Tipperary's number one under no illusions
GAELIC GAMES/BRENDAN CUMMINS:The veteran goalkeeper knows a complete performance is required if Tipperary are to avenge last year’s final defeat, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY
IMAGINE IF BRENDAN Cummins had accepted the massive hint dropped by Babs Keating back in 2007? He had already served a fair old stint, since 1995, as the Tipperary goalkeeper. He was 32 and had his All-Ireland medal from 2001. His performances had also won him three All Stars.
Keating’s second stint as manager didn’t work out though and, when Liam Sheehy arrived in 2008, Cummins was restored between the sticks as Gerry Kennedy’s brief tenure, much like Jody Grace in 1994, ended.
Babs was wrong. Cummins was by no means a spent force. His fourth and fifth All Stars followed in the next two seasons as Tipperary returned to the All-Ireland final, where Kilkenny’s four in a row quest proved too much to handle.
The breakthrough came a year later. It seemed like sheer hunger denied Brian Cody’s men the much heralded Drive for Five.
Former Tipperary hurler Richie Stakelum this week described the 2010 final as the greatest game he had ever seen against the greatest team. Tipp won, with Cummins landing a long-range point in a thriller. An instant classic.
But the lustre of that victory faded 12 months later when Kilkenny grabbed the Liam MacCarthy back over the border.
Until last September it seemed like Tipp were poised to dominate the hurling landscape. They seemed to have the hunger to go with a fabulous collection of young hurlers.
“Hopefully that’s the way the cycle is running,” said Cummins. “I think what the key is – it surprises me at times when you hear that players didn’t want to win or there wasn’t enough hunger there – every player really wants to win when they go out and play. They just have to make sure that the performance is there from the 15 players and the five coming in.
“So, you need the performance from all 20 players in order to finish the job. If you get a performance from eight, 10, 12 players – that might have been good enough six, seven years ago but not with this Kilkenny team. You need 15 performing at the highest level for as long as they can and then you empty the bench and hope they can finish the job.
“Galway did that – I don’t think Kilkenny had a major lack of hunger, they just were overawed by Galway in that time.
“The same for Tipp last year in the All-Ireland final – it took 16 minutes for us to score a point against Kilkenny. Now we were trying to score and all that but it was just the hunger and desire and every one of them going in the one direction.”
Cummins will remain calm when Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final inevitably explodes. Aged 37 now, he has been around too long to be caught up in the madness, even if hurling manically helps his team-mates out the field.
“Yeah, there is an element of almost fury I suppose, or whatever you want to call it – being possessed – call it what you like. There is that but every player ignites the person beside him too and the whole thing just takes off and takes on a life of its own.
“Every player will hope that that’s the way it is going to work out on the day, but the opposition are obviously trying to stop them from playing and stop that from happening.”
What lesson was learned from losing, as favourites, last September?
“It comes back to something inside you that makes you push that extra inch that you never thought you had or would get out of yourself. Probably being beaten the year before . . You feel you have let everybody down really – that’s the feel as a sportsperson.
“You feel you have let down everybody in the dressingroom after the game when you meet your colleagues and then you go into the outside world and you meet your family and they are the next ones you have that sensation with.
“And then you get off the bus and go to the team hotel and meet the crowd and it feels even worse.
“It is really final, so you lock that away somewhere safe in your head and hope that when you have any doubts down the road, that the box opens and off you go again and get the drive.”
The next question is obvious. Come Sunday, will he be wondering, ‘where did we leave the key to that box?’ – or will they find what’s required on the day.
“I would hope so but you never know. Last year when I was talking to you guys before the All-Ireland final, I would have told you that we had every box ticked.
“If you had told me that it would take 17 minutes before we got a score, I’d have said, ‘No, it’s not going to happen.’
“You can only hope that you have everything done right.
“The year has gone well enough – the Munster championship has given us good confidence but you never know until the ball is thrown in on that Sunday and you just hope that things will turn out right for us.”