When Clare host Tipperary on Sunday in the Munster Senior hurling championship, it will be the first time that the Premier will come to Ennis for a provincial showdown since 1986. On that day, the Banner came out top en route to a Munster Final before losing out to eventual All-Ireland champions Cork.
While that day might be well in the past, the most recent championship meeting between these two sides is still fresh in the memory of Michael Ryan. The Upperchurch-Drombane clubman stepped down from the role of Tipperary manager after they exited last year’s championship following Ian Galvin’s dramatic late goal in Thurles.
Both sides have had positive starts to the 2019 championship, with Tipperary impressing in their two victories over Cork and Waterford. Clare also have a win over the Deise under their belt following a one point victory in Walsh Park on the opening weekend. Despite only two rounds being played so far, Ryan feels it has already been a fascinating championship.
“It has been amazing so far. From Clare’s perspective, it was really important to get that result away from home down in Walsh Park on day one and that was a great one to win. Clare were in full control and survived that late rally to win. They then had to step away and wait for the next game to roll around. Tipperary were a little similar in playing two games and then getting the break so lads should be fresh coming into it. We will have to wait and see when the teams are named if everyone has a clean bill of health but it promises to be a really good game” he said.
When Ryan announced he was stepping down, it took some time for his replacement to step forward. When one did, it was a familiar face in the form of fellow All-Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy. Ryan feels having someone of that calibre coming back into the set-up was always going to bring an air of positivity.
“There is that Liam Sheedy factor and we were all delighted when Liam was ratified that this was as good a managerial appointment as we could have asked for. That was a massive positive at that point. In terms of how things have gone, the league can be best noted as non-descript in that we didn’t get to the latter stages and mixed the good with the average. Our expectation then going to Cork in the championship was built on hope more than anything so that meant we were over the moon with the performance levels that the lads brought and then repeated that a week later against Waterford in Semple Stadium. The fact that we are two from two is a great position to be in but it is only the half-way mark. There are two massive challenges coming for Tipperary to deal with and we have one of those at home. The pressing one for now is without doubt next Sunday and going up the road to Ennis. The fact that it is on in Ennis is a rarity, we haven’t had too many championship matches up there” he noted.
It was a hugely disappointing Championship 2018 for Tipperary as they saw their campaign come to an end in June after finishing fourth in the round robin standings. Criticism of playing senior club championship in April last year led to a change in fixture scheduling this year, while their championship fixture schedule is much kinder this time around. Ryan admits there were some concerns last year in terms of their preparation that have now been allayed.
“Momentum can be a brilliant thing and getting into a flow can be really positive. Players might love the chance to play every week but from a managers point of view it frightened the life out of me last year because it was unknown territory. It is a huge ask and there is no time to regroup between matches if you have that relentless week on week schedule that we had last year. It has fallen a lot better this year and their preparations for the opening round have been uninterrupted. Winning games builds confidence and they came to Thurles off the back of that Cork win and just picked up where they had left off. We have had a better run in with less workload on the players and not being involved in the latter stages of the league probably helped too. It is still very early days and anyone can beat anyone. Just look at Cork. They looked to be in a very precarious position after losing to Tipperary in their own pitch and then turned around and came to Limerick to beat the All-Ireland champions and looked like a totally different team. You would be a very brave person to make any predictions of what will happen in any of the games from here on in. It all depends on what team turns up in better form, who has the better attitude, who will work hardest and who wants it more. You also need that little bit of luck as you do in any sport” said Ryan.
Tipperary have been in blistering scoring form in their two games to date, racking up 2-28 against Cork before surpassing that with 2-30 against Waterford. With another high-scoring encounter expected, Ryan feels that the battle of the front men will be central to winning the war.
He said: “I think it will really intriguing because the two sets of forwards can stretch any defence if they get the right ball and I think we will have plenty scores on Sunday. Both sides like to play that whirlwind type of hurling and are comfortable at going at 100 miles an hour so they are quite similar in that sense. Clare will have taken huge confidence from the win against Waterford and that pressure seems to bring out the steel in them. It is that same steel that comes out when you want to defend your home patch. Tipperary are always like that in terms of Thurles so I am sure that Clare will be the same about Cusack Park. It will all come down to the usual ingredients of who wants it more and who will come out of the traps quickest. Tipperary have been quick to start in their last two games so that will be interesting to watch. Both sides will be looking to curb that element and the match ups are also going to be crucial. Every point you can get on this Munster championship journey is going to be so crucial. You saw what the point meant to Wexford in Salthill at the weekend. They have two points from their two away games and that is important. If last year is anything to go by, then it is going to be so tight. If the points come Tipperary’s way on Sunday evening, it will obviously leave them in a very strong position but they can’t look beyond Sunday. We have sometimes been accused of getting ahead of ourselves in the past so that’s something we can’t allow to happen”.
Ryan will be part of a special preview evening hosted by the Eire Óg GAA Club on Saturday evening, with being joined by fellow former Tipperary hurler Eamonn Corcoran. Former All-Ireland winners Niall Gilligan and Stephen McNamara will be flying the Banner flag on the panel which will be hosted by MC Rory Hickey. The event will get underway at the Eire Óg GAA clubhouse on Clonroadmore with doors open at 7pm.