THE biggest thing you learn from defeat is that you don’t want it to happen again.
Few things can motivate more than a determination to prove people wrong, but it is perhaps false to suggest there is a strict learning process required each time. Sometimes effort is all that was lacking; so identifying and remedying tactical shortcomings becomes redundant unless the work-rate is not first addressed.
There is no perfect performance, a winning team must also realise that there are things to work on. That probably doesn’t happen so often and may help explain how two teams’ results against each other can exhibit such bi-polar tendencies within a short period of time.
Look at the Kilkenny-Galway clashes of 2012 (winner in brackets): (K) 3-26 to 0-10; (G) 2-21 to 2-11; (draw) 2-13 to 0-19; and (K) 3-22 to 3-11. The Cats went from a 25-point win to a 10-point loss, to a draw, and finally to an 11-point win — all in the space of six months from April 1 to September 30.
What does this tell us? That the plates can shift quickly in the hurling landscape. Cork were beaten out of Thurles by Kilkenny in the 2012 league final six weeks after a two-point win over The Cats in round four of the regulation fixtures. Tipperary were hammered by the Rebels in the 2010 championship but rebuilt to win an All-Ireland, in similar fashion to Kilkenny’s 2012 recovery. All of this says the same thing: one defeat does not a summer break.
There is a double incentive for those who have suffered defeat. One: you focus your efforts so as to make amends; two: you are willing to pick apart your team’s performance and adjust. With the right bunch of players, all will then pull in the one direction and a big change can occur.
This is often at odds with a winning team who, so often, stick with the so-called winning formula. The old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra.
Few can keep a successful team on their toes as Brian Cody has managed to, and certainly not over such a prolonged period. Liam Sheedy is fondly remembered by Tipperary fans but there were some low points too in his three-year stint: the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final loss to an unfancied Waterford, a 17-point defeat to Kilkenny in the 2009 league, and that 10-point hammering in the Munster championship of 2010. Even those managers regarded as elite can see their team produce a no-show.
In the past year, all of Cork, Galway, Tipperary and even Kilkenny have been beaten by 10 points or more. That margin usually constitutes a sound thrashing. While it may be acutely rare for The Cats to be given such a beating, it can happen to anyone; after all, a year earlier they lost a league final to Dublin by 0-22 to 1-7. So what? Back on the horse.
That’s how Waterford went from a 3-30 to 1-13 loss to Kilkenny in 2008 to coming within five points of the same opposition a year later — learning and fighting back.
That’s what Tipperary have to do after their 12-point loss to Cork in round one of the league. Although in truth, the margin of defeat may actually have been complimentary to Eamon O’Shea’s side as they trailed 0-19 to 0-03 after 48 minutes. That’s the worry for the Munster champions.
But if you have the players, and they do, a turnaround is always possible. It requires balls too — both on and off the field. It’s easy to make the changes in defeat because the general consensus is that things were done wrongly. The more interesting calls are when a manager persists with a team that has been beaten well, or a boss who makes changes after a victory.
There are not always rights and wrongs to this, but it can be interesting to look at this anecdotally. Kilkenny manager Cody brings Michael Fennelly straight back into his team no matter what, irrespective of the form of his team-mates. There’s a risk and reward to this. It’s the sort of strategy that caused James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick to retire at the end of the 2011 All-Ireland winning season, but was vindicated by Fennelly winning Hurler of the Year as The Cats regained the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
“I spent the year training well and performing like hell,” Cha said of his decision. “It’s just when we’re told that the team is picked on training and then you go out and you’re not picked even when you’re performing really well… nah, I’ve no regrets about it.”
Contrast this with then Tipperary managed Declan Ryan in that same season. Brendan Maher was the reigning Young Hurler of the Year but, after an ankle break, he was left on the bench for the year and, by general consensus, it proved hugely costly. But because the team had been winning, Ryan felt he could not change it.
Would Cody have done the same with a player who had been unlucky not to win Hurler of the Year outright for 2010 — as Lar Corbett netted the title — if it was Kilkenny? We doubt it. Perhaps this is why Cody has been so successful: always looking to get the best 15 players on the pitch. Learning and changing after victory, as well as defeat.
The flip side to that was Anthony Daly bringing back Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney and Tomas Brady all at once for Dublin’s Leinster semi-final humiliation against Kilkenny last year.
But these injuries were far more long-term — all three had cruciates — and it’s riskier to bring so many back at once, as opposed to just a single player in Fennelly’s case.
Again, perhaps it’s just good management from Cody, and maybe Daly will turn it around in 2013. The only way is up for the capital county after the horrors of last year — there will be a determination to put things right. There always is where hurt lives.
A season can be launched on the back of one purposeful performance, so the tide is there to be turned by anyone who wants it enough.