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'It was a shock to the system' - Tipp's hurling comeback after 2018 setback

Tipperary’s Seamus Kennedy is gearing up for Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

Seamus Kennedy celebrates Tipperary's semi-final win over Wexford.
Seamus Kennedy celebrates Tipperary's semi-final win over Wexford.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

AS THE SERIES of hurling thrillers kept piling up last summer, Seamus Kennedy watched on.

He was cast to the role of bystander, himself and his Tipperary team-mates forced to observe the race to land the Liam MacCarthy Cup unfold after their fruitless run in Munster consigned them to a June exit.

“It was a shock to the system,” recalls the 26-year-old.

“Went on a sun holiday for the first time really like and I was in Italy and there was matches on and you’re kind of going, ‘I actually don’t like this’.

“I wasn’t going out of my way to watch them. If they were on, I was watching them. It’s not easy watch them either. It was weird I suppose.

“We all felt that to be honest, it’s not a nice place to be. That has given us an extra bit of drive this year and kick that we didn’t want to be in that situation again,.”

When the 2018 silverware was handed out, Kennedy had a clear insight into the psyche of the victors off the back of a few years living in Limerick and appearing on the college hurling circuit with Mary Immaculate.

“On the Fitzgibbon team, there was Richie English, Darragh O’Donovan, Cian Lynch, Declan Hannon (and) David Reidy. They were all there. Declan and David were in my year as well so I’d have known them very well.

“Obviously smashing lads, we’d won a Fitzgibbon together. We’d get on very well with the lads. On a personal level I was delighted to see the boys do so well.”

It still grated for the St Mary’s club man that he was left idle though at the business end of the season. Kennedy’s career has required patience before getting the chance to making his mark on the elite stage.

2014 was his first exposure to the Tipperary senior environment but the role was shortlived.

“I’d been dropped from the panel in 2014 after the league and probably thought will I get back in? Will I get a chance? Maybe looking back I was a small bit in awe. In the dressing room then you still had Lar Corbett, these kind of guys, Eoin Kelly, they were heroes of mine growing up.”

Falling out of the hurling reckoning did not spell the end of his inter-county involvement. Gaelic football had always been central to Kennedy’s sporting identity. Part of the historic All-Ireland minor triumph in 2011, he graduated to U21 level and was recruited for Peter Creedon’s senior side in 2015.

He closed out that season in a memorable fashion for Clonmel Commercials, punting in the long delivery that fed Michael Quinlivan for the late goal that stunned Nemo Rangers in the Munster club final.

Football continued to command Kennedy’s attention for the winter before they were felled in extra-time of an All-Ireland semi-final by Ballyboden St-Enda’s. By that juncture in February 2016 though he had nailed his colours to the Tipperary hurling mast once more.

Seamus Kennedy Seamus Kennedy in action for Clonmel Commercials against Nemo Rangers in the 2015 Munster club final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The decision was a no-brainer for me. Even though I grew up in Clonmel, playing with Commercials we were very successful, the only thing I wanted to do was playing hurling for Tipperary. When Mick (Ryan) rang me in 2016 to be honest I wasn’t expecting the call but I was absolutely delighted.

“We were involved in club championship with Commercials but still it was a no-brainer for me. I played football in 2015 so I was absolutely delighted to get back in. The year playing football definitely helped with Peter Creedon and the lads.

“We’d a decent game against Kerry, played Tyrone that year, played some good inter county championship games that definitely stood to me. Came back in 2016, felt I’d a bit of a point to prove, wanted to do myself justice.”

He lived up to his part of the bargain. Seizing the chance offered by the management, Kennedy found a patch in the Tipperary defence and made it his own. He was savouring an All-Ireland final win in September 2016 against Kilkenny.

Seamus Kennedy celebrates Seamus Kennedy lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They’ll renew acquaintances next Sunday. Kennedy enters that game on the back of the feel-good factor generated by that semi-final comeback. The manner in which they overhauled Wexford left Tipperary buoyant with Kennedy central to the defensive shift.

“It is comeback wise definitely that I’ve been involved with Tipp. I suppose ’16, every game just seemed to go very well probably bar the Limerick game and Galway game too I suppose was maybe a bit different.

“We went five points down, went three points down so but I think the most pleasing thing was we never pushed the panic button. We kept trying to do the right thing and especially I suppose when John (McGrath) got sent-off, we seemed to value the ball and and really worked the ball to the shooters and to the lads up front.

“That was very pleasing to be honest, that we just kept chipping away at Wexford until the very end.”

The retention of possession was key as Tipperary methodically worked their way up the pitch. It’s an area of hurling that has evolved and Kennedy is comfortable with it as a trend.

“I think the football training and playing, being from Clonmel I probably played far more football than I have hurling growing up, it definitely has benefited me. In football if you give the ball away you’re not going to get it back for 10 minutes. You definitely do value possession a lot more. Maybe without even thinking about it, it’s something I do.

“It definitely has changed. If you’re setting up against a team like a Limerick or Wexford that value possession so well and have this running game or Limerick have a short passing game, if you give the ball away, they’re going to punish you.”

That success propels Kennedy to within touching distance of a second All-Ireland medal in four seasons. Kilkenny are the obstacle, the dominant foe over a dramatic and chaotic decade of games between the counties.

But from his debut season in 2016, Kennedy’s record stands out with one from one in his championship engagements with the Cats.

“That’s true actually, I didn’t think of that,” laughs Kennedy.

“Really looking forward to it. I suppose this time last year there was good few of us sitting on a beach or probably sitting at a bar, looking in at the matches and looking in at those unbelievable games that were on. So a year on it’s absolutely brilliant. Looking forward to an All-Ireland final again like it’s been three years, it feels like a lifetime to be honest.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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