Tipperary were running scared of Kilkenny during the counties’ great modern rivalry, insists retired Kilkenny defender Jackie Tyrrell, writes Larry Ryan.
Writing in his new autobiography The Warrior’s Code — penned with Christy O’Connor — the nine-time All-Ireland winner is scathing of Tipp’s inability to stand up physically to Brian Cody’s powerful charges. And Tyrrell details the methods he used to target Lar Corbett in the 2011 All-Ireland final, a game that swung the dynamic between the teams back in Kilkenny’s favour.
Tyrrell writes: “In fairness to Tipp, they had some fair warriors, guys we did respect. Paul Curran was at the top of that list. Conor O’Mahony was a hardy boyo. Padraic Maher was a real leader for them, someone we always felt we had to stop to take Tipp’s energy away from them.
“Padraic Maher would always stand up to you physically. So would ‘Bonner’ and Eoin Kelly but few others would.
“Their fluid attacking game was designed so they didn’t have to physically engage us up front but we contrived a different picture of it in our minds.
“We viewed all this moving and switching as a means of disguising that they couldn’t take us on, that they hadn’t the balls to really go at us. It always felt like they were scared to beat us.”
Having lost the 2010 final meeting of the sides, Kilkenny defeated Tipp in championship in each of the next four years and Tyrrell feels the Nowlan Park qualifier win in 2013 confirmed Tipp’s mental and physical fragility.
“If that Tipperary team were any good they would have beaten us in 2013. We were on the floor at the time.”
Tyrrell is particularly scathing of Tipperary’s tactics in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, when Lar Corbett attempted to man-mark Tommy Walsh.
“Instead of taking us on they ran from us. It was a complete circus, with Lar following Tommy around like the circus clown.
He adds: “It was mentally exhausting, but there was no need for any of us to worry. Once we got a run on Tipp, we mowed them down. It was the same old Tipp again — shaping and hiding behind their bullshit. They hadn’t the balls to come out and take us on man for man.
“We also believed that we could intimidate some of their forwards. You couldn’t manage it with Bonner. Or Eoin (Kelly). Or Noel McGrath. You could get at Bubbles. They had other flaky lads too over the years. Bubbles was a genius who could nearly make the ball talk, but he was as flaky as any of them.”
Tyrrell also describes how he was earmarked by Cody as the player to neutralise Corbett in the 2011 All-Ireland final, Corbett having scored three goals when Tipp beat Kilkenny in the 2010 decider.
“I was to stick to Lar like a leech. I tried to drive Lar mad. He always has his socks pulled up but I kept trying to pull them down. I was standing on his toes, kicking at his heels. I was never into verbals but I dialled up the heat that day. Nothing personal, just business.
“At one stage when he tried to dart away from me, I caught his helmet. My fingers edged through the bars on his faceguard and I scraped him below the eye with my fingernails. I’m not sure if I drew blood but when Lar started complaining to the referee I just shrugged my shoulders.
“I hardly touched the ball during the match, having just three possessions. Lar made five plays but he never struck the ball once with his hurley,” said Tyrrell, adding he “never pulled too many rabbits out of the hat against us again”.
Tyrrell was an unused sub when Tipp beat Kilkenny in the 2016 final and, writing in a diary entry before that game, he feared Michael Ryan’s side were better able to cope with their nemesis: “There is something different about this Tipperary team. They are a different animal this year. I’m not sure if we can just bully them any more.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.