Nicky English hails Tipp's three-time All-Ireland winners
By John Harrington
Tipperary hurling legend, Nicky English, believes the veterans of the current team have elevated themselves into a higher bracket by winning a third All-Ireland medal this year.
Seamus Callanan, Padraic Maher, Noel McGrath, Brendan Maher, and Patrick Maher all won their third Celtic Cross in 2019.
And even though they still have a few more years of hurling at the highest level still left in them, English believes they should already be regarded as greats of the modern era.
“Absolutely, I was actually very conscious of that,” said English. "Not many Tipperary players have gotten beyond the two All-Ireland bracket. Only Declan Ryan, really of any player that we know or played with got beyond that.
“So those Tipperary players that have now gotten the three All-Irelands, the Mahers, Noel McGrath, Seamie Callanan, that for me steps them up into the next bracket.
“And it's not so much really about the medals. Okay, they've done that, but they've been involved in some unbelievable matches over the years. You've Seamie scoring all the goals, a record number of goals, and Padraic Maher's consistency of actual participation alone. He's there every game for ten years.
“And Noel McGrath's class over a period of time. Brendan Maher, outstanding coming back from injury. Those lads aren't just about the medals, some of the games even in 2014, 2010, 2009, that they've been part of and still to be able to come back this year and win that third medal in some style as well. It's a great testament to them.
“They have made a massive contribution to Tipperary hurling and hurling in general really.
“They're just outstanding sportspeople and they've always been a credit to themselves, their families, and their county.”
Tipperary followed up their senior All-Ireland triumph this year with victory in the All-Ireland U-20 Final.
Considering they also won the U-21 Final in 2018, it looks like there’s no shortage of talented young hurlers coming through in the county right now which should bode well for the future.
English is optimistic, but cautious nonetheless too because the Premier County have flattered to deceive in the past when it looked like they were on the cusp of sustained success.
“Yeah, it looks as bright as it ever did for Tipp, but when things are brightest in Tipp, that's when we can slip back a little bit,” he said.
“There's not much between the teams and what's key is that type of desire that Tipperary found against Wexford when they were a man down and five points down and everything going against them, some very hard decisions on goals going against them.
“But they found that desire that drove them over the finish line that day and that discovery really did carry them and sustain them in the All-Ireland Final. The performance they produced that day was built off that.
“It's to find that in 2020 will be the big test. I've had a good few goes (back to back All-Irelands) at it myself as a player and a manager, well, three goes at it.
“There's been goes since the sixties. It hasn't been done really and hasn't been done since. It'll still be a test because you'll have to find that unknown potential within the team and within the unit, and Limerick found it last year. They didn't find it this year.
“Galway found it in 2017 but couldn't find it since. That will be the test. Tipperary are as good a team as what's out there, but there's no much between any of the teams.
“You're going to have Cork with a new manager, Galway with a new manager, Waterford with a new manager. So things evolve, things change.
“But in terms of player potential, I was very impressed with our U-20 team. There were some very, very athletic and good players on it. And that's two-in-a-row, much like the foundation that Tipp had in the early eighties when we won three U-21s.
“Yes, the players are there and I've no doubt the management are aware of that. It'll be a different dynamic than it was this year.
“They will still be one of the favourites, but, to me, I don't think Tipp can ever look too far ahead and say we can retain the All-Ireland, because that's not the way it has rolled before.”
English was in Croke Park on Tuesday where he was inducted into the GAA Museum Hall of Fame.
The two-time All-Ireland winner was one of the classiest forwards of his generation, and when he reflects on it all its the friendships he made along the way that mean the most to him.
“Well, unfortunately when you look back the first thing that strikes you is, my God, it's all 30 years or more ago now," said English.
“Life is passing quite quickly. It's a lovely honour to be inducted into the Hall of Fame but you just don't think of yourself...I suppose I'm older than I think I am, basically, is really what it proves.
“Sure, look, it was great to be involved and the most important thing is that it's not really about medals or individual games, but really about friendships.
“The team that I played on with Tipp, all of us came up through the minors and U-21 teams together. And we'd be as friendly now as we were when we travelled together as minors and U-21s.
“A lot of us were from West Tipp which is unusual when you look at it over the longer history of Tipperary hurling to have so many lads come from the area that we were coming from. It was most unusual, especially if you go as well as Cullen.
“We had Ger O'Neill from Cappawhite, Pat Fox, the Bonners, John Kennedy, Joe Hayes, Pat Fitzell. There was a lot of players there or there abouts on the Tipperary team all from that area.
“You didn't have those numbers before and you haven't had since so it was just a very strange phenomenon. We're all very friendly and we've had fantastic craic over the years.
“Everyone thinks they could have won more, but you're lucky to win what you win really. We had great fun too. Every team has plenty of fun and plenty of characters and we certainly had. To this day we still have great fun together.”