TIPPERARY are in a much better place entering Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final than they were before last year’s McCarthy Cup showdown, their manager Declan Ryan has suggested.
The Munster champions have improved all the way during their drive through the province, and the squad realises that it has the potential to be the best in the country.
“What happened in last year’s All-Ireland with Kilkenny dominating the opening 20 minutes is something that can happen,” said the Tipp boss of the last championship meeting between the counties.
“We were blitzed during the opening 10 minutes. We are in a much better frame of mind going into this game. Every game we have played so far this year we have improved steadily.
“Going on the performances in training over the last couple of weeks we are expecting a further improvement in the semi-final. This is a massive game for both counties. There is a huge prize for the winners, to get to the All-Ireland final.”
The former star said there was a much better atmosphere in the Tipp camp, particularly since the opening match against Limerick.
At their best, they are the best
“All the players realise that if this Tipp plays to its potential they can be the best team in the country, it is as simple as that,” was the summary from the man who is in his second year in the job. “All the players have all knuckled down and trained very hard.”
Mr Ryan, who shares the team handling duties with Tommy Dunne (coach), Michael Gleeson and Ross Dunphy (trainer), said Tipp were concentrating on getting their game right more than anything else.
“It is all about form on the day,” he reckoned. “There has been very little between Tipp and Kilkenny over the last couple of years. Maybe it is an over used phase that it is all on the day. Certainly with this game it is all about the day.
“Both mangers and both sets of players will be chasing their absolute best.”
This season Tipperary have been showered with praise for the strength in depth of the squad, and it was something the manager didn’t deny.
“From a management point of view it is very nice to be able to look around and have options on the bench,” he opened when questioned on the matter. “When you see the guys who started earlier in the year on the bench and guys who came off during the season all wishing each other well it is good.
“We have 31 players on the panel. Every one of them is as important as the next.
“It is a 20 man game now. I have no doubt that if you could use 22 or 23 players that every manager would do that. We are lucky in Tipp that we have guys on the bench who have made a difference when they came on during the year.
“No doubt, the subs will be wicked important in the semi-final as well.”
A massive influence
All-Ireland winning captain of 2010 Eoin Kelly was one of the players who lost out in the team shuffle after the opening match. However, Kelly has been a massive influence for the good within the squad since, helping the younger players and encouraging all around him.
“He continues to make a fantastic contribution to the squad,” Mr Ryan insisted. “From a management point of view he is a fantastic guy to have around. He is a huge influence for the younger players.
“He is always very positive and always willing to help. That has added to the atmosphere and the buzz that is around the Tipp camp at the moment.”
The Tipp reserves strength was better this season than last, Mr Ryan insisted.
“I think so,” he replied when asked a direct question. “Certainly in the games we have played the bench has made a huge contribution. It is difficult to be telling guys they are not starting and all the rest.
“All the guys have taken it on the chin. They have made whatever contribution they have been asked. That is fantastic from our point of view.”
Good and all as Tipp’s form has been thus far, Mr Ryan wants even more from his players this time. Nothing would be left to chance.
He was asked had it been difficult to sit down and watch last year’s All-Ireland final on video, and he admitted it was probably Christmas before he viewed the entire game.
“The most disappointing thing in any game is if don’t play to your potential,” he added. “We didn’t do that against Kilkenny the last time we played in the championship. It is winner take all on Sunday.
“If we play to our potential that would be a huge improvement on our previous performance against them. Mentally we are in a better space that we were last year.
“That is all down to the players putting in a massive effort. Any time you go out and don’t put in the work you won’t get the result. It is going to be a massive battle. If we are on top of our game we have a chance.”