Where now for Tipperary Senior Hurlers?

The press release from Tipperary GAA said it all. Michael Ryan and his selectors were leaving the Tipperary Senior Hurling setup to allow a new management group come and take the side forward. It is clear from the statement that Ryan and his selectors reflected long and hard over recent weeks, trying to dissect how a side so well fancied at the start of the calendar year failed to fire and exit the round robin Munster SHC phase. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.

2016 is a long time ago 

The emphatic All Ireland victory over Kilkenny in 2016 was the high point for Michael Ryan. His Tipperary charges tore into Kilkenny and a second half goal salvo set the platform for an emphatic victory. A side whose movement, passing and shooting was the blueprint. A side where the McGrath’s, O’Dwyer, Callanan came to the fore with their skill set. Padraic and Ronan Maher dominated the half back exchanges. The full back line were tight and uncompromising. Gleeson in goal was commanding while Brendan Maher showed versatility in his defensive and attacking play from midfield and half back line. A team which had the potential to dominate all before them.

2017 so long yet so far

2017 was a mixed season; early league form showed massive potential but the performance levels suddenly started to wane in the latter stages of the league. The Wexford NHL semi-final was a turning point for the side; a physical encounter which saw Jason Forde suspended for an altercation with Davy Fitzgerald. The following week saw Tipperary in a NHL final against Galway where they were blown out of the water. Galway won the final in emphatic style and alarm bells started to ring out from the Premier County given the dominance in the physical and skill set battle.

This was further compounded with an early Munster SHC exit at the hands of a skillful Cork side in a classic encounter. 1-27 to 1-26 exposed huge defensive issues in the ranks and a journey through the qualifiers saw wins over Westmeath (uninspiring), Dublin (optimism given the six goals scored) and a hard earned win over Clare in the All Ireland Quarter-Final. Cue Galway and the All Ireland semi-final, a game which could have gone either way. Joe Canning’s brilliance saw Galway win the encounter by the bare minimum. Tipperary were dethroned and squad depth issues were exposed particularly in the full back line.

2018 going going gone 

2018 has to be considered a failure for this Tipperary side. Optimism was high as new squad talent were given ample game time during the NHL. Darren Gleeson was no longer on the panel and several keepers were tried before Brian Hogan got the nod for the Munster SHC round robin. The full back question was still a thorny issue and Seamus Kennedy was thrown to fill the breach. It did not work and other players including Padraic Maher were tried. The panel was beset by injuries with Seamus Callanan a noticeable absentee from the side during the NHL season. It was left to Jason Forde to be the key scorer in chief and was the highlight of the season for Tipperary.

The game plan from the side in the Munster SHC lacked identity; the swift passing and player movement in attack were seen only in patches. The work rate and conditioning of the side was thrown into the question with late losses to Limerick and Clare as the side floundered in the final closing exchanges. Tipperary fans wrangled over player positional switches throughout the season. Management were under pressure; key players in the side struggled for cohesion given their lack of NHL game time and management struggled to find their strongest fifteen out on the pitch. No cohesion in the side.

Rumors of training ground issues were prominent in the lead-up to the championship and the Kilkenny NHL final loss was a defeat which the team and management never recovered from in hindsight. A new direction was required and management felt they had no option but to depart stage left. A superb opening season for the management team now descended into ruin.

Managerial Contenders

Tipperary typically do not look to outside counties for their next manager. Tipperary are incredibly proud of their hurling and they will look within their county management structures first to fill the post.

Tommy Dunne (minors) won the Munster Minor Hurling Championship this season, a well respected coach who will be eager to get the opportunity to work with the senior panel. The issue for Dunne is the manner in which the Tipperary minor side lost to Kilkenny; a disjointed performance which exposed game management issues (aimless ball distribution, minimal running game) and work rate without the ball particularly in the forward line.

Liam Cahill with the U21 side has progressed nicely; several All Ireland minor titles leading to this appointment. The downside for Cahill is the manner in which Tipperary’s U21 team performed against Cork in the Munster final; a nightmare performance where nothing went right for Tipperary. Cahill will look for a response from his charges in the coming weeks in the All Ireland series but the Cork loss this year will be etched into Tipperary hurling fan base minds.

The other question is whether either candidate wants the job. The commitment required to perform the job and the pressure which comes with managing a Tipperary Senior Hurling side; expectations in the county will be sky high next year. If neither are a fit, then the net will have to be cast within the county to find the successor to Michael Ryan.

Thurles Sarsfields have being the dominant force in Tipperary SHC in recent years. Tommy Maher and Paddy McCormack led the side superbly and could be an outside bet for the top job.

Eoin Kelly or Declan Fanning as well could be potential dark horses for the role. Kelly was involved with Thurles Sarsfields last season and is well respected. Fanning after having three years as a selector may think it is now time to look for the top job; continuity with a manager who has being in the setup. Would Brendan Cummins be interested in the role or assisting the new head coach as a backroom staff member?

The other left field candidate potentially could be Colm Bonnar. The ex-Tipperary player has managed Carlow in recent years to great success. Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh success in the last two seasons as well as securing Leinster SHC next season. Bonnar has vast coaching experience but whether Tipperary county board are warm to the idea of this appointment is an entirely different story. Michael Ryan’s departure has left a void; a big void and Tipperary need to make the right managerial appointment to allow the senior side to win hurling matches next season.