IN ALL FAIRNESS - Restoring the faith in Tipp and Hurling

Measuring successes is a fools game. It is largely subjective as everyone has their own criteria of what makes a victory special.

Immediacy is always the asterix to put beside the most recent successes, but I don’t think this can be applied to the achievement of the Tipperary minor hurlers in winning Saturday’s All-Ireland final.

There are wins, and then there are wins in how they were achieved. In a modern context, the smash and grab raid of the 2022 minors in defeating Offaly comes to mind. This isn’t saying it wasn’t deserved as they had to overcome their own adversity in coming from six points down with just fourteen men to stun Offaly with Paddy McCormack’s last gasp goal.

That year also they played the latter stages of the Munster Final with fourteen men, so it is to the credit to manager James Woodlock and his management team that they have their players mentally steeled to overcome every set-back.

I was chatting to Tipperary Games Manager Kevin Halley after the match on Saturday evening, suggesting a recording of this game be shown to every group of players from under 14 right up to senior, at the start of every year, of what is required to play hurling for Tipperary. This performance had everything, leadership, skill, personality, toughness, fitness, unity, strength, poise, talent, confidence, teamwork etc… you name it, they had it.

This was probably the greatest win of the them all, because of the odds that were against the Tipperary team before and during the game.

Others than spring to mind include the 2011 All-Ireland Minor Football win, because it came out of nowhere. A special group of players gelled together to win one of the great All-Ireland’s over a Dublin side that would produce such senior grades as Jack McCaffrey, Ciaran Kilkenny, and Cormac Costello.

The 2010 All-Ireland senior win will always stick in the minds of Tipperary supporters as it stopped Kilkenny’s drive for 5, while also erasing the disappointment of the final defeat the year before.

The 1991 Munster senior hurling final replay defeat has also been referenced a lot in recent days, with the manner in which Tipp came from nine-points down midway through the second half to completely sink a superb Cork with Aidan Ryan’s last gasp goal that began a pitch invasion from where even those in wheelchairs seemed able to walk.

Back to modern times, there is the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final win over Wexford. Six points down and a man down, Tipperary’s goose looked cooked but the spirit of Knocknagow was summoned again as they produced an incredible fightback to win, from where the 28th All-Ireland title followed.

The manner of that performance and the one shown by the minors last Saturday evening is what all Tipperary people want from their teams every time they take to the field. Even is Tipperary had come up short last Saturday, they would have come home heroes for the way they fought against the odds.

There has to be a winner and a loser in every game but once you leave everything out on the field, their can be no criticism labelled on anyone Tipperary supporters take pride in the jersey more than anything else, and once a player gives their all, that is more important than skill and other factors.

What these minors showed on Saturday also is how all Tipperary teams should play. In an overly strategic world where tactics and processes are the buzzwords of the modern game, hard work and sheer desire are still unbeaten. If you don’t have that as a basic, everything else is built on quick-sand.

In this years senior campaign, plus the under 20 All-Ireland final, we had Tipp teams set up to counteract opponents rather than playing to their own strengths, from where the best team will emerge in the end. That is how team sport has been through the years and how is still is now. It is being complicated by mathematics and statistics that are making hurling, and indeed football, more sterile, and taking a lot of the excitement out of the games. It is why the crowds at the football championship games this year have fallen. Match-ups and tactical battles might enthuse the minority, but they don’t excite the majority, who pay the money that creates the atmosphere in stadiums for the players to thrive in.

Hurling isn’t immune either. While there have been a lot of great games in recent years, it shouldn’t hide the fact that we are losing the contests. Sweepers and plus-ones are allowing defenders away with doing their primary job which is defending. Tipperary gave a masterclass of one-on-one defending last Saturday. If they can be coached to do it, why can’t everyone else, without having to resort to systems and structures which are sucking the excitement our of our games.