Case for the defence far from concluded yet in Tipperary

Case for the defence far from concluded yet in Tipperary

Injuries and experimentation have resulted in Eamon O’Shea’s side conceding a whopping 16 goals in six league games

Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea: “The evidence so far is that we can’t beat them. But you should be careful about making forecasts with very little data.”  Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho  Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea: “The evidence so far is that we can’t beat them. But you should be careful about making forecasts with very little data.” Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

 

 

If nothing else, Eamon O’Shea’s day job as a professor of economics at NUIG has lent a certain level of erudition to the post-match do-si-do between inter-county managers and we lumpen hacks.

In the wake of Tipperary’s too-close victory over Cork three weeks ago, O’Shea was asked to ruminate on his side’s chances in the league semi-final against Clare – and specifically the suggestion that the looseness of his defence might be punished in a more exacting manner by the All-Ireland champions.

“Yeah, that might be right,” he said. “The evidence so far is that we can’t beat them. But you should be careful about making forecasts with very little data.”

Neither a yerra nor an ah-sure in sight. Revolutionary stuff.

Though the data may indeed be too limited for satisfactory forecasts, O’Shea is not the type to ignore trends.

Defensive woes
The numbers that illustrate Tipp’s defensive woes over the course of this league campaign are stark. They have conceded 16-105 in six games, at an average of 25.5 points a game.

The only league campaign in recent times where they conceded a comparable amount was in 2009 when they watched as 14-117 went past.

 

Most eye-catching, of course, has been the sheer weight of goals tumbling down upon them – a gaudy 16 in six games.

A lot in any context but especially so considering that in 13 games across the leagues of 2012 and 2013 they only conceded 15. The sample size may be small; disquiet around the county is anything but.

Real worry
There is real worry at what havoc Clare could wreak tomorrow. Conor McGrath, John Conlon and Podge Collins gave them the Supermarket Sweep treatment in Thurles last month on a day when Clare racked up 4-15 and could even afford Colin Ryan a rare off-day from placed balls.

In Clare’s three games since, they’ve plundered 7-59 against Waterford, Galway and Laois. Regardless of the opposition, a team that’s averaging 27 points a game will feel its tummy rumbling at the sight of the Tipp defence.

O’Shea’s first problem has been stability. Injuries have been a stone they can’t shake out of their shoe.

Paul Curran has missed the whole campaign in recovery from a hip operation, leaving O’Shea facing the prospect of possibly having to gamble on him making his return against Limerick in five weeks.

It would mean Curran’s first inter-county action coming almost a full year after his last, the defeat to Limerick last June.

Replacing Curran has been a maze made of dead ends so far. Three different bodies have been tried at full-back, none of whom have enjoyed the experience or flourished for it. Conor O’Mahony is seen as the roundest of the square pegs but it is unlikely that he will start the Munster Championship anywhere other than centre-back.

Paddy Stapleton filled in manfully against Kilkenny last summer but struggled in his two spring outings against Clare and Galway.

Thomas Stapleton has started three games in the league in three different positions without planting a flag in any of them. His one outing at full-back saw Kilkenny help themselves to five goals.

They’d have liked to give an audition to John Maher, Loughmore-Castleiney’s full-back when they won the county championship last year. But Maher spent the early part of the year captaining the Tipp under-21 footballers and has since aggravated a long-standing quad injury.

Michael Breen is another who shone at underage and was the full-back on the team that won a minor All-Ireland in 2012 but he missed most of the spring with a broken ankle.

The litany continues. Paddy Stapleton played much of the league with a fractured wrist without knowing it – he misses tomorrow but will be back for the start of the championship.

Mickey Cahill (hamstring) and Pádraic Maher (shoulder) have lost time as well but they both played for their clubs last week and will line up against Clare. The plethora of knocks and nicks throughout the team has, however, led to O’Shea waiting until this lunchtime to name his team.

Can muster
It will be as strong a one as they can muster.

Pádraic Maher looks likely to line up at full-back, little and all appetite though he has for the position. Stapleton’s absence should mean that Cahill’s hokey-cokeying between wing-back and corner-back will end with him slotting in beside Maher.

And after a handful of games at midfield where the play seemed to bypass him at times, Brendan Maher should line up beside O’Mahony in the half-back line, where five different players have worn the number six shirt so far.

Bit by bit, something approaching a settled six is taking shape. Not before time.

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