Westside Column 16 February 2018



It’s not exactly hurling weather but yet the clash of the ash is everywhere to be heard.

Saturday will be a busy day for some of us: Cashel CS chases a Munster title around midday at Clonmel; then after tea it’s off to Thurles for a little tet-a-tet with Davy and the Wexford lads in the Stadium.

Round 3 of the league promises hectic action – is it ever otherwise with Davy on the sideline? The ‘Wexies’, as John Mullane likes to label them, have set a flying pace to their league season with wins over Waterford and Cork already lodged to account. It’s a run they’ll like to continue and will do their damnedest to prevent Tipp from upsetting the flow.

Tipperary had something of a surprise challenge game with Waterford at Morris Park last Friday night. I like to think I have an ear to the ground but this one slipped by me. It came at Waterford’s request, apparently, and was a surprise to most people, coming just six days after the counties met in the league.

The surprises don’t end there, it seems. Waterford fielded a strong outfit – stronger than the previous Saturday night – against a Tipperary ‘B’ side. Tipp won by five or six points, I’m told, after a very lively work-out.

It’s interesting to note the Tipperary set-up. Mooney got a spin in goal; the full back line was strong with Donagh Maher, Barry and a returning Mickey Cahill; Kennedy, Barry Heffernan and Sean O’Brien policed the ‘forty’. Thereafter the team was very experimental: Billy McCarthy and Willie Connors patrolled midfield; Eoin McIntyre (Lorrha), Paul Shanahan and Mark Russell were half forward; Ger Browne, Niall O’Meara and Cian Darcy made up the inside line. Brian Hogan got a run out in goal and other subs to come in were drawn from Liam Cahill’s U21 panel, including Riain Doody, Paddy Cadell and Darragh Peters.

It’s a formation that will bear no resemblance to the team that takes the field on Saturday night against Wexford where another win would keep us nicely on track for the qualifiers. However, the adjustments to the team that beat Waterford a fortnight earlier will be the big issue

After two league games Paul Maher has probably put himself in pole position for the goalie’s jersey, but this is an ongoing, developing contest between the three ‘keepers on the panel. Maybe one of the others will be given a chance this time. With Joe O’Dwyer out for a number of weeks there will have to be some adjustment in defence; whether Seamus Kennedy comes in or Mickey Cahill gets game time might be options considered. I’d expect Paudie Feehan to line out again after his showing against Waterford.

There’s some suggestion that Cathal Barrett is still not fully recovered to play midfield. Mahers, Brendan and Ronan, are obvious choices here on past evidence but at this time of year you expect the unexpected.

Dan McCormack is out for 5/6 weeks so that means some enforced change in attack from the last day. Jason Forde as free taker could be essential. Noel McGrath has been doing well at number eleven and Sean Curran has shown great work ethic. ‘Bonner’ has been a lot less impressive. Fitzgibbon demands may be a factor in the selection also. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Historically Wexford have the edge in league clashes with Tipperary. The counties have met on 41 occasions with the Slaneysiders on 20 wins and Tipperary on 18; there have been 3 draws.  In recent times clashes between the counties have been rare.

Last year’s league semi-final at Nowlan Park offers a backdrop to Saturday’s fixture. Tipperary won comfortably in the end, 5-18 to 1-19, but those digits hardly gave a true picture of the entire game. Davy’s encroachment onto the pitch and Jason Forde’s subsequent – and shameful – suspension dominated talk afterwards. It’s Interesting to see the Congress moves with regard to defining a melee in the wake of those events. Croke Park seems to be keen to put in a retrospective justification for Forde’s suspension. Events in Ennis on Sunday could form part of the same narrative.

Anyway prior to last year we hadn’t met Wexford in the league since 2011 when Colm Bonnar was in charge down in the South East and the teams shared the points at Semple Stadium. Before that again 2005 was the previous meeting when Wexford won at the Stadium. In just over a decade then the counties have only clashed twice in the league.

The last ten meetings between the sides, going back to 1998, shows Tipperary on 6 wins, with Wexford winning 3 and that 2011 draw completing the picture. It’s a healthy recent picture though historically we’ve often found big athletic Wexford sides a problem in winter hurling.

Wexford’s renaissance under Davy, plus their form in the last two games of this league, should leave Tipperary in no doubt that this will be a tough assignment. We’ll need a strong line-out and necessary energy on the night to collect the points. The week after Nowlan Park beckons – O dear!

A game that will attract quite a bit of interest locally on Saturday next is the schools’ Munster ‘B’ final at Clonmel where Cashel CS face off against CBS Mitchelstown in a game of obvious Tipp/Cork flavour.

It’s one to anticipate. This ‘B’ grade may be a notch below Harty Cup level but on past experience it can produce really intense games. You need look no further than Cashel’s experience this year where they needed a late Murragh McDermott point to salvage a replay against the Abbey in the quarter-final and then had to dig really deep to pull off a one-point call over Bandon in the semi-final.

It takes nerve to come through games like those and Cashel have so far shown the necessary resolve. The school last won this competition in 2011 with a team that included Dylan Fitzell who subsequently went on to become a dual All Ireland minor winner with Tipperary as well as spending a term on the senior panel.

It’s a grade that watchers of upcoming talent keep a sharp eye on. Back in 2016 the Abbey defeated Mitchelstown in the corresponding final. On board for Mitchelstown that day was Colin English from Burncourt; before the year was out he’d contributed a man-of-the-match performance in Tipperary’s All Ireland minor win.

Being a border town Mitchelstown draws players from South Tipperary, an aspect which adds spice to Saturday’s encounter. In their quarter-final win over the High School, Clonmel, for example, the CBS side featured two Skeheenarinka players, Oisin Brennan at midfield and Tomas Vaughan at number thirteen. And there was a pair of Tipperary substitutes introduced that day: Skeheenarinka’s Rian Hennessy and David Hyland of Fr. Sheehy’s, while Skeheenarinka’s Chris English is also part of the Mitchelstown panel.

Cashel CS, of course, isn’t a West Tipperary preserve either. In their semi-final win the team featured Liam McGrath, Clerihan, and Riain Quigley, Moyle Rvs.

Predominantly, though, the Cashel side is drawn from the King Cormacs and surrounding clubs like Kickhams and Boherlahan. The team’s goalie is Aaron Browne from Knockavilla, a brother of Ger. T.J. Connolly’s son, Eoghan, is a pivotal player on the side, anchoring the team from centre back and at times being posted to attack if the need arises. Beside Eoghan is Brian Og O’Dwyer, a brother of Tipperary dual player, Orla, and son of Brian who played such a central role in Boherlahan’s last great hurrah when winning the 1996 county final. Their key forward in the semi-final success carried another famous Cashel surname, Ross Bonnar.

It promises to be a fascinating contest with major local interest likely to draw a strong attendance to the Clonmel Sportsfield (throw-in 12:30). The teams did meet earlier in the competition when Cashel won handily in a group game. That result needs context, however, with Mitchelstown minus their substantial Kildorrery element because of an upcoming club fixture. It’s one that will have no relevance to next Saturday’s contest as I’m sure Brendan Ryan and colleagues will be drilling into the heads of their players ahead of Saturday.

Interestingly the CBS have four survivors from their 2016 defeat to the Abbey. One of those is Ballygiblin’s Mark Keane, then a dangerous forward, now a centre back anchor. He has a sizeable presence, a lad who went for an Aussie Rules trial last month.

Another player Cashel will have to contend with is the Mitchelstown full forward, Kildorrery’s James Keating. He was centre back on Cork’s minor team, which lost last year’s All Ireland final to Galway; he was chosen in the same position on the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Team of the Year. Clearly he’s a player of quality.

Both schools lost at quarter-final stage last year, Mitchelstown going out to eventual champions, Hospital, and Cashel giving best to Bishopstown after extra time. The Community School has eight survivors from that team and that level of experience has been important so far this season. It’s particularly useful given the fact that half their defence will play U16 hurling in 2018.

So, after all that name-dropping the stage is set for what promises to be an exciting final. The prize for the winners is the Tom Collum Cup, a man who for many years did great work in organising schools’ games throughout the province. I still miss those regular calls from Tom regarding fixtures and always remember him fondly every time I visit the Templemore pitch or indeed meet his forever friend, John Costigan.

Saturday’s winners will face the Ulster champions in the All Ireland semi-final, though I’m sure that little detail won’t be even mentioned in Cashel or Mitchelstown this week. Let’s hope the weather relents for the game and that it’s a match worthy of the occasion. I suspect it won’t disappoint.


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