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5 tasks for manager Michael Ryan as he looks to get Tipperary's hurlers back on track

The Premier County suffered a shock defeat to Cork on Sunday, and will go through the back door in their quest to retain the All-Ireland title.

TIPPERARY SLUMPED TO a shock Munster senior hurling championship quarter-final defeat to Cork on Sunday.

For manager Michael Ryan, it was a rare losing experience, his first as a championship manager.

Ryan presided over five successive wins in last year’s championship campaign, as the Premier County stormed to Munster and All-Ireland honours.

A long unbeaten streak came to an end in March, against Cork, when the sides met in the final group game of the Allianz League.

That defeat was dismissed as a one-off, as Tipp were already assured of top spot in Division 1A, and fielded an understrength team.

A 16-point mauling against Galway in the League final set alarm bells ringing, however, and Cork were obviously keen observers.

On Sunday, the Rebels exposed Tipp again, this time when it really mattered.

Tipp now find themselves in a similar situation to 2010, when they lost against Cork in a Munster quarter-final, but recovered to win the All-Ireland.

Here, we take a look at five key tasks for Ryan as he looks to repeat that memorable run through the back door.

1. Debrief and rely on experience

Liam Sheedy steered Tipp to All-Ireland glory in 2010, despite a 10-point loss to Cork in Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

When Tipp lost by 10 points against Cork seven years ago, players and team management met for crisis talks on the following Tuesday evening.

Cards were placed firmly on the table and having cleared the air, Tipp embarked on a successful qualifier run and finished the campaign as All-Ireland winners.

Crucially, Ryan was a member of Liam Sheedy’s backroom team then, and can call upon that valuable experience.

He has the tools at his disposal to help ensure that the bitter memories of last Sunday are erased as quickly as possible, and the slate wiped clean.

When the squad meets this week to debrief, Ryan will outline where he saw things going wrong, and look for player feedback.

Then, players and management can move forward in a united fashion and aim to land back-to-back All-Ireland titles for Tipp, a feat not achieved since 1965.

2. Sort out a porous defence

Cathal Barrett Cathal Barrett suffered knee cartilage damage yesterday, but has avoided a cruciate injury. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

One of Ryan’s key issues is in defence. Galway showed how vulnerable Tipp can be when their half-backs are turned and forced to run back towards their own goal.

Cork’s brilliant running game succeeded in dragging the Tipp half-backs out of position, and that left lots of space in front of the full-backs, which the Rebels exploited.

John O’Keeffe slotted in at left corner back, with Michael Cahill and Donagh Maher ruled out through injury, and now Ryan has another big injury worry to concern himself with.

Right corner back and All-Star Cathal Barrett sustained knee cartilage damage but has avoided a dreaded cruciate injury.

That’s good news for Tipp, who are already light on options in the full-back line given their current injury worries.

Seamus Harnedy’s roaming caused endless problems for James Barry, Tipp’s full-back, but it has to be acknowledged that the inside men were left badly exposed by a lack of cover further forward.

Cork have the forwards to hurt any opponents and with Tipp struggling to win primary possession in their own attack, and around the middle third, the Rebels provided plenty of ammunition for their rampant front-men.

Cork scored 2-27 on Sunday, with 2-22 of that tally coming from open play. Defence is an obvious area of concern for Tipp, and they’ll look to get that right in training before their next outing.

Darren Gleeson is a former All-Star goalkeeper but he was poor for Cork’s first goal, and Daragh Mooney is reportedly providing stiff competition for the number 1 jersey.

3. Refocus minds

Michael Ryan celebrates with Denis Leamy Michael Ryan celebrates with Denis Leamy (right) following last September's All-Ireland final win. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It does appear that the League final collapse against Galway has dented confidence levels in the Tipp camp.

Two significant defeats in the space of a month is a big concern for Ryan, and one more loss will end their interest in the 2017 championship.

The ‘do or die’ nature of what lies in store should be enough to guard against any hint of complacency in the Tipp camp and they know now how hard they must work if they’re to reach the Promised Land again.

With an impressive back-up team in place, men like Denis Leamy and former Galway player Tony Og Regan have big roles to play.

Leamy, the former Munster rugby player and ex-Ireland international, remains involved behind the scenes with Tipp in a consultancy role, and was hailed as a key figure last year.

Regan is a self-employed performance psychology coach who cites one of his main responsibilities as “development of psychological qualities such as mental strength, resilience and a strong value system.”

Leamy’s and Regan’s skill-sets will be called upon in the coming weeks, as Tipp look ahead to the qualifiers.

4. Rediscover a ruthless streak

John McGrath celebrates scoring his goal John McGrath celebrates after scoring Tipp's second goal against Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

When Tipp had the opportunity to nail Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland final, they did it.

Before that, they’d romped through the Munster championship, beating Cork by nine points, Limerick by two points with 14 men, and Waterford by 21.

Tipp also managed to dig out an All-Ireland semi-final victory over Galway, winning by a single point having lost by the same margin a year previously.

When the chances presented themselves to get the job done, Tipp took them and that fed into a feeling of invincibility that saw them crowned as All-Ireland champions.

The worry now is that two successive defeats in big games has eroded that sense of confidence and on Sunday, they missed goal chances in the first half at times when bulging the Cork net could have provided the platform for victory.

John McGrath’s second half goal handed Tipp the lead at a crucial juncture but instead of kicking for home, they fell asleep and allowed Cork to equalise and move ahead within two minutes.

The killer instinct which saw Tipp reach the summit last year is no longer in evidence and without it, they’re mere mortals again.

5. Get Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher back in the team

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Tipp’s preparations ahead of the Cork game were far from ideal. Jason Forde’s suspension saga was an unwanted distraction, while a number of players struggled with injuries.

Michael Cahill and Donagh Maher, two specialist corner backs, didn’t make the 26-man match-day panel due to hamstring issues while Barry Heffernan missed out too with a shoulder problem.

Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher was listed among the subs but wasn’t deemed fit enough to feature, when Tipp could have done with his mere presence alone.

Our hurling analyst Tommy Dunne wrote about Maher on more than one occasion last year, following the Cork win, the Limerick victory, and the Munster final demolition job on Waterford, and the All-Ireland semi-final win against Galway. 

Maher remains vital to the Tipperary cause and without him, they struggle to function as potently up front.

Getting him back fit and firing will be high on Ryan’s ‘to-do’ list, as he sifts through the Cork wreckage.

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