No Famine for Tipperary Football
Do you recall Brian Kilmartin one of the main protagonist in the novel Famine by Liam O’Flaherty?
Of course you do! Haven’t we all read it at some stage? Bear with me and I’ll tell you where I’m going with this.
Brian Kilmartin was a man who worked hard all his life. Compared to some of their neighbours, the Kilmartin’s were doing okay for themselves until the Famine hit. However, Brian was old school and stubbornly believed that the old customs had to be followed whether they could afford them or not. He resisted the ideas of his new daughter-in-law Mary Gleeson, who, as soon as she got her feet under the table in the Kilmartin household, wanted to change almost everything. What transpired was a struggle between the old and the new, until eventually, as the Famine takes its grip, Brian realises that the old ways will no longer cut the mustard.
In many ways the David Power and his management team remind me of Brian Kilmartin. They have worked extremely hard since they got the job and have made our footballers relatively well to-do with a Munster Football title and a recent promotion under their belts. But, as the old saying goes, a team is only as good as their last game and Tipperary’s last game was not good. I haven’t witnessed a performance as bad as that since Ronan Keating released his version of Fairytale of New York in 2001.
The Tipperary game plan is based on a strong defensive set up when the opposition have the ball and then transitioning the football quickly through the lines when we are in possession. (I call it a defensive system, others call it a counter-attacking system…..tomato-tomato) It’s a system that works until you come up against an ultra defensive side like Limerick or a side that will get in the hard tackles high up the pitch. It is also a system that relies on everything going right and everyone doing their job as you try to move the ball from A to B. There is no margin for error and when you have no margin for error, players are afraid to take risks. They end up crippled by the fear of losing a possession. Hence you see the ball going over and back across the field more often than you see it going forward.
To be fair to management, transitioning the football quickly through the lines is what they preach and we saw wonderful examples of this during the run to the Allianz League Final. The football played in some of those games was a joy to watch and as good as anything I have seen from any Tipperary teams. But that said somethings have to change to avoid performances like we saw against Limerick. To simply write that off as a bad day at the office would be dishonest. Maybe now is the time for Tipperary management to channel their inner Mary Gleeson and introduce new ways of thinking because as Einstein told us, to continue to do the same things and expect different results would be madness.
There is no doubt that management will have fully analysed the Limerick performance to come up with answers for why we had so many malfunctions and system failures on the day. The obvious will of course jump out. With Bill Maher, Kevin Fahy and Robbie Kiely all in the repair shop our ability to break lines is compromised so instead of playing counter attacking football, which relies on breaking lines, we will now have to play the game on the front foot, move the ball through the lines with accurate kick passes and utilise the immense talent we have in our full forward line. Having Conor Sweeney in your full forward line and not feeding him fast ball is like having a dog and barking yourself.
Our wing forwards are honest and hard working but you would nearly be afraid to call them wing forwards for fear of being sued under the Trade Description Act. They are being used as supplementary wing backs rather than wing forwards. This is where the biggest change to our system can take place. It’s not radical to say the main job of a forward is to score. This can happen more often by asking our half forwards to play closer to the opposition goal which will allow them to support the inside line quicker and create more scoring opportunities for us. We had 13 shots at goal against Limerick and more than half of them came from frees or shots from outside the 45m line. That is not acceptable at any level. Of course our half forwards have defensive duties when the opposition turn us over but those defensive duties should be employed high up the pitch rather than the current practice of getting ever back behind the ball. That simple switch in our set up would certainly see a dramatic improvement entertainment levels for fans who would prefer to see Tipperary lose trying to win rather than lose trying not to lose.
We already have everything else in place with a good defence a mobile midfield and a good kick-out strategy so we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. A slight tweak in mindset on how to best to employ our half forward line is all that is required.
But more importantly than any of that, management will know that Tipperary did not become a bad team overnight and there is certainly incentive to try go deep into the Tailteann Cup. Not only would it set us up for Division 3 football next year but there is also a guarantee of a place in the All-Ireland series for 2023. Financial assistance will be also made available to the winning county towards a team holiday and a Champions 15 will be selected to honour the best 15 players from the competition. In addition, both the semi-finals and final will be broadcast live on RTÉ. All things considered, it’s a competition worth winning.
A number of people asked me over the past two weeks where the GAA came up with the name for the Tailteann Cup. A quick google would have provided them with the answer. It takes it’s name from The Tailteann Games, an ancient Irish sporting festival which was first staged near Tara 1829 BC. It ran each summer up until the Norman Invasion in the late 12th century. The games were revived in 1924, 1928 and 1932 but against a background of the Anglo Irish Trade War and the Great Depression the funding was cut and no games took place in 1936. World War 11 ensured they didn’t take place in 1940 either and they were then forgotten about after the war.
At the launch of the new Tailteann Cup competition in Croke Park last week, GAA president Larry McCarthy said he was hoping the Tailteann Cup “takes off like a meteorite”. It was an unfortunate choice of words because as we know, a meteorite nearly always crashes. However, his words did indicate that the GAA are determined to promote the Tailteann Cup and while the jury is still out on how this competition will play out, the eternal optimist in me believes that it will be a success.
So what are Tipperary’s chances against Carlow? We only have to go back to the 20th March to find a form line. When these two teams met in the league, Tipperary emerged as 2:16 to 0:11 winners. If, as I expect, we can exorcise the demons of the Limerick performance and play a more aggressive attacking style of football then I think we can look forward to a similar result on Sunday afternoon.
Mary Gleeson dreamt of a ship with great white sails that would take her to America. Surely Tipperary football supporters can dream of sailing to Croke Park in July playing swashbuckling front foot fearless football.
It’s not too much to ask, is it?