Champions in Tipp top shape to retain crown
Tipperary lost their league battle with Galway but they can win the war and retain their All-Ireland title in 2017.
Indeed, they look more bulletproof than Dublin do in the football championship and now is the time to get stuck into the champions.
Forget the Division 1 decider with Galway. It is not that Tipperary would not have liked another piece of silverware, it is just that the game did not mean as much to them as it did to the Tribesmen, who had been starved of success for so long.
It was obvious after ten minutes that one team was up for it and the other wasn’t and the game was little more than a procession for Galway, who never took their foot off the gas.
What’s more, this Tipperary team are far more potent when Seamus Callanan plays. He missed the league decider with a broken thumb and his power was sorely missed up front.
How he was overlooked for Hurler of the Year in 2016 remains a mystery. He was head and shoulders above everyone else last season and must feel aggrieved that he was not chosen for the top award. He has a point to prove in 2017.
While he would obviously have preferred to beat Galway in the Division 1 decider, Michael Ryan now has a stick to beat his Tipp team with. They were outclassed, outplayed and outbattled – the perfect way to be heading into an All-Ireland campaign. Complacency can now take a back seat.
“A lot done, a lot more to do,” was the slogan used by Fianna Fail in 2002 and Ryan will be saying something similar to his troops over the last few weeks.
This Tipperary side are too good to have won just two All-Irelands since 2010. Two titles in seven years is not enough for a team with such potential. Three in eight years sounds so much better.
Tipperary scored 12-101 in their five games on the way to All-Ireland glory last year, an average of 27.2 points per game. Now that is what you call scoring power. Their defence is not too shabby either. They conceded only one goal in their three Munster clashes with Cork, Limerick and Waterford – proof that Ryan has made their rearguard unit far more assured since his arrival.
But it is up front where Tipperary have the edge. Callanan got 2-47 last year, performing at his very best in the process. John McGrath announced himself as a big game player with five goals in six games. John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer’s 1-5 in the All-Ireland final will leave him brimming with confidence. Those three talismen have the potential to tear defences to shreds.
Ronan and Pauric Maher were exceptional in the Tipperary half-back line last term, rewarded with All-Stars, while Dan McCormack’s workrate and desire to win dirty possession in the midfield battlezone were hugely impressive.
Tipperary have the panel too. They have any number of young stars champing at the bit, hoping to get a call-up and Aidan McCormack is a name to remember. He could make a big impression.
Tipperary have the the most tenacious defence and the most dangerous attack which includes the most talented hurler in the country.
And now they have the necessary motivation to prove themselves after their rare blip against Galway. They should be shorter than they are.
Galway are the big dangers and it will come as a huge surprise if one of the two teams who contested the Division 1 league decider do not go on to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Joe Canning seems to be back to his best and his league final performance was flawless. His long-range scoring ability, combined with his first touch and link play makes him a match-winner. Conor Whelan is a livewire who blossomed all through the league and the Tribesmen are now in a place where anything less than All-Ireland glory will be deemed a failure.
Galway are fully expected to win Leinster but Tipperary could hold too many aces should they meet later in the campaign.
It is interesting to see Waterford play a minor role in the league. They were unable to make the breakthrough on the All-Ireland stage after successful league campaigns in 2015 and 2016 so it seems Derek McGrath decided to alter his approach in 2017. It might work and they have Austin Glesson, but again a lack of goals is a worry.
Clare could surprise a few people in 2017 and they are on the less demanding side of the draw in Munster. A provincial final berth could be lying in wait, especially if Tony Kelly is on song. Watch out for Ian Galvin too, some shrewd judges in the Banner have been roaring about him.
Cork are far too unpredictable, while Limerick fall into the same bracket. Kilkenny look jaded and it would be Brian Cody’s most mesmeric magic trick yet if he was able to turn the current crop of Cats into All-Ireland champions.
It’s Tipperary for me – the boring but sensible option.
Tipperary to win All-Ireland
Senior Hurling Championship
4pts 13-8 Betfair, Paddy Power