Tipperary hurlers pitched between fear and self-belief

All-Ireland champions are still haunted by 16 point defeat to Galway in the league final

Any player or manager will tell you the perfect pre-championship pitch lies somewhere between fear and self-belief, between uncertainty and self-confidence, although it doesn’t require much to turn the dial either way. Where exactly Tipperary’s dial is right now is difficult to know.

Former Tipperary player John McIntyre – who later managed Galway and Offaly – is admittedly "anxious" going into Sunday's Munster hurling quarter-final showdown against Cork. The All-Ireland champions may be at home in Semple Stadium but haven't yet escaped their 16th point defeat to Galway in last month's league final.

“I would be anxious in the wake of what happened to them in the league final, until I see otherwise,” says McIntyre. “This Tipperary camp had targeted a league title, this year. And everything was going more or less according to plan, until the final itself. It was a disastrous day for them, to be blunt about it.

“On one hand it’s better to be well beaten like that, than to lose by one or two points, which can paper over the cracks. But that day was so bad for Tipp there is the risk it has left some scars. I also think opinion has been quite polarised over what exactly happened in that final. Some observers see it as a blessing in disguise, a wake-up call, perfect timing, will re-galvanise them for the championship.


“And others are worried that maybe Tipperary aren’t nearly as bomb proof as some thought. Until I see them regroup from what happened in that league final there has to be a question mark over what happened.

“On the other hand, it will have got rid of any complacency in the camp. It was a major wake-up call. But still you’d be worried that no matter what excuses Tipperary can come up with, whether they’d done too much training the week of the match, were slightly complacent, or just starting to believe all the hype about themselves, the bottom line is they were beaten up and down the field by Galway, and they can’t hide from how poor and how inferior they were on the day.”

Cork’s pitch

Tipperary certainly boast the better record in recent years, winning their last four championship meetings (three in Munster); Cork’s last win coming in the 2010 quarter-final. Cork, however, did beat Tipp in the last round of the league proper, by a point. So where does Cork’s pitch lie right now?

"Cork's league campaign was something of a mixed bag," says McIntyre. "But it was mostly progressive, tried a lot of young players. They went down to Tipp very badly last year and they will want to show themselves in the best possible light. I think Kieran Kingston is an honourable manager, with the best interest of Cork hurling at heart.

“And I think what happened to Tipp in the league final will give them hope. Of course Tipp’s pride has been taken, and that will leave them bursting out the dressing room door on Sunday to restore that, beat Cork aside, and show people what they are truly made of.”

“It’s just difficult to gauge. I know myself as a player you’re at your most difficult if you’re after having a poor game, the team a bad day. That will apply to this team, but they were held below the waterline by Galway, and that can be disarming.

“They were too bad to be true. We all know they’re a whole lot better. But the level of the defeat was worrying. But of course Cork would much rather Tipp were beaten by 16 points in that league final, rather than see Tipp win by 16. Results like that [against Galway] don’t too much for self-belief and confidence. It could bounce either way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tipp go out and blow Cork away on Sunday. Or if Cork really make it a challenging 70 minutes.”

Tipperary do have some injury worries, and are still sweating over the availability of the suspended Jason Forde. Their strength in depth however remains one of their main strengths.

‘Every year is different’

“The bottom line is these players were terrific in last year’s All-Ireland final. They are deserving All-Ireland champions. They have the medals to prove it. But every year is different. Everybody knows the county is still chasing a first back-to-back All-Ireland since 1965.

“We assumed prior to the league final that this team was the best equipped in a long time to do that, but there are questions there now, and only time will whether that league final hammering was a good or a bad thing for them.”

"Michael Ryan (the Tipperary manager) now also a stick to beat his players with, and that might be manna from heaven for him. But immediately afterwards he seemed to be at a loss as to why Tipp were so bad."

Ultimately, however, Tipp’s defeat to Galway might just about work to their advantage on Sunday: “What that league final has done is make Sunday’s game much bigger for Tipp than anyone thought previous. If they lose this the bottom will have fallen out of their world in the space of a month. I think Cork will be competitive, and there’s a lot at stake for both counties.

“I expect Tipp will hit the ground running, take no prisoners. They’ll have no excuse for losing on Sunday. The bad thing from a Cork perspective is that it eliminates any chance of a rebel ambush.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics