The cold hand of history suggests that the Tipperary hurlers have little chance, if any, of winning the Munster and All-Ireland championships this summer. During the past fifty years only one county has managed to win the Munster championship by beating three recognised hurling counties and then progressed to win the All-Ireland title: Cork (1966).
If Tipperary have an impossible task of winning an All-Ireland by the conventional route of beating three different opponents (Limerick, Cork & Clare/Waterford) in Munster this summer should they take a dive? Can they realistically achieve what no Munster county has achieved since 1966 and that which they themselves have failed to achieve since 1958? Is it realistic for Tipperary to reach their peak five times this summer? A feat which has proven beyond every single Munster county in living memory?
On a hurling map of Ireland Munster should be marked with an X, a cross and annotated “here be dragons”. The basic statistics tell us that Munster counties have managed to win their provincial championship having beaten three of their neighbours on 54 occasions. This tally, however, involves Kerry. And, the Kingdom will themselves admit that they are not a recognised hurling county.
When you remove Kerry from the equation the feat has only been achieved 30 times – Cork (13, last 1982), Tipperary (10, last 2011), Limerick (5, last 1996), Waterford (2, last 2004) and Clare have never managed it. Between 1903 and 1960 the Munster champions won their provincial title by beating three recognised hurling counties twenty times – during the past fifty years that feat has only been achieved ten times and in the past twenty-five years just five times (Limerick 1994, Limerick 1996, Waterford 2004, Tipperary 2009 & Tipperary 2011).
A question: if Tom Ryan’s Limerick had not been asked to face Cork, Clare (1995 All-Ireland champions) and Tipperary (twice) in 1996 would it have made a difference in that September’s All-Ireland final against Wexford? Limerick were also beaten in the 1994 All-Ireland final by Offaly – in the ‘94 Munster championship they were asked to beat Cork, Waterford and Clare.
Waterford won one of the most entertaining Munster championships ever in 2004 when they beat Clare, then pipped Tipperary with a last minute goal before edging Cork in a wonderful provincial final. The Déise then ran out of legs at the business end of the All-Ireland series.
Then there are the teams who have seen off two recognised hurling counties during their provincial championship only to fall short in the Munster final – Cork have suffered that fate nine times (last 2010), Tipperary nine (last 2006), Clare eight (last 2008), Limerick six (last 2001) and Waterford five (last 2003).
Indeed, hurling people in Tipperary are sick to the back teeth of Munster quarter-finals. Tipperary will face Limerick in a Munster quarter-final on May 27th and have been drawn in the opening round of the provincial championship in ten out of the last fourteen years – 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and now 2012.
The years 2009-2011 serve as a helpful illustration of the predicament that the Tipperary management are now in.
Despite finding themselves drawn in a Munster quarter-final in both 2009 and 2011 Tipperary claimed provincial honours, but lost the respective All-Ireland final. In 2010 the Premier were once again drawn in a Munster quarter-final, but lost to Cork. Tipperary re-grouped however in 2010 and won an All-Ireland title.
Consider Tipperary’s form in 2011 – the Premier beat Cork, Clare and Waterford scoring fourteen goals en route to the Munster title. Thereafter Tipperary managed just two more three-pointers and lost a one-sided All-Ireland final to Kilkenny.
So, if Tipperary’s ultimate target is to win back Liam MacCarthy does it make sense that they pursue the Munster championship in a vigorous manner?
Years in which counties have beaten three opponents to win the Munster title:-
Cork: (23): 1901, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1907, 1912, 1915, 1919, 1926, 1927, 1931, 1946, 1947, 1953, 1956, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1982, 1990, 1992, 2000.
Tipperary (18): 1900, 1908, 1909, 1913, 1916, 1917, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1945, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1958, 1960, 1987, 2009, 2011.
Limerick (8): 1910, 1911, 1918, 1923, 1933, 1940, 1994, 1996.
Clare (3): 1889, 1914, 1997.
Waterford (2): 1959, 2004.
With Kerry removed from the equation:-
Cork (13): 1903, 1905, 1915, 1919, 1931, 1946, 1947, 1956, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1975, 1982.
Tipperary (10): 1913, 1922, 1945, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1958, 1960, 2009, 2011.
Limerick (5): 1918, 1933, 1940, 1994, 1996.
Waterford (2): 1959, 2004.
*During the past 50 years only one county has managed to win the Munster championship by beating three recognised hurling counties and then progressed to win the All-Ireland title: Cork (1966).