Declan Ryan believes that his Tipperary team will come into their own now that the evenings have lengthened, the sod has become firmer and the real hurling season has arrived.
“Our guys are more a championship team than a league team. They relish the big occasion and this particular group are more mentally geared towards championship”, he said as he looks ahead to Sunday’s Munster Championship quarter-final against Limerick in Thurles.
He compares the difference between the league and the championship to “going from 3rd gear up to 6th when you’re driving along the motorway” and he says that his players are ready for what lies ahead.
“In Tipp when we decide that we want to play as best we can we’re a match for the best. We play Limerick on Sunday and the guys have prepared very well. We had a difficult week after the Cork game but since then we have prepared very well”.
Those preparations have been assisted by the return of players including Seamus Callanan and Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher from long-term injuries, not to mention that feel-good atmosphere generated by Lar Corbett’s decision to end his self-enforced absence from the panel.
“It was a big surprise when he decided to opt out earlier in the year and we were all delighted when he decided to come back. He was in training during the week and Lar is lucky that he doesn’t put up a lot of weight but it will take him a couple of weeks to get up to speed”, says the manager, who added that the Limerick game was too soon for Corbett to feature.
The expectation level among Tipperary supporters means that the players and management live in a rarified atmosphere that has been compared to a pressure cooker but Declan Ryan, in keeping with his overall character, seems to take it all in his stride.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion in Tipp – it doesn’t matter who is involved in the management team or what team is playing. Everyone in Tipp has an opinion on the game and that is a positive thing. It is no different to Cork or Kilkenny or Limerick or anywhere else.
Any real hurling people who know what goes into preparing these players and who knows the lifestyles these guys live during championship time would be very fair in their comments. We had a couple of games last year when we didn’t play to form and the lads shipped a bit of criticism for that, but that’s part and parcel of the game. You just get on with it and prepare as best you can for the next game.
Hurling is a way of life in Tipperary and I am just amazed at how committed these guys are. It’s just disappointing to see them going out and maybe not getting the breaks they deserve or when things don’t go the way you would like them to go.”
The knives were out after Tipp were beaten by Cork in last month’s league semi-final, the most disappointing aspect of which was the performance, according to the manager.
“The result didn’t matter too much. We set out at the start of the year to get to a league semi-final and we performed very poorly in that game. Giving all the preparation we put in that was very disappointing. Cork proved in the league final that any team on any day can be a bit flat. That happens in all sports and it is just a psychological thing. You can never be certain that it won’t happen again – there are no certainties in sport, we all know that. You just have to prepare as well as you can and go out and hurl as hard as you can and hope that it happens on the day”.
While he regards Limerick as being in a re-building phase, he says that they will come to Thurles with a good game plan.
“John Allen is a very good organiser and a good coach and Donagh O’Donnell will have done a lot of good work with them. One thing you can say about Limerick is that they have a lot of potential in the forward line and that’s something every team wants to have and needs to win championship games. We’d be very mindful of that when playing them and it will be a good start to the championship”.