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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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Tyrone’s early exit from All-Ireland stage shows the difficulty of retaining a title in GAA

Declan Bogue


Tyrone’s Michael McKernan and Cathal McShane celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup

Tyrone’s Michael McKernan and Cathal McShane celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Tyrone’s Michael McKernan and Cathal McShane celebrate with the Sam Maguire Cup

After Limerick finally, finally put Clare away at the end of extra-time of Sunday’s exhilarating, exhausting Munster hurling final, the RTÉ cameras soon focused on a figure in the stand in a smart coat and maroon tie.

Not manager John Kiely, nor any of his players who had emptied themselves in battle, but the dapper looking JP McManus.

Not to overthink it, but the role successful racehorse owner McManus has played has been critical to the success of the Limerick hurlers. He is their chief benefactor and his generosity is legion, such as the time in 2018 when he gifted every GAA county board €100,000.

This was Limerick’s fourth Munster Hurling Championship title in a row. Right now, they are favourites to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup at 8/15, with nearest rivals Kilkenny at 6/1.

Dublin are second favourites to win the football crown.

What binds those two counties is something they are exceedingly touchy about, but it is undeniable that both squads want for nothing in their pursuit of success.

In a closed shop like hurling, retaining an All-Ireland is still tricky business. Since the turn of the century, Kilkenny have managed it three times, Cork once and now Limerick once.

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Football has always been more democratic, but the unrivalled six consecutive titles of Dublin from 2015 to 2020 skews the statistics.

The fact remains that retaining Sam Maguire is a hugely difficult task. That Tyrone have not really come close to managing it after their fourth triumph is causing some concern at this stage.

After Sunday’s qualifier defeat to Armagh, joint-manager Feargal Logan was asked if there were some psychological factors at play.

“In fairness, I don’t think it’s unique to Tyrone,” he replied.

“Lots of teams struggle. Limerick hurlers struggled badly with their first All-Ireland.

“It’s not an issue discreet to Tyrone, it’s a matter that relates to a lot of teams when they win.”

Leaving Dublin’s record-breaking run aside, there is plenty of evidence for that.

After Kerry won in 2014, their next Munster final went to a replay against Cork and while they reached the final, they could not stop Dublin on a pouring day.

Dublin’s defence of the 2013 title came unstuck in a rope-a-dope job by Donegal in the 2014 semi-final.

Donegal’s defence of their 2012 title ended with a defeat to Division Three side Monaghan in the Ulster final and a 16-point hammering from Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Back then, Mayo were in the first flush of the James Horan management and they made a name for themselves by beating the champions, as they did in 2011 by overcoming Cork.

And it was Down, no less, who took Kerry out in 2010.

For Tyrone, 2021 was something of a breakthrough. And like Limerick in 2018, it was marked and celebrated as such. The Sam Maguire Cup reached every crevice and cranny of the county, firing childhood dreams.

Some players were sent on a never-ending tour of primary schools and clubs. This is not a criticism of the modern player or an accusation of them losing the run of themselves.

Anyone in Armagh on Sunday will have noticed that even at the final whistle of a devastating defeat, Conor Meyler posed with Armagh children for selfies on their phones. Cathal McShane paused on his way to the dressing room to sign the programme of an outstretched hand hanging over the tunnel.

But that kind of thing saps your energy. There was an undeniable tetchiness about Tyrone this year that came out in multiple red cards. With others taking up the kind of commercial opportunities that open up for All-Ireland winners, there was a sense that some were spread thin.

Heaping seven player departures on top of that, and a club season that dragged on until December 19 due to the long run of the county team, as well as a team holiday, left them in a land of limbo.

And there is the suspicion that without the feeling of being written off, Tyrone are never as dangerous as they can be. They were popular All-Ireland champions and given the respect their achievement bestows.

Limerick could not defend their breakthrough All-Ireland in 2018. Neither could Dublin after 2011.

There’s nothing unusual about that, and that will comfort the Tyrone players and management as they finally get a chance to shower their heads after a hectic 18 months.

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