Column: Michael Fennelly on hurling
By Michael Fennelly
Why did Tipperary and Waterford end up in the bottom two of a highly competitive Munster Championship?
The Waterford story is more straightforward. An extraordinary amount of injuries spread like a virus and there was never really any chance of Derek McGrath's team getting through to the All Ireland series even though they fought bravely against Tipperary.
Kilkenny were out of the Championship last year very early and that was the start of July which was close to a month later that Tipperary's exit.
Personally, I couldn’t believe how early it was. You wondered what do you do from here? Championship dates for clubs didn’t move so our first Championship game was still scheduled for mid September.
I’m not sure how both teams will deal with their early exit. It's all a bit reminiscent of the '90s when Championship was knockout and you could be gone by May or early June.
A holiday in the sun will probably be on the cards and the first in a while for many of those Tipperary and Waterford players.
For the second consecutive year Tipperary reached the Allianz Hurling League Final and left the competition with more question than answers. Defeats to Galway and Kilkenny hurt Tipperary ahead of the two Championship campaigns.
In April I thought Tipperary would come to Nowlan Park to make a statement in the League Final after the 2017 hammering by Galway. That final last year shook up that team and was the start of a bumpy year.
I expected a game in Nowlan Park that would be physical and even dirty, but Tipperary didn't bring a whole pile. Kilkenny drove on in that game with a leadership role played by TJ Reid and it supplied confidence and belief to some of those younger players.
I think two years ago Michael Ryan instilled more physicality and toughness into some of those Tipperary players, characteristics that were his own trademark during his playing days. But that seems to have dwindled over the last 12 to 24 months.
Further disappointing defeats followed in the Munster Championship against Limerick and Clare either side of draws with Cork and Waterford.
Injuries did disturb Tipperary this year. An operation meant Seamus Callanan missed the entire Allianz League. That had an impact. The versatile Michael Breen, who was prominent in the spring, damaged a foot and subsequently missed the Munster Championship.
Tipperary experimented with Breen as an inside forward in the League, but he can play a variety of roles. His absence hasn’t been mentioned that much, but his unavailability was a significant blow.
Other little things went against the Premier County. Brendan Maher missed the majority of the Limerick encounter. Dan McCormack, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, and Cathal Barrett were all bothered with injuries at different stages
Ultimately it meant Michael Ryan had no choice,but to introduce new players in the League with all those problems. That’s we he did, blooding players like Willie Connors, Alan Flynn, Billy McCarthy for the Munster Championship, but unfortunately, they didn’t find enough.
The full back line and, in particular, the full back position was a constant issue throughout the League. Ultimately Tipperary needed to switch an experienced player from another position into that area, but it wasn’t really trialed before the summer, which stuck out like a sore thumb for me.
With multiple players - especially the older ones getting close to 30 - coming back from injury and not having much match practice was always going to be a uphill battle. I could see in most games Michael Ryan trying to motivate the players with the undoubted passion he holds, but Tipperary just couldn’t get going.
Padraic Maher was also trying to give Tipperary that lift, especially against Clare, but, again, there was a feeling of doubt and trying to rise spirits that just looked broken.
It has been a tough four weeks for Tipperary with energy draining games and coming back from the dead on more than one occasion to get a draw. I feel their pain. We never really got going in 2017 and it was like we were waiting for a kick start that never came. It happens.
Whether Michael Ryan’s management team stays on or not is hard know, but it seems unlikely. He has given nearly a decade of his time to the blue and gold and maybe his time has come to an end.
One thing is for sure, Tipperary are not dead and buried. This current panel still has the core of a good team, but certain issues must be addressed. There is a need for an injection of new young quality players.
That's the big question for Tipperary going forward - do they have enough emerging players in the county good enough to make an immediate impact at the highest level?
Time will tell.