Michael Ryan says priority is matching Kilkenny’s intensity

Premier County manager claims it’s the initial bar his charges have to reach in final

The last thing Michael Ryan needs is any reminder of Tipperary's championship record against Kilkenny, particularly in this Brian Cody era.

That record is daunting, not what any manager wants to consider in the week of an All-Ireland hurling final.

So here’s a reminder for everyone else: in their nine championship meetings, since 2002, Kilkenny have won all but one, including three All-Ireland finals, and three semi-finals. Tipp’s one and only win over Kilkenny in that period was the 2010 All-Ireland final.

What Ryan may well remind us, however, is that he's yet to lose to Kilkenny, at least not as Tipp manager. This may be his seventh season on the sideline, having worked three years alongside Eamon O'Shea, and three years before that alongside Liam Sheedy, but everything about Sunday's final marks year one on his watch.


“This group is doing it for themselves,” says Ryan, straight-faced.

“It is not born out of past losses to Kilkenny. This is a new journey for these players. They are having a fantastic run. We need to concentrate on the here and now, not past results against Kilkenny.

“Kilkenny’s victories are confined to history, a fantastic history for them, a poor history for us, unfortunately.

Initial bar

“I think you can put it simply down to it that they have trumped us each day on intensity. That is the initial bar we have to reach.

“If we can break even on that, and get a bit lucky here and there, who knows? Various little things can change things after that.

“But I think intensity is the great leveller here, and their ability to be relentless on that. They never let that up. I don’t know when I have ever seen recent Kilkenny teams not reaching a high level of intensity.”

It’s the word everyone keeps coming back to: “intensity” is not the issue alone, however, as Ryan also identifies the need to sustain it.

“There is a consistency Kilkenny reach that the rest of us need to get to. At various stages we all are capable of getting to it, but none of us as yet have been able to sustain it as Kilkenny do. Even if they are only trading blow with you 50/50 they seldom let the intensity down at crucial periods.

“The given here is that Kilkenny are past masters at this. They know the level and they will get to it. The variable is the rest of us. Will we get to the level? Can we sustain the level? Can we break through any perceived glass ceiling that is there?

“In fairness, no one created those glass ceilings only ourselves. Kilkenny have not been a sitting target for anyone. They have evolved. They have had a change in personnel. But the constant is the intensity.”

Tipp’s own evolution under Sheedy, and then O’Shea, did manage to take out Kilkenny once, in 2010, and match them in the drawn 2014 final. Ryan, a 1991 All-Ireland winner with Tipp, sees his own place in that evolution as somewhere in between, given what he took from both previous managers.

Buck stops

“The only difference for me now, and has been all season, is that the buck stops with me. I am the one who needs to make decisions, to tick all the boxes we need to tick.

“And I would say the experience I had working closely with Eamon and Liam previously stands to me. I always felt a sense of responsibility, even when I was a selector. I felt a shared experience, even though Liam was out front. That carried through when I worked through with Eamon. It’s much the same now, only I am pushed out front now.

"But I am very well supported, very strong characters behind the scene. Declan Fanning is a really good coach. John Madden and Conor Stakelum are selectors, my vintage.

“And what you would have seen in 2010 was a really good mix of the intensity, the high work-rate that Liam would have brought to the table, but twinned to the work Eamon did as coach.

“It was with a very talented bunch of players, let’s acknowledge that. We really opened up the minds of the players to play the game, trust their skill and use space. To take chances and express themselves too.

“That is really what we hope to recapture, that sort of blend of hard work and intensity and yet giving guys plenty of freedom to express themselves. We are still striving to get that balance right. It is difficult to achieve. You are always striving for that.”

There was some mild surprise when Ryan was announced as O’Shea’s successor at the end of 2014, when O’Shea still had a year to go on his term, yet the need and desire to retain some continuity has so far paid off.

“Too much change of personnel, in our experience, and I would have experienced it as a player, is not conductive to building a team or laying the foundations for the future. To be fair, and I acknowledged this at the beginning too, I can’t afford to get it wrong.

"And walk down Thurles any day and you will get plenty of opinion. People wouldn't be long telling you if you are doing things right or wrong."

Sunday’s latest showdown with Kilkenny will be the next big reminder of all that.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics