IT MIGHT sound strange, but Conor O’Mahony pinpointed a Kilkenny drubbing as the starting point for Tipp’s march to the All-Ireland title.
The Newport man cast his mind back to March 2009 when Tipp lost by 17 points (5-17 to 1-12) to their old rivals in Nowlan Park.
“It showed how far we were off the template,” he said. “Kilkenny were the benchmark, and when we sat down we knew we needed to improve by that amount.
“We knew we had to put in the hard work to get to those standards,” he added. “It was an eye-opener. You could see the standard Kilkenny had set and how far back we were from them.”
The wake-up call was duly heeded. Although Tipp went on to meet Kilkenny in the League final and again lost, O’Mahony could sense the change.
“To come out and take them to extra-time six weeks after being beaten by 17 points proved that we weren’t that far off the mark,” he said. “They beat us three times that year, but we were getting closer and closer to them. It gave us that bit of confidence that, while we weren’t up to them yet, the gap was closing.”
That game was a tough affair, but there was more to it than physicality, the Tipp defender reckoned.
“You could go down the physical road, but you have to hurl against them as well,” he said. “It’s no good trying to leather into lads who have been there for the last six and seven years and seen and done it all. You have to match that physicality with the hurling side too.
“We were well up for it, as were Kilkenny,” he added. “Maybe we were unfortunate not to get result in normal time, but it gave us the confidence that we were getting closer. You have to do all those things if you want to beat them – match them in every way.”
O’Mahony clearly rates Kilkenny – “Henry, Richie and Eoin have been some of the best forwards in the country over the last few years,” he said of the men he could face on Sunday. “If you’re not up to your game they could destroy you” – calling them the benchmark of the modern game.
“Kilkenny have been beaten once in six years of championship hurling,” he said. “That’s something that might never be repeated, so that’s why I’d rate them as the benchmark. Even if Tipp were to beat them I’d rate Kilkenny as the benchmark as they’ve made six finals in a row in the last ten years. If you start winning titles you can be measured as the best.”
Despite that, the message isn’t to better Kilkenny. Every year is a new challenge as far as O’Mahony is concerned.
“You don’t go out trying to emulate them,” he said. “We’re just looking to 2011 as a new championship.
“It was great to win in 2010 but that’s in the past. If we hadn’t put in more of an effort this year then we wouldn’t have made the final. You can be sure Kilkenny worked harder this year than last – the standard keeps improving, as in the other counties. It’s the same for us. We just have to keep raising the bar.”