WESTSIDE COLUMN 21 DECEMBER 2012

We may be in the depths of winter but the hurling season continues on its merry way with county U21 semi-finals on the agenda for next weekend. Killenaule, fresh from their South win, face Westsiders, Clonoulty\Rossmore, while Kilruane, after victory over Toomevara, tackle championship favourites, Thurles Sarsfields. And for our county hurlers the so-called closed season ends with the first collective training stint last Saturday as they prepare for a lively schedule of outings in the New Year.
 
So the U21 series is down to penultimate ties at the butt end of the year.  I went to Monroe on Saturday unaware that ‘The Nationalist’ fixture had been altered during the week and then unavoidably missed the game on Sunday. Killenaule did the needful it seems with John O’Dwyer earning favourable reports for his input. Given his promotion to the senior panel it’s encouraging to see last year’s U21 captain in lively form. Their semi with Clonoulty on Sunday next, at Cashel I think, should be an interesting affair.
On the other side Kilruane had too much for Toomevara up North and now face Sarsfields in a semi-final. On known form Sarsfields will be the fancy to win this title though there are no certainties especially at this time of year when the weather can be a great leveller.
On a more general point it’s disappointing once again to have this grade played at the tail end of the season but there seems to be no will to change. You’ll hear the same old jaded argument being trotted out about too many fixtures as a justification for the tardiness. When there’s Munster deadlines to be met in other grades the games are played off with urgency. Years ago when there were far fewer games the same argument was used to justify the U21 grade going back as far as Easter of the following year. If you want to find an excuse, I guess, you’ll find one.
 
For our senior hurlers the closed season has now officially ended and the panel was back in harness at Morris Park last Saturday. Being a senior inter-county hurler is a lifestyle rather than a pastime and I often think you have to really enjoy training to stay involved. It’s effectively an all-year round mission but these guys clearly relish it all as evidenced by the renewed commitment of the more senior element in the panel. I really admire Cummins, Curran, Kelly et al for their boundless enthusiasm.
The turkey won’t be long digested when the team will be back in action starting with that challenge against UCC at Emly on January 6. There’s talk of further ‘friendlies’ against Dublin and Offaly and then we defend our Waterford Crystal title beginning with a quarter final on January 27 against either Limerick or Mary Immaculate College. For the ‘Crystal’ tournament we’ll be without the colleges’ players as well as the Sarsfields’ contingent so there’ll be plenty of room for trialists.
Our league series starts on February 23 ‘away’ to Cork, which is quite a stiff opener.  Actually it’s a challenging league run overall with further ‘away’ games to both Galway and Waterford and just two ‘home’ fixtures versus Kilkenny and Clare.
By then a lot of proverbial – and literal – water will have flown under the bridge.  The nine players on the extended panel will have had their chance to impress and show why they deserve to be promoted. The loss of the Sarsfields’ players in early spring is going to present the management with some difficulties because if you lose a few opening bouts of the league the pressure ratchets up immediately.
It would take some crystal ball gazing to anticipate from this vantage the Tipp team that will eventually square up to Limerick in the championship on June 9. It will be fascinating to see what fingerprints the new management impresses on the team. They come in with a lot of goodwill on their side but I wouldn’t underestimate their challenge.
Clearly there will be some reshaping of things. One view would see Paudie Maher moving to centre back with O’Mahony reverting to the full line where he played at under age. Might Brendan Maher slip back to wing back where many felt he should have been last season? In either case, after a spectacular 2010, his stock has fallen since.  Will Curran find a starting place at this stage of a great career? Who in the corners? Is Michael Cahill more valuable at wing? Then there’s midfield to consider. One wonders can Shane McGrath regain the old bounce that was only seen sporadically in 2012. How will Lar feature in attack? What role for Kelly? More will be expected of Noel McGrath after a disappointing 2012. What newcomers, if any, will make the grade? It’s all in the melting pot at this stage but sure anticipation is what shortens these dark winter days.
 
Reading material has helped ease the winter darkness too and there’s certainly no shortage of publications vying for our attention. I’ve come to Lar’s book later than most but must admit that I’m really enjoying what is a rollicking good read. Huge credit here goes to Damian Lawlor for managing to spin a captivating story. It certainly bounces along from one episode to the next, the proverbial page-turner that never loses the reader.
Of course it’s the book that shouldn’t have been published. It’s ahead of its time because this is material that most athletes broach in retirement when they can sit back and survey dispassionately a drama that they’ve since left behind. Lar is still an active participant which means that his comments on the likes of Jackie Tyrrell, for example, make for slightly uncomfortable reading given the possibility of future clashes. I’m sure Eamon O’Shea would have wished it wasn’t written but the past is unalterable.
It’s part of the modern culture I suppose that publishers favour the topical, the here-and-now, the controversial. Strike while the iron is hot, if you like, because the events of 2012 will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. And in Lar Corbett they’ve certainly found a colourful subject, a god’s send in a celebrity-obsessed age.
Reservations aside I like the confessional honesty of the book where the ghost writer certainly captures the enigmatic personality of his subject. Lar is something of a puzzle to most of us – even himself maybe – and Damien Lawlor has definitely brought that aspect to life in this narrative. Even the title, ‘All in My Head’, hints at this unknowable quality.
Of course the narrative will have ruffled some feathers and the juicier bits have already been serialised elsewhere. ‘Babs’ won’t be sending Christmas cards to Thurles and I doubt if Michael Doyle sent a wedding gift either. Whereas Lar’s ‘Indo’ column during the year was benign to the extreme of banal this text has more cutting edge where the big issues are never sidestepped. Here again I’m sure O’Shea would have preferred if Lar said less about the famous ‘tactic’ and those who were involved in it but Lar has certainly put his side of that particular story.
The overall picture of Lar that emerges in this book is of a guy who has been mothered to excess and still needs a lot of TLC. He needs the avuncular, hand-on-the shoulder treatment rather than the wagging finger. It worked with O’Shea as coach under Sheedy; whether it will work with O’Shea as manager remains to be seen. Incidentally the cringe moment for me in the book is when Lar cried on being told of the Sheedy/O’Shea/Ryan retirement. There are things to shed tears for; a retiring management is not one of them.
Overall, though, this book comes highly recommended. Damian Lawlor has done an excellent job and any hurling fan will be fascinated by the tale he unfolds.
 
On the recommended list of this column also is Seamus King’s latest venture in a long line of literary productions since he first researched the GAA story of his native Lorrha and Dorrha way back in the eighties. ‘A Lorrha Miscellany’ is the title of his latest output, which is an eclectic collection of stories related to his native place though having a much wider appeal than the title might suggest.
Inevitably there’s a strong GAA element in this book with Lorrha’s eight All Ireland senior hurling medallists profiled, the newest member of that elite club being ‘Bonner’ Maher. There’s also a section detailing other hurlers of note from the parish who made an impact but never managed to earn a Celtic Cross. For a small rural parish Lorrha has certainly left a disproportionate imprint on the GAA ranging from the legendary goalie, Tony Reddin, to modern-day managers like Ken Hogan and John McIntyre.
I am constantly amazed by Seamus King’s ability to research a topic – a research fellow of extraordinary capacity. From some limited experience of this area I know the pitfalls so I can easily appreciate a master of the craft. I think it’s a combination of iron discipline and an ability to distil the essentials from mountains of material. Nowhere is this more evident than in an article on the life and times of Lorrha man, Martin O’Meara VC. The pages of footnotes alone attest to the breadth of research that was undertaken to tell this particular story.
And it’s a fascinating tale of a Lorrha man who emigrated to Australia before joining the armed forces there and eventually winning fame through extraordinary deeds of bravery in the trenches of World War One. He’s one of only 1,356 people who have been awarded the Victoria Cross since it was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1854. It’s a story of unbelievable heroism, one that surely deserves to be in print.
It was drawn to one side element of the story which mentions a Rev. John Fahey from Glenough, Clonoulty, who was a Chaplin in the Australian army and who himself won the DSO for bravery in World War One (catholic priests I understand were not awarded the VC). He officiated at Martin O’Meara’s funeral in Perth. I’m told by some relatives of Fr. Fahey that when he returned home on a visit after the war he was not allowed say Mass in the local church. It was an indication of how the political climate had soured, something which Martin O’Meara also experienced on a return visit.
Aside from the GAA content, this is just one of several fascinating items found in the opening section of the book and will appeal to a wide audience. The story of the stolen railway is another. This was a spur line that traversed Lorrha, which went into disuse, was abandoned and eventually pilfered by the locals. And there are several others ranging from O’Sullivan Beare’s imprint on Lorrha to the burning of Portland House.
Spanning over 260 pages this latest output from Seamus King is amply illustrated with photographs and will find a readership far beyond the parish of Lorrha and Dorrha.
 
P.S. I’m reminded that applications are now invited for Membership of the Tipperary Supporters Club for 2013. There are the usual benefits of membership ranging from goodies like a blue and gold ski hat to car stickers as well as being in draws for championship match tickets and an All Ireland weekend at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel. Besides, and more importantly, your money aids Tipperary hurling and the membership fee of thirty euro is unchanged since 2005.
 
P.P.S. The season’s best to all readers and good wishes for 2013.

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