Shane Stapleton speaks to ex-Tipperary hurler John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer ahead of the weekend's hurling semi-finals.
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From your own experiences of playing against Limerick, how can they be got at? Tipperary played with two centre-forwards in 2021 and had some joy.
Compacting the middle third. The only way to beat Limerick now is if you can nullify from five to 12. They’re massive players from five to 12 and they’re all massive leaders so if you can get on top of 50 per cent of them, it’s a massive help. We went with the double-11 in 2021, it worked in the first half and didn’t in the second half. This weekend, it might depend on who sets up at six for Limerick; if it’s Dan Morrissey, a double-11 might work but if it’s Kyle Hayes or Barry Nash you might need to put Cianan Fahy in there to try to nullify their influence on the game.
It’s all about getting on top of their middle eight players and then having the inside forwards. I reckon the way to do it is to compact the whole middle area and try to leave Conor Whelan — I presume Mike Casey will pick him up — inside maybe one-on-one or two-on-two even. Maybe try to drag Limerick out, but they are very structured and good at staying in their positions so if you get a couple of scores from outside, then you might drag them out and target Whelan or Kevin Cooney inside.
Who replaces Declan Hannon at centre-back?
Hannon not being there is a loss obviously, he’s their captain and their leader but at the same time it might all depend on how Limerick want to set up with their six. If management want a like-for-like replacement, they might go with a Dan Morrissey at six and maybe bring Richie English in at full-back. But if they want to go with an attacking six, they might put Barry Nash or Kyle Hayes there with Colin Coughlan to come in at wing-back.
It all depends on what way they want to do it and it depends on what way Galway will set up at 11 too. I expect that Galway might put Evan Niland at 11 so that might make Limerick go the opposite way, and go with a sitting six to protect the full-back line a bit more.
Does Conor Whelan have enough support upfront for Galway to upset Limerick?
There are enough lads with him but are there enough scoring forwards with him? That’s probably the question. I know Evan Niland is playing well but if he’s shut down, you’re probably looking at Conor Cooney starting this weekend, maybe even on the inside line. I don’t think he’ll be at 11 but maybe at wing-forward or full-forward.
Kevin Cooney has been very good, maybe without scoring too heavily, but he’s been a good foil for Whelan. At the start of the year, Galway were playing well without Whelan being that great. It’s the last two games maybe where Whelan has kicked in so you’re looking for other people to step up with two or three points a game. Tom Monaghan, Ronan Glennon, lads like that, if you can get two or three points out of them, it’ll be a big help.
Is Conor Whelan up there for Hurler of the Year? He was very good in the Leinster final and All-Ireland quarter-final.
The thing is, All Stars and Hurler of the Year are won on the back end of the championship, they’re not won in the first two or three games. It’s what happens from the Leinster final onwards.
I’d probably have Aaron Gillane still ahead of him at the minute and maybe even Diarmaid Byrnes, but he’s in the conversation no doubt. The last two games, he has brought the fight from the Galway forward point of view. He’s in the equation but I don’t think he’s leading it at the minute.
Who will win Limerick v Galway and where will it be won?
I think it will be a tight game but I think Limerick will win. Their big-game experience over the last couple of years will probably get them over the line. They’re improving each game.
I know Galway beat Tipp the last day but they weren’t overly impressive at the same time so I think Limerick will win it.
The amount of threats that Limerick have: Barry Nash, Diarmaid Byrnes and Kyle Hayes in the back line are massive scoring threats so how do Galway nullify that, and will they come away from their game plan just to nullify Limerick? It’s hard to know what way they will go about it. The last day Cathal Mannion played as a sweeper against Tipp, he was the outlet more than anything else, and I don’t think a sweeper works against Limerick because they bring out Peter Casey or Graeme Mulcahy so it will be interesting to see what way Galway set up. That will be key here.
Can you speak about your experiences of playing in big games at Croke Park? You came on in the semi-final against Galway in 2016 and turned the game with a goal.
I’ve played a lot of big games in Croke Park and the way I go out and play it, the bigger the crowd the better. Some people relish it and some might not, I relished it. In 2016 I was suspended for the Munster final and I didn’t start the semi-final against Galway, so to come on for the last 20 or 25 minutes with the experience I had for maybe the previous three or four years was something the management looked at. I had that bit of experience but those games at Croke Park are brilliant. I’d expect maybe 60,000 or 65,000 there this weekend and you have to let yourself flow in it. Throw off the shackles. I know it’s a bit structured now but you have to go with the flow of the game and express yourself, that’s what I used to do anyway.
What was your first big championship senior game at Croke Park like?
I’d say 2014 against Cork would have been (the first big game I played at Croke Park). I’d be thinking like ‘60,000 people, let’s show them what we can do here’ instead of maybe going into your shell a bit. Especially Tipperary, when we got to Croke Park, we generally used to play well and express ourselves because Croke Park suits the way Tipp hurl. Cork 2014 would have been the first big one, yeah.
What will Clare have learned from last year’s poor display against Kilkenny? The downside is Clare have injury issues again with John Conlon and Conor Cleary, while Aidan McCarthy and David McInerney also missed the Dublin win.
Yeah Clare have big issues and, similar to last year, if Conlon is out, it will be a massive loss because he’s their powerhouse leader. Tony Kelly is their main man but he is more of an energy scoring leader. Whereas Conlon brings a coolness and a calmness to it and will be a huge loss if he doesn’t play. Conor Cleary is not going to play, I’d imagine.
Kilkenny are very physical, have a massive workrate but also on the other side they have really good players who can play ball. They’re playing slightly different hurling to last year so that will be different to nullify.
Clare have to step up big time and I actually expect Kilkenny will go a bit longer than they have so far this year. I think they are going to target Clare’s full-back line, who don’t have a 6ft 3in or 6ft 4in defender in there. I think you might see Walter Walsh, TJ Reid and Eoin Cody on the inside line for Kilkenny, with long crossfield ball in on top of them to go for goals early, and see what way Clare react to that. Clare don’t have a big physical presence to go in full-back so that might be an area where they struggle.
Who will win Kilkenny v Clare?
Kilkenny. It will be much closer than last year. I think Clare have learned a good bit from last year and mentally they are a lot better prepared. It will be tight but I still think Kilkenny will come through.
What are your thoughts on the reliability of HawkEye, which was stood down again last weekend — do you trust it and even wonder back to your late free in the draw against Kilkenny in 2014?
Sure look, it’s hard to know. It’s 10 years since it was first introduced, I don’t know how accurate it is. I remember in the football last year when Galway played Armagh, Shane Walsh kicked a 45 and it was closer to the black spot than the post and HawkEye gave it as a wide. Again, there were issues at the weekend. How accurate it is, I don’t know. If HawkEye wasn’t in use, I would have said they would have given it [the 2014 free] as a point. When it is in use, it usually is accurate. They seem to have had more and more problems in the last few years than they did at the start.
It’s hard to say, and it needs to be looked at. If you look at the way it’s used in tennis, it’s very accurate. I don’t think a sliotar or a football is going any faster than a tennis ball so it’s just maybe the set-up of it might be wrong. It’s not 100 per cent accurate, that’s clear but was it accurate on the day of the All-Ireland final in 2014? Who knows.
How would you sum up Tipp’s year?
It’s a hard one to sum up. There has been a massive improvement in the team compared with last year, there’s no doubt. The management that have come in have done great work in what they wanted the players to do and what they’re getting out of it. At the same time, massive improvement but massive disappointment in the way that the year finished. They had an okay league and then Limerick got on top of them in the league semi-final which you wouldn’t be overly worried about, it’s a building thing.
The first three games of the championship they played well but then Waterford was really disappointing. They would have worked on a few things and got on the horse again against Offaly, but then against Galway it was similar to the Waterford game, very flat again. There’s obvious improvement there but disappointment. They have gained a good few players. Gearoid O’Connor, Alan Tynan and Bryan O’Mara have stepped up big time, and then you have two top-class goalkeepers as well [Rhys Shelly and Brian Hogan]. If another two or three lads step up next year, you’ll be hoping that Tipperary can go in the right direction again.
Do you expect any Tipperary retirement?
It’s a hard one to call, and I don’t want to be writing anyone off. I don’t think Noel [McGrath] will step away but it might be something Seamie [Callanan] and Bonner [Patrick Maher] think about. Whether they will step away, I wouldn’t be 100 per cent sure. They will have a good think about it. You might see Seamie and Bonner but I wouldn’t be surprised if they went back next year either.
I think Noel will definitely stay but Seamie and Bonner might think about it a bit more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they stayed.
Does Seamus Callanan get the credit he deserves? 40 championship goals and all from play, which no modern forward comes close to.
No, they don’t. It’s absolutely crazy his goal tally. If you’re looking at the last couple of games this year, he scored maybe one goal. Now, he also led the fight against Waterford in a poor performance.
He doesn’t get enough credit, he’s been around a long time, he owes Tipperary nothing and captained them to an All-Ireland as well. Seamie’s goalscoring record is immense. It probably will be caught by someone but to score them all from play shows the danger that he was. He is pushing on a bit but I wouldn’t write him off.
You can see there this year that he still has the pace in the legs. He has the power in the legs and he has put on a good bit of size so I wouldn’t write him off by saying he’s going to retire. You’d never know what he’s thinking.