Ryan expects Tipp and Wexford to produce 'match for the ages'
By John Harrington
Former Tipperary hurling manager, Michael Ryan, is very wary of the challenge that Wexford will bring to Sunday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final.
Ryan, who managed Tipperary to the All-Ireland title in 2016, believes Wexford have matured as a team over the course of the last three years under Davy Fitzgerald and are now operating at a higher level than ever before.
“If you look at what's different to Wexford this year than any other year, I just think they're play really well as a unit. They still employ the sweeper, I think it's very smart,” said Ryan yesterday at the launch of EirGrid’s ‘Managerial Moments in Time’.
“For me looking at them, the S&C two and three years really looks to have kicked in for those Wexford guys.
“They looked huge men for me in that Leinster final and they were winning the vast majority of the physical battles, they were right up there with Kilkenny who you'd always associate with winning physical battles.
“The hurling they were playing in that Leinster final was excellent. It's a bit like saving the best wine for last, I think their Leinster Final performance was their best of the championship so far.
“It was a cracking game, right down to the wire, and those are the types of games that really develop character in the team. That's a key word for describing Wexford and what we're facing on Sunday.”
Tipperary won two from two against Fitzgerald's Wexford in the Allianz Hurling League when Ryan was in charge of the team, and the Upperchurch-Drombane native believes the Premier County hurlers have the nous to play their way through Wexford’s well-organised defensive system.
“We in Tipp have come up against that system time and time again,” said Ryan. “There's nothing new there we haven't seen before.
“And our record of dealing with that is actually quite good. That in itself isn't something that is going to have a huge bearing on the game.
“From a Tipp perspective, we will need our absolute best performance to get a result on Sunday. There's a lot more momentum with Wexford right now. It's very, very hard to call it.
“It's advantage Wexford in terms what they've achieved this year in terms of winning a Leinster final. We saw what it meant to their supporters. I think on Sunday Wexford could possibly fill the stadium on their own.
“I know that's a cliche but I just think you'll get a huge support coming from Wexford and I hope Tipp travel because I think they need to get behind this team, this team need support right now.”
Tipperary were the form team in the country when they won four matches from four in the Round Robin phase Munster Championship but then suffered a heavy defeat to Limerick in the provincial final that has raised serious doubts about the team’s ability to win an All-Ireland title this year.
Those doubts were assuaged little by an unconvincing win over Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but Ryan expects Liam Sheedy to extract a much better performance from his team on Sunday.
“The performance against Laois as such didn't throw up any new issues for Tipp, these are just legacy issues there that we are a bit lethargic, loose, not committing to the ball or tackle or to attack enough,” he said.
“It doesn't define your season, what defines your season is where you finish.
“Knowing Liam Sheedy and knowing what's at stake on Sunday, Tipp will perform and they will bring a level of performance that they certainly didn't bring the last day.”
Wexford have the greater form and momentum coming into the match and the energy provided by a vocal support that will cheer ever score to the rafters of Croke Park will surely be worth a few points to them too.
But a Tipperary team backboned by players who won All-Irelands in 2010 and 2016 and contested finals in 2009, 2011, and 2013 have significantly more experience of playing matches of this magnitude in Croke Park than Wexford do.
Ryan hopes that can give the Premier County a vital edge in what he expects will be a rip-roaring game of hurling.
“I think we’re not telling any state secrets here to suggest these guys are in the twilight of their careers,” said Ryan of players like Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Seamus Callanan, and Noel McGrath.
“They’re in their 10th or 11th year of uninterrupted service to Tipp. It’s phenomenal service.
“The positive I would take out of this is the experience of being there on the big days, you know exactly what that looks like. They know where the bar is.
“It will be a dog eat dog fight to the death. Even looking back over those two teams’ history in hurling, there’s a great tradition coming from both counties.
“When they meet, they always deliver a super, super contest. This is one for the ages too, you’re going back into the late 60s, 70s, these teams would have been meeting regularly. I know hurling was in a different time, but there was no fear held of the other.
“I think it will be the same on Sunday. It will be one for the ages – great to see those two different colour jerseys coming out, taking part in such a huge game.”