Seán Moran: Tipperary’s proven stalwarts have done the county some service

The likes of the Mahers, McGrath and Callanan led the Premier to their best era since 1960s

It was hard not to spot the elegiac possibilities in Tipperary players lingering on the pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh after Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Waterford.

Was it a book-ending of the Liam Sheedy years: Waterford also beat them in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final at the end of his first season? That was the last time they lost this particular fixture until this weekend.

It was well documented and discussed that the manager was all in on the team he’d chosen; founded on exceptional players he had brought through on his first tour of duty and those who had been added to make up the 2019 champions. Even with two teams of younger players who had recently won under-21 and under-20 All-Irelands, Sheedy was sticking with his crew.

It might have caused unease among the hurling community in the country but it was also clear from the start that this was how he saw his options when speaking to the media before the first championship match.

“The guy that starts, whether he is 21 or 31 or whatever age he is, that will be based on the data I have seen over the last number of months right in front of my eyes.”

The big statement by Sheedy when he returned as manager three years ago came in the opening championship match in 2019 when they blitzed Cork down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

“I mean, we were going down to play Cork in Cork,” he reflected at the end of the year. “The date was written in the diary from a long way out. They were back to back Munster champions. I would say it was probably one of our best performances of 2019, that first day out, and it probably gave us a platform to build on.”

The fitness and physical conditioning of the team was obvious and they looked well prepared to impact on the All-Ireland and in the event they won it. There was a caveat in the middle of that particular season. Tipp were overrun by Limerick in the Munster final.

A similar beating took place when last year’s winter championship reverted to straight knockout but you sensed that the focus this year on summer pitches and hard ground would be about devising a game plan for the All-Ireland champions.

A couple of weeks back it looked like that had paid off. Tipperary’s first half in the Munster final was described as the best they had ever played. To have that ripped up and thrown back in their faces by Limerick must have been staggeringly demoralising.

Major rebuild

In his preview of the quarter-final in these pages, Nicky English asked had Tipp the hunger "to want to face Limerick again". In the words of the actors' studio, what's your motivation?

There is a view in the county that they would have loved to have faced the champions in Croke Park, which seems counterintuitive given the big field and fast track. Sure, as one of hurling's big three, Tipp have an aura but the time for that would have been before Limerick won two All-Irelands in three years.

Maybe Liam Sheedy will stay on but, if he does, there is a major rebuild to be done. Within seven days of each other, they and Galway exited the championship against Waterford. Together with Kilkenny the three counties dominated hurling in the past decade.

They did so playing a traditional, orthodox game, relying on power and strength under the dropping ball and the artistry of their forwards. Tipp in particular with their touch, movement and lethal accuracy.

That time appears to be gone and replaced by the fast-transfer game and relentlessly hard running at the opposition defence – of which Waterford are exemplars.

The rationale for backing Tipp last Saturday was that they would get scores more easily and with greater economy than a Waterford side who expend such energy in the creation of their scores.

Instead it was Liam Cahill’s team who showed greater economy with a conversion rate of 67 per cent. The extent of the Tipperary decline was apparent in their rate, a flabby 57 per cent.

In comparison to the All-Ireland win of two years ago the fall-off is significant. That day against Kilkenny, they managed 40 scoring attempts with a 70 per cent return.

Frustratingly for Tipp there was a glimmer of opportunity there at the end and it will worry Waterford that in two successive weeks they watched an unassailable grip on the match loosen alarmingly before closing it out.

If the curtain is coming down on the generation that Sheedy brought through, they are worth the ovation. Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher, Noel McGrath and Callanan – the only player to start both 2008 and last weekend – backboned the county's most successful teams since the 1960s.

Life cycle

Their dedication and sustained performance levels – all four were still winning All Stars in 2019, 10 years after Pádraic Maher and McGrath had won their cohort’s first – were vital in the decade’s three All-Ireland victories. Should there have been more? It is hard to say.

Galway, for instance, managed only one in that time and the reality is that in the Tipperary team’s life cycle, they encountered an outstanding Kilkenny at the start and by the end a formidable Limerick, favourites to win a third All-Ireland in four years.

There has also been the contribution of Sheedy and his management colleagues from 2008. Eamon O’Shea’s creativity as a coach liberated their forwards and informed the team’s best attacking days and as manager he was within inches of winning another All-Ireland in 2014.

Selector Mick Ryan took over from O'Shea and did take home the MacCarthy Cup two years later.

It’s now 50 years since the 1971 All-Ireland success and for much of the interim Tipperary knew more dinner-times than dinners. Whatever the individual comings and goings in the near future there is likely to be a changing of the guard.

The generation that made its final stand on Saturday has done their county some service.