Mysteries of being a Tipperary hurling fan would test anyone

Premier County faithful never quite sure of what their heroes will produce on any given day

John McGrath: barely touched the ball in the first half yesterday before being untouchable in the second. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

John McGrath: barely touched the ball in the first half yesterday before being untouchable in the second. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

At half-time in Thurles yesterday, the throaty roar of the Cork support had basically no opposition.

Tipperary supporters, as though shell-shocked by the sheer insipidness of the first-half display, sat in their seats in front of us in the Kinane Stand with their arms folded. They couldn’t even bring themselves to boo.

Around 50 minutes later, Thurles stood rapt, waiting on the glacial Semple Stadium Hawkeye to confirm whether or not Jake Morris had levelled it up with the final puck of the game. In that moment, the place was like a fizzy drink that somebody had shaken but left unopened. When Tá came up on the Town End scoreboard, the explosion went everywhere.

Not for the first time, you had to marvel at the new and interesting ways the Tipperary hurlers consistently find to confound their people.

To be a Tipp fan is to have the phone beside you at all times with the first two 9s already dialled. No other county has the capacity to be simultaneously on the brink of greatness and in the jaws of hell. It’s always all about to kick off. One of these days, your Semple Stadium match programme will come with a Xanex on the side.

The burden of being a Tipperary supporter is to always know the team has it in them without ever being able to precisely put your finger on what ‘it’ is. The combination of knowing the first thing and grasping for the second would drive anyone to distraction.

Outsiders often accuse Tipp people of arrogance but that’s not quite it. It’s more that they’d quite fancy a bit of arrogance, if they could only stay on top long enough to settle into it. It’s the curse of always being thereabouts but only occasionally there.

How could they be otherwise?

The Tipp fan has spent his life watching teams combine patches where they look like they’re scaling a mountain bare-footed with periods where they’ve suddenly found a chair-lift.

John McGrath barely touched the ball in the first half yesterday – before being untouchable in the second. A Tipp full-back line that had looked hopeless before the break barely conceded a shot at the posts after it. How is the Tipp fan supposed to react with equanimity when faced with such wild swings of fortune?

Curious mix

It all feeds into a particular kind of frenzy, unique to the county. A curious mix of outlandish expectation and absolute fatalism. The Tipp fan will take grievous insult at the phrase ‘one-in-a-row’ out of the mouth of an outsider while at the same time filleting the players when they fail to complete a back-to-back.

He doesn’t mind them taking a drink the night of a game just to chill out but when he hears tell of them being at it again on Monday too he has no trouble believing it. He’s not a man to gossip but knows a lad in the backroom team and he drops him the odd text if he sees a player out.

The Tipp fan hasn’t truly trusted the manager since Liam Sheedy left. He still thinks more should have been done to keep Sheedy around.

“Sheedy was a smart man to go when he did,” he’ll say, in admiration. “The Tipp fans probably would have turned on him in the end.”

The Tipp fan couldn’t make head nor tail of Eamon O’Shea. He reckons it was grand to look at and all that but sure it wasn’t really hurling. He knew well Kilkenny would hockey them in that All-Ireland final replay a few years ago.

He didn’t know what Cody would come up with between the drawn game and the replay but he knew he’d come up with something. And whatever it would be, it would be enough, as usual. The Tipp fan hates Cody.

The Tipp fan liked Mick Ryan initially but now he thinks he should keep the thing a bit more simple. He thinks Ryan was dead right not to talk to the media last week because the media are only a shower.

But he had his headphones on in the office on Tuesday morning all the same, listening to Tipp FM on his phone. He thought Ryan did fine but was holding his judgment until he saw what Sunday brought.

And then it brought what it brought.

An apocalyptically bad first half and a thoroughly unlikely comeback in the second. A nine-point turnaround that has saved the summer. If you were a Tipp supporter trooping out of Semple around four o’clock, you hadn’t a notion what to make of the coming weeks. Are they contenders? Are they goosed altogether? Anyone who is sure either way is either from the future or is spoofing for all they’re worth.

One way or the other, the Tipperary hurling fan will just have to suck it up. As for the rest of us, we must allow them their leeway. They have a lot to put up with, poor souls. It’s a wonder they can function as reasonable people at all.

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