Far from basking in the glow of having guided the team to Munster Final success in his first season in charge of the seniors, Declan Ryan says the praise lavished on the side in the wake of their 21-points defeat of Waterford is history now, as the holders prepare for Sunday’s All-Ireland Semi-Final against Dublin.
“The (five weeks) gap between the Munster Final and All-Ireland semi-final is a positive thing for Tipperary. Because we did so well in the Munster Final it has given us a chance to settle down and take all the comments that were passed about that match. They’re all in the past now, we’ve had the time to re-focus and get tuned into the semi-final, so from that point of view the gap has been positive.
It has also allowed the club championship to progress in Tipp, so that’s important as well”.
Not surprisingly, he doesn’t expect his side to have it as easy on Sunday. “Waterford had an off-day and anything that could go wrong for them went wrong. Everything seemed to go right for us but we know that doesn’t happen every day.
The semi-final will be a different type of match and will be a much closer affair, and we just hope we can be as good as we can be on the day.
Part of our preparation this year is not to take anything for granted. We don’t expect things to go well for us every day but we expect the players to try as hard as they can and play as hard as they can. So far they’ve done that. Cork being beaten in the football championship was a wake-up call for every team”.
He described the provincial decider as “a bit extraordinary” because of the seven goals his team had scored. “The ball seemed to fall for us wherever our forwards were. We’ve a lot of ability in our forward line. Against Waterford we took a higher than normal percentage of the chances that came our way but I’m sure Dublin will have some plan to counteract that and it will be a tough, tough battle for whoever comes out on top in the semi-final”.
The counties don’t have much recent history in the championship. Their last meeting was in a qualifier in Parnell Park four years ago, when Tipp won by 1-20 to 1-11. Before that you have to go back to the 1961 All-Ireland Final, when Tipp won a close contest by a point (0-16 to 1-12).
However Declan Ryan is quick to point out that in their last two competitive outings Dublin have beaten his team.
“They blew us off the field in the league in Croke Park this year. Our lads have improved a lot since then and they’ve worked and trained very hard but Dublin have improved as well. It’s going to be a great test for Tipperary to see how we fare against Dublin”.
Conal Keaney scored 10 points when Dublin beat Tipp in the League and Declan believes his absence would be a big blow to Dublin and to hurling, “because he’s the type of player that people go to see, he’s physical and aggressive and a great athlete and it’s pity for the game of hurling that he won’t be available.
But Dublin have a very big panel and I’m sure they’ll be going gung-ho. Dublin don’t have anything to lose playing Tipperary. Conal Keaney would be a huge loss to any inter-county team but we’ve to focus on the players that are going to be on the pitch for Dublin and we know they’ll be very well prepared”.
They may not have matched Tipp’s 7 goals in their last fixture, but Dublin’s 3 goals against Limerick in the quarter-final made people sit up and take notice.
“Dublin are scoring goals this year and goals are very important in championship hurling. They play a very physical type of game, they’re well organised, they have a certain style of play and they stick to that. It’s very important at this level that you have a game plan and you stick to it.
Obviously Anthony Daly’s mark is there to be seen on the team, they’re wholehearted and committed and they’ll fight to the bitter end. They’re all very strong, physical players and Dublin are going to be around for a while because they’re coming at underage level as well.
It’s important for hurling that Dublin are competing and all the hard work they’re doing is paying off up there”, says the Tipp manager.
One of Dublin’s success stories this season has been Cashel man Ryan O’Dwyer. “If it hadn’t been for him Tipp might be facing Limerick instead of Dublin in the semi-final. He’s to be congratulated on the way he has performed for Dublin so far this season, so he’s a man we’ll have to watch.
He’s a wholehearted player, we’d like to be able to call upon him if he was available and he’s certainly a player we would have looked at had he been eligible”, says Declan Ryan.
Another Tipp connection is provided by selector Richie Stakelum. “I know Richie since 1987 (they played together in the National League that year). Dublin are playing with the confidence that Richie carried as a player, you can see some of his abilities and some of his qualities in the Dublin team.
Richie was an excellent captain and a good leader. He was a good man to motivate players and organise and he had brought all those qualities with him into the Dublin set-up”.
On the injury situation, the Tipperary boss said last week that they had “a few little niggles but nothing major. We’ve played a couple of rounds of the club championship since the Munster Final, so it’s always nice to come through without any major injuries, so we’ve a full panel to pick from for the semi-final”.
He says that when he accepted the senior job it was “a huge opportunity for whoever took on the role, and a huge challenge at the same time.
Only for the backroom team involved I wouldn’t have taken on the job; there’s a fantastic backroom team in Tipperary and the responsibility and workload is shared very evenly. If you have good people working with you it made it an easier decision to take (to accept the job), given the quality of people we were able to bring on board in the new management set-up. We’re happy with the way things have gone since”.
As the season has progressed he says the management has learned that this is a very committed group of players.
“They’re a fantastic group to be working with, anything we’ve asked them to do to date they’ve done very well and to the best of their ability. They’re hungry for success, with an appetite for very hard work and that’s what has brought the team to the level they’re at. Hopefully we can maintain that going into the semi-final”.