IT’S been steady and constant, this decline under Declan Ryan.
Tipperary, with Liam Sheedy, were eight points better than a Kilkenny team made of a stronger suit of armour in 2010 and now they are 18 points worse under Ryan in 2012. Not a fall but a plummet.
The facts and figures have all been wheeled out since Sunday: Tipperary’s worst championship defeat since 1897, Kilkenny’s biggest ever win over Tipperary… you get the picture, hell you’re sick of looking at it.
Yes, Kilkenny were familiar and particularly contemptuous in their delivery of victory. But as much as this semi-final was about how great they are, the aftermath is so much more about how hobbled Tipperary have been by two years of this management.
Declan Ryan has put his heart and soul into this, there is no debating that, but now all that is left is tears because it’s an irretrievable situation for him.
Tipperary will recover because life goes on and troughs are there to be climbed from, not just for Kilkenny’s feasting.
Tipperary, oh Tipperary, how they have reverted to the squalor of the pre-Liam Sheedy era where, now, perhaps only that same Portroe man can rescue them.
While he’s down home leading his native parish to a first ever north Tipperary title, his county and everything he built has been razed.
The fans will want him back, the players must, but then Nicky English never returned so it may only be wishful thinking. Just because they want, doesn’t make it so. Even if he did return, there are no guarantees that he could get the same output from those he abandoned — and perhaps some of his old soldiers look at it that way.
But the free-flowing hurling of that bygone era has departed, the movement is no more, the intelligence of play has gone awol. Tipp are a team bereft of everything that made them All-Ireland champions.
Except the players are still there, meaning the potential is too.
There are a few skirting either side of the 30-year mark, but the core of the team is early- to mid-20s. Confidence will be shattered but matches restore this fount. There’s no player on that field who hasn’t been on the end of a hiding at some point, and not moved past it. They can again.
But not with this manager, and it feels wrong to scrutinise a man to this degree in an amateur sport; one where he is volunteering his time and heart, committing them actually.
But we must because it matters so much to so many. This writer recalls hearing one Tipperary player describing that very thing just a few weeks after the All-Ireland win two years ago. How so many men and women, no matter the demographic, were coming up and thanking him with such vehemence, such sincerity and such joy for winning Liam McCarthy back.
As much as the cups and medals mattered to this player, he couldn’t but be taken aback by the knock-on effect. Of how it was more than a ripple, because it had lifted so many boats around him.
As it was in victory, so too is the opposite true in defeat. This will hurt a lot of people, inside and outside the camp.
In September 2010, Eoin Kelly’s All-Ireland acceptance speech spoke of how the Tipperary ship was headed in the wrong direction or something to that effect, and of how Sheedy put them on the right course, unfortunately the floundering and eventually foundering of this juggernaut warrants a post-mortem.
This semi-final played into Kilkenny’s hands in the same way that 2011’s final did.
It’s all well and good playing long ball and scoring seven goals against Waterford in a Munster final but you have to realise teams will learn.
Ryan didn’t after Dublin mostly nullified this tactic and, in doing so, eventually marginalised his main weapon, Lar Corbett, from the game. As was the case in the final after that semi, and again on Sunday.
Yes the players have to share responsibility; it’s the same in defeat as it is in victory. Tipperary were turned over too cheaply and lost 60 per cent of the 126 balls that were there for either side to win.
Corbett, meanwhile, was running around the barn after Tommy Walsh, who was chasing after Pa Bourke, all of whom were within the shadow of huntsman Jackie Tyrrell.
For the most part, all became an irrelevance but, make no mistake, you’d rather be the team with your backs nullifying the others’ forwards, rather than the other way around. As such, it’s a case of Brian Cody — winning.
Tipp hit long ball on Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney and Brian Hogan — yes, they’ll hate that. As if they don’t have All Stars off the back of picking leather-bound apples from the skies. Cody — winning. Quite simple, it beggared belief.
I mean, talk about decommissioning your own weapons when the war is still going on, yeah let’s talk about the use — correction: misuse — of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher on Sunday.
Brian Hogan followed Bonner for most of the game and Declan Ryan decided it was on the Kilkenny man’s terms, anchored in front of the goal where the O’Loughlin Gaels man has more experience than his marker. Firstly, Bonner is one of the best grafters in the game so he should be out in the middle third, looking for cannon fodder.
Secondly, he is least likely of all Tipp’s forwards to snare a goal if a half-chance presents itself, as it did when Noel McGrath’s pointed effort came off the post in the 38th minute. A Corbett would be expected to finish that, but he was off playing cops and robbers. Job done for Brian Cody … but by Declan Ryan.
You could tell by Cody’s reaction in the post-game press conference that he was aghast at the tactic. As this way going on, Henry Shefflin and Co sent their team on a run of 3-8 to 0-1 midway through the second half. Cody did his best to bat away the questions about the sideshow but it was clear that he felt it worked out in his favour.
Hurling usually does for the Kilkenny manager, because he keeps it simple and plays to his strengths. Declan Ryan failed to identify his and it pronounced Tipp’s weaknesses.
It’s hard to see this marriage continuing.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter: @shanesaint