Noel McGrath was terrific for Tipperary during the 2017 championship playing 333 minutes, scoring 0-11 (79% shooting accuracy), setting up 0-10 and creating 21 shots at goal in total.
Watching Tipperary meet the challenges posed by the 2018 season should be really fascinating. The drama associated with the 2017 campaign was difficult for all concerned to deal with, but now the Premier County enjoys an opportunity to redeem itself. The chase for the Liam MacCarthy Cup has become to Tipperary as the whale Moby Dick was to Captain Ahab: 2017 hurt Tipperary and now, surely, the men draped in blue and gold want their revenge. Here at Tipperary Star Sport we look at the five key factors that Michael Ryan must address should the Premier County wish to win the county's 28th All-Ireland hurling crown and reveal why the number forty-five will haunt the Tipperary camp this Christmas.
Irrespective of what anyone may argue about tactics or the significance of player talent the main thing is still the main thing - if your team does not set the terms and conditions of the game in a physical sense you are asking for trouble. And, this especially applies to forwards who determine the quality of ball that is permitted to enter your half of the field. Essentially, work rate matters.
Since Michael Ryan’s appointment as manager the Upperchurch-Drombane man has emphasized his intention to build a hard-working identity for the Tipperary senior hurling team. And, true to his word in 2016 the Tipp players established a significant reputation for themselves in that regard. However, there is no getting away from the fact that the work rate of the Tipperary team became a concern during the 2017 season.
Tipperary, for example, performed poorly at Páirc na nGael, Limerick and paid a dear price when losing by sixteen points to a rampant Galway side (0-14 to 3-21) in the Allianz National Hurling League final on April 23rd.
In 2016 the defining characteristic of the team was the forwards’ determination to contaminate the quality of possession that the opposition enjoyed.
The ferocity of the Tipperary tackling, for example, in the 2016 All-Ireland final affected Kilkenny’s shots and their shot percentage success rate - Tipperary won the shot tally 33-17 and the shot percentage success rate 73% to 47%. Galway, however, turned the tables on Tipperary in the league final - they worked like dogs up front, intercepted Tipperary deliveries forty-eight times, dominated possession to the tune of 57% and restricted Tipp to a passing percentage of just 58% (Galway 72%).
To win elite hurling matches it is necessary to force the opponent into the condition that you want them to be in. Galway did the work, Tipperary did not.
In 2017 the Tipperary team was scoring for fun - against Dublin Michael Ryan’s men notched 6-26 (the county’s highest championship score in ninety-two years) before firing 0-28 against Clare to force their way into the semi-finals (0-28 to 3-16).
Against Galway in the league final and Cork subsequently in the Munster championship Tipperary conceded 5-48 and although the finger was pointed at the full-back line the more significant problem could be located further out the field - the forwards were simply not working hard enough to contaminate the quality of the opposition ball.
In the 2016 championship, for example, Tipperary shipped 19 points on average.
During the 2017 league campaign that average jumped to over 21 points and to over 23 during the 2017 championship (when you remove Westmeath from the equation the Premier County conceded 27.5 points on average prior to the contest with Clare).
And, in the quarter-final Clare were permitted to get nine shots (including rebounds) in on Tipperary goalkeeper Darragh Mooney's goal which was a distressingly high number.
As the year progressed, however, the Tipperary work rate improved, significantly. Tipperary's performance against Clare and Galway, for example, was far from perfect, but none of the issues associated with the display could be put down to a poor attitude.
Tipperary’s work rate against Clare helped Michael Ryan’s side to build a platform from which to win the game.
And, the work rate of the forwards made a huge contribution in this regard.
In all Tipperary’s starting forwards got in forty tackles and won twelve turnovers in the process.
Indeed, it was highly encouraging to see the inside line forward of John McGrath, Séamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer register fifteen tackles between them.
The fierce tackle rate which the Tipperary team were renowned for in 2016 was back and that searing effort gave the Premier County a fighting chance against the Tribesmen.
A persistent pattern to the Galway approach in 2017 was the side’s determination to lock down the middle third of the field.
This facet was vital to Galway in a defensive sense, but also in terms of attacking since pressure on the ball forced rushed clearances which presented Tribesmen defenders with an opportunity to intercept opposition deliveries and launch counter-attacks.
Against Cork in the Munster championship and Galway in the league final in 2017 there was simply no getting away from the fact that Tipperary attempted to win those contests without doing the work necessary to lock down the middle third of the field in the first instance - Tipperary attempted to win a match from a platform which was burning down around their ears.
If you look at the encounter with Cork, for instance, Dan McCormack won four turnovers and accumulated ten hooks, blocks and tackles - narrowly less than the accumulated defensive efforts of Michael Breen, John O'Dwyer, Noel McGrath and Séamus Callanan put together.
A huge work rate from the Tipperary forwards will be required in 2018.
The number forty-five may well haunt the Tipperary camp this Christmas. Indeed, that very number may demand that the Tipperary team is coached in a significantly different way this coming season.
When Galway encountered Tipperary in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final the Tribesmen intercepted Tipperary deliveries forty-five times (a significant number when compared to the thirty that Galway coughed up in the same game - that’s a fifteen-ball differential in a game decided by a single-point). Tipperary’s passing success rate amounted to just 66% (75%-plus is a solid par for an inter-county team).
Similarly in the 2017 league final Galway worked like dogs and as a result intercepted Tipperary deliveries forty-eight times. Galway dominated possession to the tune of 57% and restricted Tipp to a passing percentage of just 58% (Galway 72%).
Galway won the game 3-21 to 0-14, but could have enjoyed a more significant margin of victory - Galway’s shot success rate at Páirc na nGael, Limerick was just 44% (sixteen wides and three shots dropped short).
Surely the style of play adopted by Tipperary needs to be adjusted.
To appreciate Galway’s performances in 2017, for example, a review of 2016 is required - the Tribesmen lost the 2016 semi-final to Tipperary (2-18 to 2-19) despite winning the work rate battle, dominating the opposition puck-out (54%), performing well on their own re-start (58%), enjoying a 74% passing success rate and dominating possession (55%), but Micheál Donoghue’s men also registered a poor 45% shot success rate.
In 2017, however, Galway adjusted, innovated and were primed by manager Micheál Donoghue to land the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Significantly, the Galway team picked their way around some sophisticated defensive systems en route to the All-Ireland title. The Tribesmen successfully built a bridge between how they wished to defend and how they hoped to attack. Galway worked hard, were smart about how they went about their business and then their hurling finished the job.
The patterns suggest that Tipperary need to add a layer, or two, to their style of play in 2018.
Noel McGrath was terrific for Tipperary during the 2017 championship playing 333 minutes, scoring 0-11 (79% shooting accuracy), setting up 0-10 and creating 21 shots at goal in total (with an 88% passing success rate) while also finishing a very creditable fifth in tackles made (30). Perhaps more possession could be channeled through the Loughmore-Castleiney man and others in the middle third of the field?
It is probably reasonable to assume that individuals like Pádraic Maher represent a key influence on the Tipperary team - if you can get your key guys on the ball and playing well you have a real chance.
Team captain Pádraic Maher had a terrific season.
Pádraic was on the ball ninety-three times, but Maher found himself on the back foot more often than not as Tipperary struggled to put together the game plan which served them so well in 2016.
You could not question Pádraic's attitude or leadership qualities, but it was also clear in 2017 that the opposition were not inclined to bomb the ball down on top of his head once they enjoyed that split second to make a better decision.
In 2016 Pádraic was on the ball one hundred times and, more often than, coming forward to launch devastating counter-attacks; that pattern was not nearly as pronounced during the season that was.
There is simply no ignoring the fact that Michael Ryan's senior hurling team requires new blood who can make a material difference to the team. And, while 2018 may prove a season too soon from a strength and conditioning perspective for forwards like Ger Browne (Knockavilla Kickhams), Cian Darcy (Kilruane MacDonagh's) and Mark Kehoe (Kilsheelan-Kilcash) some notable individuals may well be in a position to make a difference this coming year.
That said these players need minutes to prove themselves - you will not plough a field turning it over in your mind.
Brian Hogan (Lorrha-Dorrha), Paul Maher (Moyne-Templetuohy) and Daragh Mooney (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill) will be battling it out for the number one spot with Mooney fancied to set the pace.
Cathal Barrett (Holycross-Ballycahill) will make a return to the blue and gold defence while you would hope that candidates like Tom Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill), Tomás Hamill (Moyne-Templetuohy), Barry Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg), Paul Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Seán O’Brien (Newport) and Joe O'Dwyer (Killenaule) can make a significant impression this season.
In the middle third of the field Thurles Sarsfields' Billy McCarthy is surely worth a look while up front Conor Kenny (Borris-Ileigh) will hope to translate his club form onto the inter-county scene alongside outsiders like Mark Russell (Lattin-Cullen) and Paul Shanahan (Upperchurch-Drombane).
Finding a mobile ball winner for the middle third of the field to work alongside Dan McCormack, Brendan Maher and Patrick Maher may well be the difference between winning and not winning the championship.
In 2016 the top tacklers on the Tipperary team in order of impact were: Patrick Maher, Brendan Maher, Dan McCormack, John McGrath, Noel McGrath.
In 2017 the top tacklers on the Tipperary team in order of impact were: Dan McCormack, John McGrath, Patrick Maher, Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath.
There are plenty of contenders for the All-Ireland championship, but it is hard to look past Galway right now. Indeed, you suspect that any side which has designes on landing the Liam MacCarthy Cup must be planing to get the better of the defending champions at some point.
Although Tipperary and Galway will not meet during the round-robin stage of the 2018 Allianz National Hurling League (the Tribesmen operate in division1B) these neighbours could well meet in the knock-out stage of the league and, hopefully, during the knock-out stage of the All-Ireland series. And, what a treat that contest could turn out to be. Indeed, the Galway-Tipperary rivalry is fast developing into an explosive piece of theatre pitting the wits of the respective managements and the abilities of the players against one another.
Tipperary lost the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final to the Tribesmen (3-16 to 0-26), but avenged that defeat in 2016 when seeing off Galway in the last four (2-19 to 2-18). The sides encountered one another in the 2017 league final when Galway beat Tipperary by a resounding sixteen points (3-21 to 0-14) before Micheál Donoghue's men saw off the Premier County in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final (1-18 to 0-22).
Should the sides meet once again in 2018 the contest is sure to take off like a kite in the wind.
Galway are a more than worthy adversary and Tipperary must improve significantly before facing them, once more, with a potential All-Ireland title on the line.
Tipperary would do well to follow the example set by Slaughtneil Robert Emmets.
Indeed, Michael Ryan's hurlers are scheduled to face Slaughtneil in a hurling challenge match on Saturday, December 30th (venue to be confirmed).
Slaughtneil are the talk of the country. Slaughtneil, a tiny rural club situated in the shadow of the Sperrin Mountains in south Derry, are the Ulster hurling, Gaelic football and Camogie champions - an extraordinary feat which most clubs could only dream of. The real key to the Slaughtneil Robert Emmets club is their extraordinary sense of togetherness. The Irish saying ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ (there is no strength without unity) is proudly emblazoned across the gates to Emmet Park (Slaughtneil’s home ground) while the saying is also emblazoned across the front of the club’s Camogie jersey.
Similarly, if Tipperary pull together anything is possible.
2018 Fixture Guide
Allianz National Hurling League
January 28th Clare v Tipperary
February 3rd Tipperary v Waterford
February 17th Tipperary v Wexford
February 25th Kilkenny v Tipperary
March 4th Tipperary v Cork
March 11th League Semi-Finals
March 24th League Final
May 20th Limerick v Tipperary
May 27th Tipperary v Cork
June 3rd Waterford v Tipperary
June 10th Tipperary v Clare
July 1st Munster Hurling Final
July 15th All-Ireland Quarter-Finals
July 28-29th All-Ireland Semi-Finals
August 19th All-Ireland Final
TIPPERARY SENIOR HURLING PANEL
The forty-man “2018 pre-season senior hurling training panel” as previously announced by manager Michael Ryan reads as follows: Cathal Barrett (Holycross-Ballycahill), James Barry (Upperchurch-Drombane), Michael Breen (Ballina), Ger Browne (Knockavilla Kickhams), Justin Cahill (Kilruane MacDonagh's), Michael Cahill (Thurles Sarsfields), Séamus Callanan (Drom & Inch), Seán Curran (Mullinahone), Cian Darcy (Kilruane MacDonagh's), Paudie Feehan (Killenaule), Alan Flynn (Kiladangan), Jason Forde (Silvermines), Tom Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill), Tomás Hamill (Moyne-Templetuohy), Barry Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg), Brian Hogan (Lorrha-Dorrha), Mark Kehoe (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Séamus Kennedy (St Mary’s Clonmel), Conor Kenny (Borris-Ileigh), Brendan Maher (Borris-Ileigh), Donagh Maher (Burgess), Pádraic Maher (Thurles Sarsfields, captain), Patrick Maher (Lorrha-Dorrha), Paul Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Paul Maher (Moyne-Templetuohy), Ronan Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Billy McCarthy (Thurles Sarsfields), Dan McCormack (Borris-Ileigh), John McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Noel McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Daragh Mooney (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill), Seán Nally (Holycross-Ballycahill), Seán O’Brien (Newport), Joe O'Dwyer (Killenaule), John O'Dwyer (Killenaule), Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonagh's), Dáire Quinn (Nenagh Éire Óg), Mark Russell (Lattin-Cullen), Paul Shanahan (Upperchurch-Drombane) and David Sweeney (Kiladangan).
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