Arravale Rovers’ Johnny Ryan captained Tipperary to Munster Minor Hurling Championship glory. Photo: Eamonn McGee
Tipperary will take on Kilkenny in an Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship semi-final on Sunday, July 29th at Croke Park, Dublin (1.30pm) as the curtain raiser to the senior meeting between Cork and Limerick. And, manager Tommy Dunne is excited by the prospect; the Toomevara coach is looking forward to seeing his players perform on the very grandest of stages.
“Definitely - that was the one thing after the Munster final: I was just really excited that we were going to get to Croke Park, irrespective of what happens there,” Tommy Dunne told the Tipperary Star this week.
“Of course we will be going up to play well and put in a big performance, but getting up there for a young player is a very important part of (their) development. And, that was why, I think, that one of the pluses of the format in Munster this year was that we got the big day atmosphere every day. And, I think the players really enjoyed that and really learned a lot from it. There are down sides to the format too, but I thought that was one of the up sides for the players - they have broken the ice in terms of playing on big days in front of big crowds.”
Such a sensible and considered approach to managing this group of under-17 Tipperary players is a recurring theme during our conversation with the Toomevara man - the Premier County minor panel of players are a capable bunch, but they are led by a smart management team.
Manager Tommy Dunne (Toomevara) is joined on the minor management team by selectors Paul Collins (Drom & Inch), Ger Ryan (Cappawhite) and Tony Shelly (Killenaule). Alan O'Connor (Cahir) is the team's strength and conditioning coach while Thomas Hassett (Toomevara) is the kit man.
Indeed, Tommy Dunne and company have not tried to dampen the players’ enthusiasm. Dunne wants his players to be excited about the prospect of playing at Croke Park; to embrace the challenge. And, it seems the players have responded in kind.
“Yeah, I think so from their energy and body language - there has been a great atmosphere in training since the Munster final really. So, I would say the players are looking forward to playing in Croke Park - that has played a big part in it,” Tommy Dunne explained.
“I think that it will be the first time that a lot of our lads will have played in Croke Park. So, it’s a big thing. You would have to be excited about that if you were them. All you can do is try to prepare them as best you can. I don’t think that they will be over-awed or over-whelmed by it or anything like that.”
The Premier County won a 40th provincial minor title on July 1st when Tipperary saw off the challenge of Limerick in the provincial decider (1-20 to 1-12).
In the opening round of this year’s Munster Minor Hurling Championship Limerick beat Tipperary (1-17 to 2-12) at Páirc na nGael, but in the second round the Premier County emphatically saw off the challenge of Cork (4-15 to 1-14) to get their provincial campaign back on track. Tipperary then lost to Waterford (3-9 to 2-13) before beating Clare (2-14 to 1-12) and progressed to the provincial final on scoring difference.
Ironically enough Tipperary learned most from the defeats suffered at the hands of Limerick and, subsequently, Waterford - Tommy Dunne’s men had established a significant platform for themselves in both contests, but coughed up defeats all the same.
“I think for the Waterford game, in particular, it was very tough to take because we were in such a strong position and we got taken apart so quickly that we had just no chance to recover from it. And, it was very hard to take at the time and very hard to understand it. But then, when we analysed it and we got some feedback, there were a lot of learnings out of it for us,” Tommy Dunne told the Tipperary Star.
“We, possibly, pushed a bit too hard in the week of that game and we changed things slightly for the Clare match. And, it worked a lot better for us. It was just little things - little things in the warm-up and little things during the week in the lead up to the match. We just cut back a little bit on the amount of stuff that we were doing - whether that had a mental effect or a physical effect I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t do us any harm,” the Toomevara man explained before emphasising how young the players on his under-17 minor panel are.
“I keep saying it and people probably think I sound like a broken record, but these players are so young; that’s a huge factor. The grade is down from eighteen to seventeen. It’s only one year, but it is still a big factor. You are in a new environment on the day of the game and then you are playing at a level that is new to you - it’s your first time playing at this grade. I think if you were to talk to a lot of coaches at underage and up through (the grades) you will find that the step up from juvenile hurling to county minor hurling is a significant step, a really significant, big step. I think Harty Cup is a very important part of it, but in my view Harty Cup is not even close to inter-county minor hurling because it is played at a different time of the year, in different conditions and it is completely different. It is a way slower type of a game, it’s way more physical and it is way more attritional, but the speed at inter-county (minor) level, in my experience, is fairly far ahead of schools hurling.”
Allowances should always be made for such young players, but it is also fair to say that the Tipperary players are learning from the games and developing as a result.
“I think the Clare game showed that we probably have (improved) - the Clare game in particular; Clare were a damn fine team, a really good minor team. We were under a bit of pressure. So, it was a match that could have been lost very easily, but we turned it around and actually played really well in the last quarter to go and win it,” Tommy Dunne said.
“So, that was a huge game for us really in the way that we got over the line there. I think, definitely, that we picked up a few things out of the Waterford game in particular that were beneficial to us. I would be fairly confident that we have learned a good bit out of the Limerick and Waterford games, but you can also learn a good bit and not be able to execute it on the day that you want to - that’s the challenge all the time: to get that into the performance.”
The Tipperary minor hurling management team pictured from left: manager Tommy Dunne (Toomevara) alongside selectors Paul Collins (Drom & Inch), Ger Ryan (Cappawhite) and Tony Shelly (Killenaule).
Tommy Dunne and his management team have been forced to deal with a number of complications following their provincial campaign. The Tipperary players were released to their clubs in order to play a number of minor games and an unfortunate consequence has been the loss of Drom & Inch’s Fintan Purcell to injury (broken thumb). Irrespective of that injury and some soft tissue complaints Tommy Dunne has described the mood in the Tipperary camp as positive.
“The form is good - the form is very good. We are training fairly well and there has been a lot of club activity during the past two weeks. So, they have been busy, but they are always in great form when they come into us,” Tommy Dunne said before explaining that the heat also had to be taken into account and training adjusted accordingly.
“Because of the hot weather we have reduced the length of time that we have spent training. We adjusted a few aspects of training in order to take that into consideration,” the Toomevara man added.
“The biggest issue is trying to get the volume in training and the load of training right. Our philosophy is that we err on the low side nearly all of the time because they are so young and they are still physically developing. And, that’s why Alan (O’Connor) is a great addition really - I have worked with Alan before and he has worked with me before so we are kind of on the same page for all of that kind of thing. We put a lot of emphasis on what we see in training in terms of the players’ movement and their body language. And, obviously we get lots of feedback from the lads as well - the best of all is to hear it from themselves in terms of how they are feeling.”
And, Tommy Dunne and his management team see it as their responsibility to educate their players and arm them with a series of tools which each individual hurler can carry forward into their inter-county career.
“What is nearly more important from our point of view is that they take on board the messages that we are trying to give them in terms of rest, recovery, hydration and nutrition because this is all part of their development. Hopefully, after this year, for all of the players on the squad they will have a really good insight into an inter-county structure,” Tommy Dunne said.
During the round robin stage of the Leinster Minor Hurling Championship Kilkenny beat Dublin (3-23 to 4-12) before also seeing off the challenges of Wexford (3-21 to 1-12) and Laois (1-26 to 1-12). In their provincial quarter-final Kilkenny proved too strong for Westmeath (5-28 to 1-5) before beating Wexford in the semi-finals (1-22 to 3-13). However, despite scoring seven goals in the Leinster final the Cats lost out to Dublin (7-12 to 6-19). Kilkenny subsequently shipped another defeat to Galway in the qualifiers (2-11 to 1-21) before, ultimately, facing off against Limerick and beating the Shannonsiders to force their way into the semi-finals (3-22 to 1-12).
And, irrespective of facing a talented Kilkenny team Tommy Dunne is optimistic as Tipperary prepare to face the Cats at Croke Park.
“There is little or nothing between most of the teams - in Munster you could have thrown a blanket over all of the teams. If you played all of the games again you could have different Munster champions. What we are trying to do is to get our thing as close to spot on as we can and prepare as well as we can,” Tommy Dunne said before explaining that, ideally, he wants his players to leave Croke Park with no regrets.
“That’s what you want: if a player can go into a big game, in a big stadium and play at or near his best the confidence that a player gets out of that is astronomical and it will stay with him for a long time, forever in fact. And, that’s how you develop confidence, that’s how you become a confident player - the more times that you can play well when it really, really matters the more confidence that you get. And, that’s what I want for these lads,” Tommy Dunne insisted.
“The other part of it is that it doesn’t always happen like that. Against Limerick we under-performed a little bit, against Waterford we under-performed a good bit at certain times, but there is a bit of resilience there and there is a bit of spirit there that helps you to bounce back from it and that you are able to learn from it. And, it’s not the end of the world when it does happen. You come around again and if you get another chance you try to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes.”
Results are, of course, important to Tipperary hurling, but, thankfully, irrespective of results Tommy Dunne and his management team are also keeping a close eye on the bigger picture.
“When you are involved with Tipperary it’s a results game - that’s the bottom line. In management results are very, very high up on the list (of priorities),” Tommy Dunne admitted.
“But we only have the majority of these lads for one year. And, we feel that it is our responsibility to have a slightly broader outlook on the whole situation because, please God, after this they will be going into an under-20 set-up next year or the year after and, also, not every player that we have on the panel is able to get on the pitch for the championship. So, there is a whole squad to think about, but the ethos remains the same no matter whether you have played every minute of every game or whether you have played no minutes. We want to be able to say at the end of the year that it was a really, really positive experience and that they (the players) learned an awful lot. And, that maybe next year or the year after when they are asked in for an under-20 trial or whatever it is that they are in better shape than had they not been with the Tipperary minor hurling team.”
The Tipperary minor hurling panel reads as follows: Aaron Browne (Knockavilla Kickhams), Enda Dunphy (St Mary's Clonmel), Johnny Ryan (Arravale Rovers, captain), Conor Whelan (Mullinahone), Kevin Hayes (Moycarkey-Borris), Seán Phelan (Nenagh Éire Óg), Ryan Renehan (Cappawhite), Fintan Purcell (Drom & Inch), David Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill), Paudie O’Loughlin (Newcastle), Frank Hanafin (Holycross-Ballycahill), Billy O’Connor (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Philip Gantley (Cappawhite), Kieran Larkin (Moyne-Templetuohy), Conor O’Dwyer (Cashel King Cormacs), Kevin Maher (Borris-Ileigh), Oisín Larkin (Borrisokane), Jack Morrissey (Moycarkey-Borris), John Campion (Drom & Inch), Rory O’Donovan (Nenagh Éire Óg), Cian O’Farrell (Nenagh Éire Óg), Kian O’Kelly (Kilruane MacDonagh’s), Seán Hayes (Kiladangan), James Devanney (Borris-Ileigh), Devon Ryan (Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams), Max Hackett (Moycarkey-Borris), Mikey O’Shea (Mullinahone), Eoin Purcell (Thurles Sarsfields), Aidan O’Heney (Emly), James Synnott (Roscrea), Jack Lanigan (Thurles Sarsfields), Keith Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane) and Darren Flood (Moycarkey-Borris).
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