“THE MODEL WE ALL ASPIRE TO IS WHAT THEY HAVE ACHIEVED IN KILKENNY”, SAYS TIPP MANAGER
By Eamonn Wynneewynne@nationalist.ie@TheNationalist
He could have been strolling onto the Croke Park pitch in a suit, waving to the crowd alongside his team mates from the Tipperary team that beat Kilkenny on that balmy September day 25 years ago.
Instead, on All-Ireland Final day, Michael Ryan won’t be joining the 1991 Jubilee team celebrations but will be dressed in a tracksuit in the venue’s dressing rooms, guiding Tipperary’s bid for a 27th All-Ireland title when they take on Kilkenny in the final.
His selectors John Madden and Conor Stakelum were also on the 1991 panel.
Michael says it’s a pity he won’t be available for the Jubilee team get-together but adds “I wouldn’t trade it for the opportunity to be with the lads. That is where I need to be, with the guys on the day to help them in any way I can to get a medal”.
The eighth manager to have served Tipp during the Brian Cody era, he has been an important presence in the dressing room for several years now as selector to Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea.
This year he has stepped impressively into the breach after Eamon O’Shea departed late last year, although his succession to the hot seat was actually confirmed twelve months previously in a process that caused some raised eyebrows.
“There was a positive and negative reaction to that”, he admits.
“It was a new departure for Tipp. The idea behind it was always to have continuity. Yes, we didn’t have the success we wanted to have with Eamon and Paudie (O’Neill) and Declan (Fanning). But we absolutely believed we had embarked on what was the right course for this bunch of hurlers at this period in time.
It was done to make sure that would continue. Too much change of personnel, in our experience, and I would have experienced it as player, is not conducive to building a team or laying the foundations for the future.
The model we all aspire to is what they have achieved in Kilkenny. The kind of longevity Brian Cody has achieved is unbelievable. There are not four or five managers in the history of the GAA, I would imagine, who have given that sort of service. It is so successful.
It is not the only component why Kilkenny are so successful, but I believe it to be a feature”.
That Kilkenny run of success has come at the expense of all counties, including Tipp who have failed to beat them in their last five meetings in the championship. Has there been a common thread in those defeats?
“I think you can put it simply down to that they have trumped us each day on intensity. That is the initial bar we have to reach. If we can break even on that, and get a bit lucky here and there, who knows.
Various little things can change things after that.
I think intensity is the great leveller here, and their ability to be relentless on that. They never let that up. I don’t know when I have ever seen recent Kilkenny teams not reaching a high level of intensity.
I have zero doubt that is the challenge. We know exactly the levels that will be required and to sustain it over 72, 73, 74 minutes. It is not born out of past losses to Kilkenny. This group is doing it for themselves.
This is a new journey for them. They are having a fantastic run. We need to concentrate on the here and now, not past results against Kilkenny. Kilkenny’s victories are confined to history, fantastic history for them; poor history for us, unfortunately.
It is the here and now, and what we can do in the future is what is occupying us now.
There is a consistency Kilkenny reach that the rest of us need to get to. At various stages we all are capable of getting to it, but none of us as yet have been able to sustain it as Kilkenny do. Even if they are only trading blows with you 50/50 they seldom let the intensity down at crucial periods.
Directly after half time they generally attack. Up to half time they can ebb and flow. They are a really, really strong second half team. They can put you to the sword if you are not ready”.
The Tipp boss is sure that this will be another top quality contest.
“I have little doubt but it will be a great spectacle. When Tipperary and Kilkenny meet you generally get all the best attributes of hurling packed into that 70 minutes or whatever; be that incredible skill, huge intensity or real man-to-man clashes and a battle fought tooth and nail. You will have all of that on the Fourth (of September).
The given here is that Kilkenny are past masters at this. They know the level and they will get to it. The variable is the rest of us. Will we get to the level? Can we sustain the level? Can we break through any perceived glass ceiling that is there?
Kilkenny have evolved. They have had a change in personnel. But the constant is the intensity”.
Did Tipp’s narrow win in the semi-final help dampen expectations ahead of the final?
“I think we have developed a very good knack in this county of giving a few performances that dampened expectations a little in spite of ourselves! We don’t plan it. The semi-final was one of those occasions in a sense.
Is it expectation or is it that we love the game? Living in the heartland here, we just love the game.
But we are a bit bereft of success in recent years. That is the Achilles heel we have, what we are not happy about. Expectations? I think it is more to do with desire. We are surrounded by our hurling neighbours. We give as good as we get.
The banter is great. It is all part of it”.
The importance of winning a tight game in the semi-final isn’t lost on him.
“For a very obvious reason it was hugely important. I wouldn’t like to have been picking the bones out of a one-point loss. It certainly wasn’t a place any of us wanted to be.
You are not guaranteed anything just because you prepared very hard, because you enjoyed a good run in Munster. That guarantees you nothing. The game is a live thing. It ebbs. It flows. We set our broad parameters in how we wanted to play the game.
We wanted to reach a certain level. But so did the opposition. Galway in this instance were really, really good. We didn’t get to the pitch we wanted to. But you have to credit Galway for that. They played a really good game.They were unlucky to lose two key guys (Joe Canning and Adrian Tuohy) to injury.
Did it have an impact on the outcome? I have no doubt it did. Would we have been able to survive with those guys on the pitch? The challenge would have been ours”.
He also reveals that he takes soundings from previous Tipp managers and team mates, including Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea.
“I would like to call these guys friends. Liam and I would go back a long way. We played literally from minor, all grades up together. All are great Tipp men. I would have their absolute support.
They are great guys to bounce an idea off, or to get a sense-check that we are on the right road. I use them. I find that great. I enjoyed that same relationship with Declan Ryan during the intervening two years. He lives in an neighbouring parish. We are still friends.
Those guys, and the peer group I played with like Nicky English, who I played with and who managed Tipp as well, we stay in contact. We meet. That is brilliant. I would have a lot of confidantes whose opinions I would really trust. Bobby Ryan is a great friend.
All of that era provide great back-up. That is only that generation. Walk down Thurles any day and you will get plenty of opinion. People wouldn’t be long telling you if you are doing things right or wrong”.
Although this is his first year as manager it’s his seventh year in the management team.
“I always felt a sense of responsibility, even when I was a selector with Liam and Eamon. I felt a shared experience even though Liam was out front. That was my earlier experience of it. That carried through when I worked through with Eamon, Paudie and Declan last year and the year before. It is much the same now. I am pushed out front now and I meet you guys (the media) more.
I am very well supported. There are very strong characters behind the scenes. Obviously Declan Fanning is the coach, a really good coach. John Madden and Conor Stakelum are selectors. They are all of my vintage.
They are strong characters, very solid, grounded fellows. They really do carry the load with me. I am just pushed out a bit in front”.
However he doesn’t recall his own playing career when talking to the players.
“I don’t recall any period of my own game because it was pedestrian to what these guys are doing. That is the truth. There is zero comparison.
I don’t know where it (the game) can go in terms of effort. It is constantly getting better. I am constantly shocked at things our players are able to do. I am gobsmacked at what they able to achieve with such little time on the ball. It is the same with other teams as well.
What Waterford and Kilkenny produced in Thurles in the semi-final replay was phenomenal, particularly in the opening 25 minutes. You struggled to keep up with it. In terms of the lads’ effort, it is a total effort they are giving. Absolutely total.
What you are seeing is the next generation evolving, flair players coming through. They may only be once-in-a generation players, the likes of Conor Gleeson, a fabulous talent. I have seen them coming through in various counties. Waterford seem to have a lot of them at the moment, which is a great position to be in.
They are sprinkled everywhere”.
And so to the six-mark question – who has he lined up to take his place when the Tipperary jubilee team is introduced to the crowd on Sunday?
Speaking just over a fortnight before the match he said “no one yet. There are a few contenders. My teenage daughters would jump at it. My parents are alive, thankfully. Maybe one of them might do it as well. It is a special thing, a one-off. I have a few decisions to make and I have to tread carefully on it!”