Clare, the defending All-Ireland under-21 champions, represent a huge challenge for Ken Hogan’s Tipperary side on Wednesday night in the Munster final at Semple Stadium, Thurles (throw-in 7.30pm). Not only do Clare feature nine senior panellists, but the Banner will also be carried into Semple Stadium on a wave of optimism as David Fitzgerald’s senior side prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick. It’s no surprise that Clare enter Wednesday’s game as favourites to beat Tipperary for a sixth time at the grade.
“They have nine seniors and, obviously, they are on a high,” Lorrha’s Ken Hogan told the Tipperary Star.
“You see the marquee names like Paudge Collins who won man of the match in their last two senior games; he has come through this year in a huge way. Their whole set-up and having won the All-Ireland (under-21) title with most of that team last year as well is, obviously, a huge fillip to them.
“Clare hurling is on a high at the moment and there is no one more aware of that than ourselves - they have taken hurling to a new level this year in terms of their style of play and their teamwork,” Ken Hogan said.
“We have got to concentrate on our own game. We can’t be inhibited by what Clare do. We respect Clare, but we also have to go out and take this game by the scruff of the neck and give this a huge effort from the word go. At the end of the day we have got to believe in ourselves and believe in what we are about,” Ken Hogan added.
For the 2012 Munster under-21 final Ken Hogan’s men led at Cusack Park, Ennis, but came undone thanks to dramatic late goal (lost 1-14 to 1-16). The Banner progressed to win the All-Ireland title, but an experienced coach like Ken Hogan won’t allow a sense of revenge to distract his players from their responsibility to put together a good performance.
“Obviously, there is a certain amount of hurt from last year,” Ken Hogan explained, “but having said that emotions don’t win games and we have got to be aware of that fact. You can’t get too emotionally involved.”
Since beating Cork in the semi-finals preparations have gone well. Given the fact that the senior side bowed out of the championship some weeks ago Ken Hogan’s under-21 side have been allowed the room to prepare in manner which might otherwise have been possible.
“No problems in the last week or so,” Ken Hogan said.
“We have worked hard and got through it okay thank God. Obviously there has been a number of club games, but the players got through that fine. We were together Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and we just met for a few pucks on Monday night. So, we’re just looking forward to the challenge now which, of course, is going to be a considerable one.”
Following the win over Cork Ken Hogan was eager to highlight the fact that despite the criticism which was heaped on the performances of the senior side that Tipperary hurling had not gone way.
“We are all Tipperary people and when you are involved with your county you are always conscious of doing as well as you can. Obviously there was criticism this year (of the senior team), some of it warranted, some of it unwarranted of Tipperary and of their heart and their belief. We are conscious of the fact that when we put on the blue and gold jersey that it is a huge honour to do so and we have tried to get that across to the lads. They have great pride in what they are about and we will need all that team spirit on Wednesday night. We will need that spirit, we will need that togetherness and we will need that drive to win,” Ken Hogan told the Tipperary Star.
For the Lorrha man showing pride in your work and how you go about your business is a significant issue; an issue which features in his assessment of players.
“We don’t give any orations, but we would be very conscious of it,” Ken Hogan explained.
“We would talk to players individually about it. The key thing is that the players themselves want that more than anybody else. They have shown that pride in the way that they have worked. They have pride in what they are doing. We try to develop the players as much as we can, but a lot of it must come from the players within themselves.
“You have to judge the character of the player himself first of all. In any sport there can be hugely talented people, but they might not always come through. There are always skilful players out there, but having said that you need character and you need that will to win. You need that ruthless streak and that’s what you try to carry through at county level particularly.”
At the quarter-final stage Tipperary beat Limerick 2-18 to 2-11 and then Cork in a high-scoring semi-final 5-19 to 2-13. Both games, however, featured lapses in concentration and significant dips in performance. Against Cork, for example, Tipperary shipped 1-6 without reply either side of half-time. The Premier did recover to win the game, but it is an aspect of their game where Ken Hogan has demanded improvement.
“We discussed that,” Ken Hogan added.
“After the matches we always have a bit of a debrief. Some of the lads were disappointed in how it turned out for them. In both games we had lapses (of concentration), but if we have lapses like that against a team with the quality of Clare we would pay dearly for it. All those little things that we needed to work on we have worked on. Hopefully, we can bring all that together on Wednesday night and give a consistent performance over sixty minutes.
“This is it now - no holds barred. It’s time to go at it and see what we can bring to the game.”
Tipperary starting XV against Cork: Darragh Mooney (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill), Cathal Barrett (Holycross-Ballycahill), Andrew Ryan (Toomevara), Michael Breen (Ballina), Séamus Kennedy (St Mary’s Clonmel), Tomás Hamill (Killea), Joe O’Dwyer (Killenaule), Justin Cahill (Kilruane MacDonagh’s), Brian Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons), Jason Forde (Silvermines), Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonagh’s, captain), Tommy Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg), Liam McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Bill Walsh (Carrick Swans), Aidan McCormack (Thurles Sarsfields).