Tipperary determined to block Kilkenny three-peat
Despite poor recent record against Cody’s men, mood is upbeat in Premier camp
Although Tipperary’s recent record against Kilkenny is poor, defender Paddy Stapleton (front) insists the Premier County are going into Sunday’s NHL final showdown in Thurles in a positive frame of mind. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Not many teams can lose three of their opening four league games, concede 12 goals and 67 points in the process, and still make the final.
Just weeks ago Tipperary were considered to be experiencing a crisis of confidence, if not character. A minor resurrection was suitably completed on Easter Sunday when they beat All-Ireland champions Clare in the league semi-final – with that earning the right to play Kilkenny in Sunday’s league final showdown at Semple Stadium.
With that will come perhaps the ultimate test of confidence and character, especially given their record against Kilkenny in recent years: they may have beaten them to claim the All-Ireland title in 2010, but they’ve lost eight of their last nine meetings since, including last year’s league final at Nowlan Park, plus the All-Ireland qualifier at the same venue.
Conceded five goals
The last time they actually beat Kilkenny in a league final was 1968. For defender Paddy Stapleton – who featured in that second round league meeting between the teams, back on February 23rd, when Tipperary conceded five goals and 20 points – the feeling is positiv: he reckons even if it seemed like Tipperary were letting in goals for fun, they were also racking up good scores themselves, including the 5-14 they hit against Kilkenny in that last meeting.
The match might have tested their confidence but not necessarily their character.
“Yeah, we were letting in goals for sport in a few matches in the league,” he says. “We were conceding goals we maybe shouldn’t be conceding. And if you conceded four or five goals, we all know it’s very hard to win a game.
“But we were still battling and battling. Sometimes when things aren’t running for you, goals will go in that normally wouldn’t. And if you’re looking for positives in adversity we had a lot of adversity in the league.
“I suppose there was a lot of doom and gloom at the time, but Eamon (O’Shea) was stressing to us, ‘This is going to stand to you’.
“Sometimes you go on a roll where you’re letting a few in but the shape was solid the last day, against Clare. You can see now there’s a benefit going forward.”
Still Kilkenny would appear to have the psychological edge: and should they win on Sunday it will be their first time three-in-a-row of three league title – with Tipperary the last county to achieve such a treble ( 1959-60-61). The Premier County haven’t won a league title since 2008, and there is that recent record against Kilkenny.
“I don’t think anyone in the dressingroom is going around thinking ‘We haven’t won a big game here or there’ against Kilkenny,” Stapleton insists. “It doesn’t bother me and I should think it doesn’t bother anyone else.
“I think in a lot of those games against Kilkenny we could have won them, had the chances to win them. But it’s our own fault that we weren’t clinical enough to win them.
“I don’t think it’s a case that we were going out and getting dominated.
“I think we’re in a very good head space. I think we’re feeling quite strong. We had a few injuries but now we have Conor O’Mahony back as well, another big force, a lot of experience.
“You have three or four really experienced lads there now. Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher, where for some of the league matches we didn’t have that. You need both experienced and newcomers to tie it up”
Stapleton however is unlikely to start on Sunday as he’s still nursing a hand injury sustained during that league game against Kilkenny: in the meantime he’s watched several younger defenders come into his position, which as unnerving as that can be, can only be good for the better state of Tipp hurling.
“Sure, I see the likes of Conor O’Brien, Cathal Barrett, Thomas Stapleton, James Barry. . . These are all fantastic hurlers, and would be starting on many intercounty teams. I obviously don’t take my place for granted. That’s what you’re thinking, and that’s what everyone should be thinking, if they’re not getting their game. Even if they are playing they should be thinking like that, that I have to stay performing at a high level or I’ll be replaced. That’s what you want, a good panel. If you don’t have that, you’re eventually going to have people resting on their laurels.”