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Saturday 23 September 2017

Stakelum not sitting on fence for qualifier

Tipp 'lack vitality' but have more quality than Dubs

Richie Stakelum with Anthony Daly
Richie Stakelum with Anthony Daly

Richie Stakelum never had any issue climbing off the Dublin team bus outside Semple Stadium in full view of his own people.

He didn't bat an eyelid at wearing blue and navy when he ran the line in opposition to the blue and gold he donned in his playing pomp and plotting to knock Tipperary out of the Championship didn't cause any deviation to his sleep patterns either.

Yet, having stepped away from management, he admits he'll probably "keep the head down," heading into Thurles on Saturday.

"That never bothered me. Absolutely not," he told the Herald ahead of Saturday's clash between his native county and his adopted one at Semple.

"You will always have people saying 'what's he doing with Dublin?' but that never bothered me because the way I saw it was, it was a much bigger project.

Hidings

"We were trying to get Dublin to get the absolute best out of themselves. And if we beat Tipp, it would be a bonus because Tipp have a huge amount won.

"I wouldn't feel bad or torn about that in any way. That would never bother me.

"What did bother me was the couple of bad hidings we got off Tipp. I didn't like that at all."

As it went, Stakelum's last stand with Anthony Daly came on one such occasion - the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final, a 13-point loss to Tipperary in Thurles that brought with it a stinging finality.

So, on Saturday, he'll go back to Semple Stadium, accompanied by a son wearing Dublin colours to watch a Tipperary team for whom his brother, Conor, serves as a selector.

Neither team are currently thriving, however.

Stakelum has noticed "a lack of vitality and energy" in Tipperary just now.

As summations of the All-Ireland champions' current curious state go, their former captain's is as convincing as any doing the rounds just now.

"When you look at a lot of Tipp's big players," Stakelum points out, "a lot of them have a lot of hurling done.

"And a lot of them have come through minors or under-21s, they've played in a lot of All-Irelands and at the end of the last century, soldiered through those battles with Kilkenny.

"And I just think there are only so many times you can go to the well. And the lack of vitality and energy is a concern for me."

"I don't think it's that they celebrated too long after winning the All-Ireland or anything like that.

"I just think they've been around for quite a while. Their bigger players have been around for a long while and I wonder whether their energy is beginning to ebb a bit.

"When you look at the energy that Cork are bringing," Stakelum goes on, "they're a young team that are playing with abandon. And that's what young guys do.

"When young guys come on to a team and start to play, they have this positive energy that just flows out of them. A bit like Clare in 2013.

"They've seen none of this before. They don't see danger. It's just an odyssey."

Stakelum describes last week's victory over Westmeath as "one of those awkward nothings. But there was no real spark there either".

"So I have to say I'm a bit concerned," he added.

But not so much as to anticipate an upset on Saturday.

Tipp might lack spark just now but they're also in possession of far more quality hurlers and experience than Ger Cunningham's team.

"I think they're going to have too much for Dublin at the weekend. I don't see them getting caught," he confirms.

This is Stakelum's third season out of the inter-county management game.

For the six before that, he was a trusted member of Daly's management ensemble, though the upheaval that has gone on since they left makes it easier for him to be analytical about them now.

"It's an odd situation," Stakelum notes.

"They still have some of the old warriors like (Ryan) O'Dwyer, who just put their heart and soul into this.

"It's just a pity the way it seems to have developed.

"Dublin are still the only team playing at this level with hurling as a second sport. There is no other county at this level in that situation.

"You just wouldn't see in other counties your best players deciding either to not play or to play football.

Imagine

"Can you imagine Con O'Callaghan in Tipperary deciding to play football? It just wouldn't happen."

It was a repeating struggle he put up with in his own time with Dublin but Stakelum stresses that the stint was a major highlight of his sporting life.

"Daly and Hedgo and these guys, you couldn't be involved with better fellas," he says.

"Daly was just a phenomenal ball of energy and we got fantastic support from the county board.

"That's all you can ask for really.

"When we stepped away that time, I missed it terribly," he admits.

"For the first six months, I found it very difficult. But then as time goes on, you can look back and say it was a great time in my life.

"But I wasn't mad rushing to get back involved with teams. I've stepped away a bit.

"There was never a day when I left the house or left the office and said to myself 'what am I doing here?'

"I enjoyed every single minute of it. And we had great fun."

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