Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Declan Bogue: Babs’ comments not worth a fuss

Top marksman Lar Corbett of Tipperary was sent to do a spoiling job against Kilkenny

After ten seconds, in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, Paul Curran was hopping off his man as the sliotar sailed over and between the posts. Straight away, we could see his sides' priorities.

It was the fourth installment of the recently-renewed Big Two rivalry between Kilkenny and Tipperary. Inevitably, physicality and intensity overwhelmed everything.

Kilkenny sat in the furnace and treated like it was a sauna. Hot-housed in Nowlan Park and with Cody's words in the week after the Leinster final dripping like battery acid in their ears, they are used to this sort of hand-to-hand combat.

Tipperary are a thinking team, they don't suit this kind of thing. While Kilkenny sweated it out for the first half at least, the Premier began to fray at the edges before the sparks caught and they combusted.

Most of the attention has focussed on Lar Corbett's role. In trying to place himself on Tommy Walsh, he and Jackie Tyrell ended up spending the day flaking each other raw. Knowing how influential Walsh is to the Kilkenny gameplan — he spent the day raining crossfield ball into Henry Shefflin's zone in the final last year with great success — it was important to have somebody who would negate that.

Was Corbett truly the right man though? It seemed like a waste, a predator of chances who should be placed close to goal, sent to do a spoiling job.

Perhaps Tipperary became victims of their success of 2010. That year they finally drove a stake into the Kilkenny heart and halted the five-in-a-row bid. In the weeks afterwards, reporters were on their trail wanting to know how did they solve the matrix.

Flush with their achievement, Tipperary players waxed on over lazy lunches and let us into the dressing room like the best and revealing type of sports writing should. Kilkenny's backlash has left them reeling.

Then, we come to the aftermath, and Babs Keating's reaction. It may have made for great newspaper copy, telling Lar Corbett to ‘hang up his hurl', and declaring to the nation that he would not attend any more Tipp games while Corbett lines out.

But the play that Keating has made here is rooted in bitterness. During those interviews that many of the Tipp players gave concerning their Liam MacCarthy win in 2010, they let it be known that Liam Sheedy had the most impressive set-up they had been part of. Keating was the previous manager. Touché.

Sheedy, and his coach Eamon O'Shea, took things to another level as players were provided with video clips of their performances. Just in case they would not get the peace at home, the players were able to look at them on their iPhones.

Strategy sessions were high-tech and exciting. Bit by bit, they unfolded the mysteries of Kilkenny. They discerned that their defence did not like being pulled in different directions, so they devised a system whereby Lar Corbett would be like Spain's ‘invisible' number 9, a player who drifts into spaces to take chances.

Hence, the hat-trick of goals in that years' All-Ireland final.

Keating wasn't flattered by the players' assessment of previous management teams, and let his displeasure be known in public terms. Sheedy, he maintained, had never won an All-Ireland as a player, so therefore had no business managing at it. Yet Sheedy won the All-Ireland.

Declan Ryan, the Tipp manager who may be no more by the time you read this, was one of Keating's players when he won the All-Ireland titles of 1989 and 1991, so he escaped censure. But under Ryan last Sunday, Tipp fell to their worst Championship defeat in over two decades. Beginning to see just how skewed this is?

Within the Sunday Game panel, Dónal O'Grady made the point that Tipperary lacked a cohesive forward plan or any pattern. When they played back some clips to lend evidence to the claim, it was staggering how far Tipp forwards were from goal, and how much they clumped together. That is a matter for the coaches, and their hurling philosophy.

Michael Duignan claimed that Corbett spent too much time on ‘outside issues' rather than hurling, which was about as salient as the point could be.

Tipp may have lost. They may have been indeed walloped, but there isn't a top-tier hurling county that they have failed to do that to in the Brian Cody era.

There is a running theme with Keating's analysis. In 2006 as manager, he made a comment to the effect that his players were not fit enough following defeat to Waterford. This was a dig at the physical trainer, but Keating's responsibility as manager was to oversee all the various elements that go into preparing a team.

He dropped Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly in 2007, and came out with a clinker during this time when he lamented that the modern-day player was ‘too-educated.’

There is a hurt that won't go away for the man. But while he continues to work through it, there is no need to take his comments seriously.

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