James Woodlock

Woodlock learns from difficult start and Tipp are benefitting

By Shane Brophy

Sometimes the harshest experiences are the ones you learn the most from and that is what Tipperary minor manager James Woodlock has had to go through over the last eleven months.

This time last year, Tipperary were only in preparation for a knockout minor championship in a Covid year. They were far from convincing in a quarter final win over Kerry before they were brushed aside by Waterford in concerning fashion in the semi-final at the end of July.

Despite being a fledgling inter-county manager, Woodlock had to ensure a lot of criticism, along with the County Board over how and why the minors were so far off the pace. So did the Drom & Inch clubman have any doubts over his ability to prepare a team after last year’s negative experience.

“Last year taking on the job, I never went in blind, but I did understand when you have three weeks to run trials and three weeks to train before a championship, as a young manager and a young backroom team, it was next to impossible,” he said.

“But a job still had to be done for the county and we still had to get a team out on the field and prepare them as best as we could, and that was done.

“But you have to understand there was no fitness work done, no S&C, you could do very little on analysis as no team had played. It was straight knockout, everything was difficult.

“This is a proper year; you can’t take any credence from last year.”

You could argue that all counties were in the same boat and that Tipperary shouldn’t have been off the pace to the extent they were, but Woodlock was a manager coming in very late after his clubmate Paul Collins stepped down in late December of 2021, leaving the County Board little time to get a successor in place, and who then had no development squads or schools hurling to go on from 2020 to have a guide on the panel to put in place.

“The things was a lot of the other management teams were put in place earlier and had a lot of their work done,” Woodlock added.

“We didn’t get appointed until January and then there was no development squads to go on, there wasn’t anything to go after, schools hurling was gone, we had nothing to go on, so you were literally bringing in players and going back to the old traditional style of trials, which isn’t a bad way, but it isn’t for everyone as some players don’t perform well in trials.”

He added: “Preparation for me is absolutely key. This group of players haven’t wanted for anything, they have put in a massive shift, an awful lot asked of them, and their parents to be fair, and have bought in fully to it, and we have seen it through the fruits of their performances.

“Whatever about the ability of a team, if you have them well-prepared and have their fitness and S&C work done, you will be competitive at any level, but if that falls it is hard to be competitive.”

The power of the Tipperary team was one of the notable aspects from the Galway camp following the semi-final, an area where many Tipp teams have played second fiddle in recent years and Woodlock has praised the impact of S&C coach Angelo Walsh in that regard.

“He is separate from Setanta but was trained by Setanta but is out on his own,” Woodlock revealed.

“I was mightily impressed with his work with Borris-Ileigh and that is why I am delighted to have him as part of the set-up. The players get on well with him.

“Some of our fitness testing in relation to S&C is absolutely phenomenal. They have shown huge growth for the last couple of months and their condition now to be able to into extra time and penalties, we don’t have players getting tired on the field of play. Our energy levels have always been high. It’s not about bulking up; it is about injury prevention.

“We have been hard to break down, from a physical point of view we ate big and strong and will try an impose ourselves on the game from that side of things by working really hard.”

That high level of fitness and conditioning leads not only leads to a better player, but also a higher level of decision-making on the field as when you are tired you make mistakes. However, Tipperary showed in the dying moments of the semi-final against Galway, they never panicked or wavered from their gameplan.

Of the 35-man panel, 23 have gotten game-time in the five games so far, and while the make-up of the subs bench has regularly changed, highlighting the competitive nature of the panel, the make-up of the starting team has been very consistent with thirteen players starting in all games so far, but that isn’t a weakness according to the Tipp manager.

“I would believe we could start any amount of our players and the team would perform the same,” he said.

“We gave fifteen players an opportunity at the start, and you get the jersey for as long as you are performing, and to be fair the players have performed.

“A lot of the players we have brought on, they could start and do the same job. However, they are being held out by players that are performing consistently.

“We haven’t been afraid to make changes. In fairness, no player has been brought off this year because of any other reason only to get more energy onto the field, and that you have lads sitting on the bench mad to get on and do well for Tipperary, and that is a huge asset to have, and they are really down to earth and mature bunch of players. I am really proud of them coming into Sunday.”

It's a big occasion for these players to be playing in All-Ireland Final and while there has been some criticism the final is being played away from Croke Park, Woodlock feels it could be more special with the fixture having its own occasion to itself.

“If this match had been before one of the All-Ireland semi-finals, and if the crowd goes to Nowlan Park that is speculated to be going, around 20,000, there would under no circumstances be 20,000 people in for a minor final in Croke Park.

“It is harsh on the minors themselves from a developmental point of view in terms of the experience that they would gain in Croke Park before an All-Ireland semi-final and that experience has been taken away from them.

“But what has been created is bigger crowd going to Nowlan Park as there is huge interest in it as Tipp need a lift and Offaly are the same.

“When you have a standalone fixture, you are going to get a bigger crowd as it is a novel pairing. In 2013 when Tipperary played Kilkenny down there, the atmosphere was electric with the crowd in on top you and it is going to be something similar on Sunday, and it will be great for both teams.”

He added: “We want these players to enjoy the build-up as it won’t come around for them again.

“That being said the game is the most important and every game we have spoken about this year has been the next game, to go out and perform and enjoy it after.

“This is the last game, and you’d like to perform in the last game. We haven’t not performed all year, and this is the game you really want to get your best side out.

“We are expecting the most physical encounter we will have faced this year as Offaly will bring a massive work ethic. We played them early on in the year.

“They were favourites for Leinster at the start of the year and have proven why. They have won all their games to get here, like ourselves so they are a formidable outfit with some big players, and they will bring momentum and confidence into the game.”