All of Tipperary is keeping its fingers crossed that the senior hurling team’s relatively injury-free streak continues. Past seasons have been dominated by concerns over Eoin Kelly’s back injury and the state of Lar Corbett’s hamstrings, among others.
But apart from Brendan Maher’s broken ankle and Seamus Callanan’s broken collarbone earlier this year (both of which have since fully healed), and panellist Seamus Hennessy’s lingering knee problems, the squad has escaped more or less unscathed from what has been another typically robust and physically-demanding campaign.
Can this be put down to luck or careful management of limbs? According to the captain, Eoin Kelly it can be attributed to good communications between players, the backroom team, the management and the physical trainer.
“If a player has a tight hamstring he doesn’t train, whereas in the past he might have trained. If lads are injured they don’t play and that’s it”. The backroom team knew that if a player had a niggle then he didn’t train.
Eoin only discovered in a recent interview that Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer, who is now preparing to face his native county on Sunday, had been injured in the last championship match he started for Tipp (against Cork) and he thought that was something he would probably regret.
Nevertheless he regards Cashel man O’Dwyer as one of Dublin’s key players and someone who will have to be watched. He said he had worked hard in the gym and is twice as big now as he was when he played with Tipp. “He’s very strong and while his game is still about going into tackles 110% his hurling and confidence have also improved”.
Eoin doesn’t believe his former team mate has any regrets about the switch to Dublin, saying that the decision worked out for him as he had won a National League medal this year.
Another Tipp man, selector Richie Stakelum, who famously announced that the famine was over when Tipp beat Cork in the 1987 Munster Final replay in Killarney, will also be in the Dublin camp on Sunday.
And Dublin have another, lesser-known Tipp connection in panel member Oisin Gough, who will unfortunately miss out with a broken hand sustained in training.
Eoin Kelly says “his (Oisin’s) granddad Neddy Gough used to repair my hurleys. Neddy was in Carrick-on-Suir, every one of us used to actually get our hurleys repaired by him. John Leahy started it – even Declan (Ryan) I’d say used to get his hurleys fixed there.
Neddy had a special way of mending them, he was unbelievable. It’s a pity he isn’t alive now because he’d love all this – he was the kind of fella that when he pulled you into the shed he’d keep you talking forever, a lovely man.
Oisin is a good player – I remember him when he started out with Dublin he was light, but now he’s a different player, big and physical. A lot of Dublin players have reached that physicality, that’s what you need to be competitive at senior level now, that approach”.
The Tipp captain recalls Brian Cody saying that Dublin were a force to be reckoned with and were a coming team, but according to Eoin they’ve already arrived. “They’ve won the most silverware of any county this year having won the Walsh Cup, the National League, the Leinster Minor and U-21 Championships. We know what Dublin are capable of, we just have to be ready for it.
Everyone would love to see Dublin winning an All-Ireland but it’s not as easy as that. The Kilkennys, Corks and Tipperarys won’t sit back and say Dublin deserve an All-Ireland because they’re coming through at underage”.
He believes Dublin are mentally stronger this time around than they’ve ever been, and they’re stronger physically as well. Even though they didn’t perform at the highest level they did enough to to get through the quarter-final against Limerick. He’s sure they’ll increase the level of their performance in the semi-final and Tipp had to do enough to match that.
Conal Keaney was “a massive player” for them and he would be a loss, as would Tomas Brady, but he was sure they would use their absence as motivation.
Dublin this year had developed a squad and had 24 or 25 players they could use, such as Daire Plunkett, who Eoin points out has “unbelievable pace”.
He describes Dublin as “a good physical hurling team now, up there with the standard Kilkenny set over the last few years, and thankfully we in Tipperary have reached that standard as well. That’s why Dublin won the league this year, that’s why they’re in the last four of the All-Ireland championship. They’re a physical team but they’re also able to play hurling. That’s what inter-county hurling is, they’re the teams you want to play against”.
29 year-old Eoin is Tipperary’s all-time leading scorer in championship history with a total of 21 goals and 342 points in 52 championship appearances since making his debut as a sub in the quarter-final defeat by Galway 11 years ago.
Already this year he has scored 4-16 (including ten frees) in three championship matches. 2-6 of that tally was scored in the landslide victory in the Munster Final, a day when he says “we just hit form but Waterford weren’t the Waterford we were familiar with. They had a few inexperienced players. We had a lot of space that day against them, unlike any other team I came across before, and Waterford knew they weren’t at the races that day.
Tipp could only do what they had to do. This (Tipp) group knows that Waterford didn’t come to the table that day and we’re expecting a totally different challenge against Dublin, and we have to be prepared for that”.
Tipp haven’t played since then but Eoin doesn’t believe the break will be a problem. “You can harp on about this five weeks, use it as an excuse – I don’t think we’re going to use it as an excuse. It’s too easy for teams to complain about five weeks and alright, you’d have liked a game in between but it’s not there and we just have to be ready, be focused for the Dublin game.
Guys have played with their clubs and that, we’ve had a good few training sessions that we’re happy with – we’re happy that our minds are right, that’s the important thing from our side”.