IN ALL FAIRNESS - Weaknesses exposed which can be addressed

You can’t say the Tipperary senior hurlers make things easy on themselves!

They went into last Sunday’s clash with Waterford with a great opportunity to finish the National League on a high and possibly ensure at least a share of the title for the first time since 2008.

Indeed, since then, including semi-finals and finals, in twelve of the last fourteen years Tipp have suffered defeat in their final competitive league game. Indeed, in the two years they didn’t lose, they needed a last gasp Pa Bourke goal to defeat Offaly in 2010 and only drew with a poor Wexford side in 2011.

However, in that time, Tipperary have won three All-Ireland and six Munster titles so they know how to pick things up for championship and they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they will figure things out again in time for the championship next month.

While you never like to lose a game at any stage, last Sunday could be a blessing in disguise for Tipperary and manager Liam Sheedy. Prior to that they were the only team in division one that hadn’t been stressed greatly and have questions asked from which they could learn from. The only downside is they haven’t another game next weekend to immediately address the shortcomings exposed by Waterford. In that respect, selecting such a strong team and coming up short should benefit Tipperary in the long run as it highlighted the problems now, rather than in the championship, and they can now go away and work on them. If they selected a weaker side, there would have been a ready-made excuse that the manner of the defeat wouldn’t have happened if they had a stronger line-up.

The major area of concern from Sunday was the way in which the defence was left so exposed, in contrast to how secure it looked in the previous four games. Considering they conceded an average of 0-19 per game up to that, 2-29 is a major negative shift, and no matter how good a Tipp forward line is in scoring 3-21, it is hard to win games conceding that much.

In many ways, the game was the ideal blueprint to learn from, considering whoever they meet in a Munster semi-final, or indeed a provincial final, all of the four Munster rivals play largely the same way, working the ball out from the back and like to run at opposition defences to create openings. This is what the Tipperary brains-trust of Liam Sheedy, Eamonn O’Shea, Darragh Egan, Tommy Dunne and Eoin Kelly will need to think long and hard about in the coming days and adapt their training to deal with it.

There is no escaping the fact that Tipperary are short on pace in defence particularly, but that doesn’t mean they can’t deal with quicker teams by ensuring they are compact enough whereby opponents don’t have acres of space to play the ball into or run into like Waterford did the second half. The half back line and midfield were sucked too far up field, from where there wasn’t an awful lot of protection for the inside back line to deal with the likes of Dessie Hutchinson and Stephen Bennett.

Tipp cannot afford to lose their shape defensively, and possibly need to settle on who their centre back is, which is Brendan Maher as he is a very good reader of the game and can be vocal enough to ensure his wing backs aren’t drawn too far up field after their men. Indeed, Sunday also highlighted when Dan McCormack isn’t in the middle of the field and impacting the game, the team is weaker overall.

One interesting observation from the league so far is that Tipperary are the only team now playing the traditional style. All other major teams, including Kilkenny, have adapted somewhat to mixing the traditional with the possession game, and when Tipperary’s plan A isn’t working, we can’t adapt to the possession game as a fallback.

It was highlighted in the second half against Waterford after the home side went in front, they sat back and allowed Tipperary to send the ball in long, from where they invariably they won possession and with plenty of numbers back, they could counter-attack with runners off the shoulder to take a pass which is very hard to defend against.

When Tipperary get a ball on their own 45-or 65-yard line, opponents invariably know they will look to play it straight into the full forward line and are prepared for that. You’d like to see Tipp mix it up a bit, surveying for options in midfield or the half forward line, which would also suck the opposition defenders out a little and help the inside forwards as well.

I’m not advocating Tipperary adopting a Limerick or Cork style of possession game, but we need to be comfortable enough to turn to it if our main approach isn’t working.