We cast our minds back to May 22nd, a rain soaked day in Thurles as the Tipperary senior hurlers set out on their Munster and All-Ireland Championship campaign for 2016 which commenced with a Quarter-Final clash against Cork.
With the elements dictating affairs from above perhaps it was a pretext of what was to come in what was a mixed bag of early summer weather for hurling from a Tipp perspective.
Anyhow, the Tipperary players dictated affairs from below, helped in no small measure by Cork failing to spring out of the traps, so much so that Tipperary were out of sight by the time the first bend came into focus and eased to a 0-22 to 0-13 victory with Padraic Maher (Thurles Sarsfields) securing the Man of the Match Award.
Some sublime scores in the forward line showed Tipperary was a side that meant business this year and with the backs clearing their lines in waves, the Tipperary performance recharged all our batteries for the challenges that lay ahead.
Combined with a strong bench and panel to draw from, each player and supporter knew there could be no time for complacency in the desire for the ultimate prize come September.
Next up another miserable day on the weather front as Tipperary welcomed Limerick to Semple Stadium for the Munster Semi-Final.
With a terrific and determined display of character and work rate the Tipperary Senior Hurlers earned their rightful place in this year's Munster Championship Final by defeating Limerick 3-12 to 1-16 as they went in search of back to back titles.
Two goals from Michael Breen (Ballina) and one from Seamus Callanan (Drom & Inch) helped ensure a Munster Final berth for Tipp, though the loss of Bubbles to a straight red had the fizz popped in Tipp's celebrations.
That loss aside, it was another Tipp player that lifted the Man of the Match Award with the honour this time going to Cathal Barrett (Holycross-Ballycahill).
The focus for the next three weeks was of the huge and imminent threat Waterford posed to Tipperary if the County was to hold onto its Munster crown and this threat was foremost in the minds of player and management alike.
As manager Michael Ryan eluded to at the time, Tipperary were where they want to be, in a Munster Hurling Final, which both he and the team valued greatly.
That Munster Final proved to be a third wet day on the trot for Tipperary who delivered a polished performance executed in its apparent simplicity to earn a result that no one in all honesty saw coming, victory perhaps but result no, to claim a 42nd Senior Munster title following their extremely hard work, tirelessly creating a comprehensive win over Waterford 5-19 to 0-13.
This final will be remembered for many reasons but high on the list will be the performance of John McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney) who bagged 3-2 on his way to claiming the Man of the Match Award. Former Dublin legend Keith Barr representing sponsors presented John with his trophy after the final.
Seamus Callanan must surely have run John close for the gong as his return for the day was 1-11 while Michael Breen continuously displaying his gifted credentials chipping in with 1-1 on a wonderful day for Tipperary hurling.
There was great relief and joy at securing a much sought after Munster title, which still is craved in the hearts and homes of Tipperary people. However, in that steely display was a desire and focus that this was only another step on a journey to hopefully a greater prize.
Twelve months of heartbreak were finally buried in the sands of time as the Tipperary Senior Hurlers came of age once more ensuring the narrow defeat at the same stage last year was reversed in Croke Park as the Premier men overcame an almighty Galway challenge to seal the deal in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final to set up against Kilkenny in early September.
If it seemed tense from the stand, God knows what it was like in the Croke Park cauldron where goals from John O'Dwyer (Killenaule) and John McGrath proved crucial to Tipperary's victory. This was the game Tipperary needed and in it they showed patience and concentration as the much heralded five week layoff was put to the test. Starting at a frantic pace the pendulum swung either way in an action packed encounter, Padraic Maher's shoulder on Joe Canning a highlight of an absorbing first half. Though a hamstring injury would rule out any more involvement by Canning, his colleagues rallied and put Tipp to the sword. Enter Bubbles, sprung from the bench who immediately sparked the Tipp supporters into voice. In a spellbinding finish Tipp held out by the slenderest of margins 2-19 to 2-18 as they now turned their thoughts towards September 4. Padraic Maher once again outstanding collected his second Man of the Match Award as Tipp marched on.
In presenting their credentials for expert scrutiny to secure a place in September's showpiece, Michael Ryan's men knew there was plenty to build on if there was to be any chance of loosening the Kilkenny grip on the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Questions were asked by Galway and analyst alike in that match and the Tipperary players and management answered as required. There was no panic buttons hit in engineering that win, determination borne out of desire and accountability ensured that there would be no let up this time. In that the players have to take enormous credit because the minute they crossed the line onto the field of play their destiny was in their own hands.
One of the greatest days in the modern era for Tipperary GAA was witnessed in Croke Park on All-Ireland Final Sunday when the senior team joined the minors to lead the county to respective All-Ireland success on a scale so unimaginable that it took more than a pinch to realise that it was in fact a magnificent reality.
Cue scenes of mass celebration as six years of hurt and hunger were buried in the Croke Park sod when Brendan Maher (Borris-Ileigh) hoisted aloft the Liam MacCarthy Cup to rapturous cheering and applause as golden tape descended from above to confirm a royal status on the kings of hurling for 2016 following their nine point win over the 'cats' 2-29 to 2-20.
Not a Tipp soul departed the arena as each and every one stood to salute and greet the men on hurling's throne, the Champions of Ireland who delivered on the greatest stage of all, creating a carnival atmosphere which was already underway in the Premier County as the festivities kicked off in earnest.
This win was no accident it was borne out of selfless belief and desire from a fantastic group of players, all thirty four of them who applied themselves to the task with ruthless determination and attitude.
Preparations for the day couldn't have been better and while nervousness was palpable around the county in the week leading into the final there was also a sense that maybe something special might unfold too.
What a team performance from Tipperary, it was magical and at times sublime as the Kilkenny team, worthy champions, yielded to the greater Tipperary force on the day.
Tipperary players hunted in packs particularly the complete back unit and put body and limb on the line in pursuit of achieving their end goal.
In doing so the forward line was in devastating form and nailed scores to the board as they pushed on and on. With the half forwards dominating too the profit from the inside trio was stunningly spectacular as their yield for the day delivered 2-21 out of Tipp's 2-29.
As in the semi-final the Tipperary goals came from John O'Dwyer and John McGrath but this was to be the Callanan final as Seamie produced a magical display scoring thirteen points with nine from play in that total.
When he was announced as Man of the Match later in the Double Tree Hilton Hotel at the victory celebrations, it ensured a clean sweep of man of the match Awards for Tipperary this year.
What followed after will go down in folklore too as the Sunday night Victory Celebration Banquet and Semple Stadium Homecoming sealed off a magnificent weekend that all of Tipperary can be proud of.
Behind every successful team is a driven and focused management team, who spearhead the arrows of success to ensure the players under their control are primed to deliver to the greatest of their potential throughout the season.
That delivery can be a slow burner but when it explodes into life it does so in such a manifestation that it leaves the meek in awe at the splendour of its arrival. Tipperary's All-Ireland Final performance was not a thing of chance, more over it was a thing of beauty carved from the heart and soul of those who knew where to dig deepest, how to reach within and encourage, entice and nurture its awakening.
Once aroused and the structure and platform firmly laid it was the turn of the Premier Gladiators to perform on the greatest stage of all, the arena that is Croke Park.
In seeing off their opponents challenge in such ruthless fashion so that they could rise to the summit of glory in raising the Liam MacCarthy Cup, they did so straight from the artist's easel as the brush strokes of the senior hurling management philosophies were painted across the Croke Park canvas on that most memorable day in September.
That successful senior management team is a tight nit group of four individuals all focused on the one goal which is for Tipperary to be successful and to Declan Fanning (Killenaule), John Madden (Lorrha-Dorrha), Conor Stakelum (Borris-Ileigh) and Manager Michael Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane) we say thank you for all the success you and the players have brought to the County this year as we all look forward to 2017 with renewed hope and optimism and a great amount of fire in our bellies.
With the two hurling highlights boxed off in the memories of 2016 they will form what hopefully will be the rising blocks out of foundations laid over the past few years as the process of development and progression continues its upward spiral. Tipp have set the new standard, all other counties will be eager to get there as well.
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