Carlow manager Colm Bonnar has drawn a comparison between the intensity of the Wexford players and the approach of Tipperary’s Patrick Maher ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final.
Tipperary hurling legend Colm Bonnar believes that the Premier County can “still do the business” against Wexford and reach the All-Ireland final. Taste those words, roll them around in your mouth and savour them, but there is, however, a caveat. The former Cashel King Cormacs star has argued that in order to succeed Liam Sheedy’s men must match the searing level of intensity that Wexford are sure to carry into Sunday’s contest at Croke Park.
As Carlow senior hurling manager Colm Bonnar is ideally placed to assess the threat posed by Wexford - Bonnar, after all, faced the Model County earlier this summer when Carlow lost (0-19 to 2-18) to Wexford in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship. Colm was and is hugely impressed by the attitude of David Fitzgerald’s team. Indeed, Bonnar has used the example of injured Lorrha-Dorrha star Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher to illustrate his point.
“Bonner Maher’s style is what Wexford are; every one of them,” Colm Bonnar told the Tipperary Star this week.
“They will work so hard - they will win balls, they will take you on, they will pass it on and they will create scoring opportunities. It will be like marking fifteen Bonner Mahers out there in terms of how Wexford play this game.
“It will be a huge challenge for Tipperary to try close down the runners and bring it into a real battle; that’s what Wexford had to learn to do because Kilkenny are the masters at it. Tipp know how hard Kilkenny can play it and the intensity levels that they bring and Wexford have learned to do that, too. To survive in Leinster that is what you have to learn to do. I think that is the big difference between Munster hurling and Leinster hurling - sometimes what lets down Munster hurling is that lack of a manic intensity.”
CARLOW SUCCESS STORY
Colm Bonnar has just completed his third season as manager of the Carlow senior hurling team having previously enjoyed stunning success with Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) and the Waterford Institute of Technology.
The Cashel man was approached to spark some life into the Carlow project and did so in no uncertain terms - Bonnar inspired Carlow to win the Christy Ring Cup and Joe McDonagh Cup in successive seasons while his side also battled their way into division one of the Allianz National Hurling League.
Colm has described the entire experience as “hugely rewarding”, but has revealed that no decision has been made as regards his future as Carlow hurling boss.
“It’s a case of wondering if I can do any more with them. I have been talking to the County Board during the last week or two and they are anxious that I stay on. I have to see if I think that I can bring them on another step or two. And, that’s what I am trying to decide at the moment,” Colm Bonnar explained to the Tipperary Star.
In the 2019 Leinster Senior Hurling Championship the Carlow hurlers performed admirably - the performances featured a raw grit which Tipperary supporters would, of course, always associate with Colm Bonnar. And, given his experience of the 2019 Leinster series Bonnar is eager to sound a warning to the blue and gold men.
“I often hear Kilkenny lads and other Leinster lads talk about how they never fear playing a Munster team because in Munster it is just free-flowing - it’s good hurling and it’s good on the eye, but the intensity levels that your Kilkennys and Wexfords have learned is going to be a bit of a surprise to the Tipp lads,” Colm Bonnar said.
“It’s hard to describe it in words, but it’s just a manic intensity on every ball. It will probably take Tipp a bit by surprise and they need to be ready for it. Wexford have their eye set on getting to an All-Ireland final.”
When Liam Sheedy was appointed as Tipperary senior hurling manager Colm Bonnar expected there to be a reaction from the Premier County players.
TIPPERARY IN 2019
Wexford, of course, also have to worry about a Tipperary team who set a terrific pace during the opening four rounds of the Munster championship when dismissing Cork, Waterford, Clare and Limerick before, unfortunately, coming undone in the provincial final against Limerick - the form of the Premier County certainly impressed Colm Bonnar and the former Tipperary star expected a “response” from the players once Liam Sheedy was appointed.
“I knew that there was going to be a big response when Liam (Sheedy) went in,” Colm Bonnar told the Tipperary Star.
“Liam had a very good management team with him and we knew that things were going to be shaken up - whatever the players needed or whatever needed to be done you just knew that no stone was going to be left unturned. So, it was down to seeing could he get a response from the players. Tipp were slow enough moving through the league, but they were always hugely competitive. There was nothing really to be worried about - Liam knew that he was always going to be judged on championship and not on the league.
“Tipp worked away quietly once they were out of the league and they had four savage games in the championship and, I suppose, their worst performance, unfortunately for them, was the Munster final. That would have knocked their confidence back a small bit in terms of how Limerick won it and how much they opened them up on several occasions. If it wasn’t for Brian Hogan the (final) scoreline could have been even worse,” Colm Bonnar said.
Recovering from a harrowing Munster final defeat is something that Colm Bonnar has direct experience of.
Bonnar was a key member of the 1997 Tipperary team which beat Wexford (2-16 to 0-15) at Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final. Wexford faced into that semi-final as defending All-Ireland and Leinster champions while Tipp were working their way back from suffering a defeat to Clare in the Munster final, a defeat which presented then-manager Len Gaynor with an opportunity to re-align his side ahead of an assault on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
“Obviously, with Wexford being the All-Ireland champions from the year before and the current Leinster champions we didn’t need any motivation (in 1997),” Colm Bonnar explained.
“It was a great occasion, but while individual games might help to make a championship at the end of the day all we wanted was to get our hands back on the Liam MacCarthy (Cup). Ultimately, Clare came back to haunt us in the All-Ireland final.”
Bonnar, however, argues that the Tipperary players should not allow the Munster final experience to unduly occupy their thoughts. The Premier County now need to look upon the forthcoming All-Ireland semi-final against Wexford as an opportunity.
“The mind-set is hugely important and I am sure that Liam (Sheedy) and his back room team have been working on that positive mentality,” Colm Bonnar said.
“I would say that if they can get that manic intensity right they know that they have the hurlers - without that work rate and intensity to a performance you don’t really have anything.”
Carlow senior hurling manager Colm Bonnar.
WEXFORD SYSTEM OF PLAY
From a tactical point of view dealing with the Wexford style of play is as complex as it gets. Indeed, Colm Bonnar argues that the approach of David Fitzgerald’s men is similar in many ways to All-Ireland champions Limerick.
“Tipp did not look too comfortable when Limerick were pulling their half-forward line back so deep and then working the ball up through the hands very quickly - that is something similar to what Wexford do,” Colm Bonnar explained.
“Even though Wexford would not have the physical size that some of the Limerick players have they bring that same intensity and that ball-carrying ability. They have such quick hands in terms of working in tight spaces they can get that man running off the shoulder and that is very tough (to deal with).
“That will be the big worry for Tipp: the style. Wexford are so honed into how they use the ball and how different players attack you. It could be a wing-back and it could be a corner-back - you could find a player coming from anywhere to attack you. They are just so fast, so athletic and so fit. It’s a hard system to deal with,” Colm Bonnar added.
Although Wexford have some superb options on re-starts - most obviously Lee Chin, Conor McDonald, Kevin Foley, Liam Óg McGovern and Jack O’Connor - the Leinster champions pose an even greater threat on the counter-attack; if the runners are not tracked by the Tipperary forwards Liam Sheedy’s men are asking for (big) trouble.
“It is about how they set themselves up to stop that runner and get that first tackle in - if that first tackle is unsuccessful that’s when Tipp are going to have real problems. If your players are side-stepped and taken out of it without getting a challenge in you are in serious trouble,” Colm Bonnar explained.
“The runners can come from everywhere and the thing is that they don’t just hit the ball; they will run it out because they have the numbers. If Tipp thought that the Laois players were coming at pace this will be a totally different ball game; Wexford are on another level. It will be an intriguing battle because it really is two different styles: Tipp are very wristy and they like the ball to move quickly whereas Wexford like to move with the ball quickly.”
Tipperary, of course, also pose a real threat to Wexford. And, manager David Fitzgerald will, according to Colm Bonnar, be concerned by the Premier County’s ability to score goals.
“Wexford’s biggest fear with Tipp is their ability to get goals,” Colm Bonnar told the Tipperary Star.
“Tipp will carry a huge threat in the forward line. If Tipp can move the ball smartly and nail those passes that will buy Séamus Callanan, John McGrath and Jason Forde that split second that they need. So, when those goals chances come we have to be clinical enough to take them.”
Again, Colm Bonnar was eager this week to highlight the “opportunity” which lies right there in front of the Tipperary players.
“Ultimately, everybody wants the Liam MacCarthy (Cup) - when you go back through the years it’s about who won the Liam MacCarthy (Cup) and not who won the Munster championship. The prize here is that you are in the All-Ireland final if you win this game - you are seventy minutes away from an All-Ireland final. It’s going to be hugely passionate and you can guarantee that Wexford are going to bring that passion. So, the question mark is can Tipp bring that level of intensity that will keep them in the game and if they do I think they have the hurling,” Colm Bonnar said.
“I would be hoping that the talk in Tipp is that we are going to be in for a hell of a battle. It’s not about the next game or anything like it; it’s about the first minute in this one. The ball will be thrown in and it’s about working your way into the game from there.
“These Wexford lads are going to be running at you and you have to be mentally ready for that. Tipp always have the hurling, but the key is to back it up with that manic intensity. If their tackling is right on Sunday it is going to give them a great chance, but if the Tipp tackling and intensity is a bit off you can have all of the good hurlers that you like. If you have three and four Wexford lads running either side of you the whole time with the ball you will only keep them out for so long,” the Carlow senior hurling manager added.
“Tipp’s half-forwards and midfield players have such a big job to do on Sunday - it is going to be manic, but if they are up for it - and if I know Liam Sheedy they will be - I think that you can get goals against Wexford. They really need to get that side of it right and if they do we could be in for a cracker,” Colm Bonnar said.
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