How Michael Ryan has crafted a new breed of Tipperary hurlers
Former Tipp goalkeeper Brendan Cummins explains how Ryan has imparted a winning attitude onto his players14:54 Friday 21 April 2017, 14:54 21 Apr 2017
Just three times since the turn of the millennium have Tipperary claimed the All-Ireland title.
This year Michael Ryan has the chance to deliver the Premier County's first back-to-back titles since the mid-1960s and is aiming to set in motion an age of dominance to rival Kilkenny's.
Intermittently over the past 16 years, teams have tried and failed to beat Brian Cody's Cats.
Cork's back-to-back triumphs in 2004 and 2005 was followed by Kilkenny's return to the top. In search of a five-in-a-row, Tipperary halted their progress with their title win in 2010.
And so began the cycle again. Kilkenny reasserted themselves as the hurling superpower in the land, with only Clare's victory in 2013 enough to blemish their record.
That was up until last year. Tipperary came from behind to defeat Galway in the semi-final of the All-Ireland. A season-defining game.
With the momentum behind them, they went on to sweep aside Kilkenny and reclaim their crown. Having lost finals in 2011 and 2014, victory - nay, revenge - for Michael Ryan's side would have felt all the sweeter.
But it didn't manifest itself that way.
"In the weeks and months around Tipperary afterwards, it was as if we never won the All-Ireland," former Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins tells Newstalk.com.
"The celebrations were muted and Michael Ryan kept a hold of all the players. The focus was switched back to whether or not Tipperary were going to be another one of these ‘one in-a-row’ teams.
"That struck a chord with me because I’ve always been inside of the camp where everyone gets carried away and ahead of themselves. You’re no longer worried about the next game or your place in the squad.
"Mick Ryan has them worried."
Tipperary's Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath celebrate with the Liam McCarthy Cup after last year's All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny. Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Worry is not something you usually associate with champions. Confidence, certainly. Maybe even a touch of arrogance. But not worry.
Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley noted this week that Tipperary were "definitely still the best team in the country" and pointed to the strength of their panel as the main reason for this.
Tipperary's forward line in particular are considered one of the most potent in the country and showed their devastating finishing ability during their 11-point victory over Wexford.
"John and Noel McGrath lit up the place last weekend.
"'Bubbles' O'Dwyer didn’t start the last game and [Michael] Breen didn’t start but came on to score four points.
"Tipperary have a really strong forward line and if you get a run of ball in there, no matter how many defenders you’re playing at the back, they’ll go to town on you."
"He was exactly setting the world alight. That tends to happen with players when they get close to Hurler of the Year awards. Expectations are so high.
"He struggled a bit in the league with those expectations. It leaves the door open for another player to take his place, or at least that's what Ryan will be thinking."
With a number of Kilkenny's established players announcing their retirement in the last 12 months, the opportunity is there for a new team to take up their mantle.
Ryan now knows he has the talent within his ranks to defend their title, but is yet to see whether he can maintain their winning mindset.
Their first test comes this weekend against Galway at the Gaelic Grounds. To add a league campaign to their All-Ireland crown and in the process vanquishing the Tribesmen as well as up-and-coming would send out a message to the rest: Tipperary are here to stay.
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