he says.
As for Cork?
“They have been really really good. You don’t have to talk them up or down, it is there for everyone to see. We know we have a tough job on our hands but that is what we are there for. To try and curb their forwards we have to get out in front of them and take the ball away. That’s what we will be trying to achieve and that’s why we set up for the challenge,” Paddy says.
Borris-Ileigh’s seniors have a Saint and a Deacon playing for them at the present time - Paddy’s cousin Vincent is due to be ordained to the Priesthood very soon. Tipperary fans will be hoping to keep the faith on Sunday and will look forward to some of that famous Borris’ spirit flowing through the blue and gold jersey.