Westside Column 23 November 2018

 

WESTSIDE

 

Tipperary’s record in Munster and All Ireland club championships is increasingly coming under the spotlight – and it makes for grim reading.

Unfortunately Boherlahan/Dualla failed to improve the stats on Saturday last when going out to Cork’s Cloughduv in a Munster semi-final. A poor start by the Tipperary junior champions proved decisive.

Earlier in the month our colleague in The Nenagh Guardian, Shane Brophy, tweeted the following: “Tipp’s last 15 reps in the 6 Munster club competitions (senior, intermediate and junior, hurling & football) have won just two games”. That was posted on November 5. He could now upgrade the figures with two more losses as Ballylooby/Castlegrace bowed out of the junior football, to be followed by Boherlahan in the hurling. Junior ‘B’ isn’t included here because it has yet to receive the Croke Park imprimatur.

The figures are dismal for a hurling county especially. (Ironically our last Munster club title was Clonmel Commercial’s great football win of 2015). This junior ‘A’ hurling series began in 2001 and Moyle Rvs. in 2007 stand in splendid isolation as the only Tipperary team ever to win a Munster title in the grade. We still await a first All lreland in the competition. Compare that to Kilkenny with seven All Irelands and Cork with five and the imbalance becomes even more glaring.

The bleakness isn’t confined to junior ‘A’ hurling. The intermediate grade began in Munster in 2003 and the following year Kiladangan went all the way to All Ireland glory, beating Carrickshock in the final. Silvermines added a Munster title in 2012 and that’s the extent of our success at intermediate level. By contrast Cork has six Munster crowns and Kilkenny have six All Irelands. We’re not part of the traditional holy trinity when it comes to club championships.

The senior hurling stats are similarly cheerless. Here Galway clubs have won thirteen All Irelands, Kilkenny are on eleven with Cork on nine. Even Offaly (Birr) on four titles are ahead of Tipperary on a paltry three wins, the last being Borrisoleigh’s in the 1986/87 season. Clonoulty’s poor showing against Na Piarsaigh this year adds to the sense of a Tipperary championship that is inferior to our main rivals.

It has taken these club championships some time to bed-in and gain public acknowledgment but as they’ve grown in prominence Tipperary’s poor showing is increasingly being highlighted. It puts the focus firmly on our club structures and in particular the need for some realignment. Put simply our grading system in Tipperary is out of kilter.

Attempts to address this situation have had a very blotchy history. It was often a case of one step forward followed by two backwards. The net effect is that we still have a top-heavy system which is out of line with much of the rest of the country.

If outside consultants were asked to look at our system and produce a blueprint for improvement I’ve no doubt they’d suggest a major reconfiguration. It’s reasonable to regard the sixteen-team Dan Breen competition as our senior championship, which should be cut free from divisional ties.

Thereafter the Seamus O’Riain Cup needs relabeling as intermediate with the winners going forward to Munster. The remaining tiers then could be graded into junior ‘A’ and ‘B’ depending on results.

What are the prospects for change? On past history it’s more likely we’ll blunder along with the odd bit of tweaking here and there but nothing like the major overhaul that’s required. Too often it seems we get hung up on labels and insignificant details. Thus the Seamus O’Riain teams will see the rebranding of the competition to intermediate as a downgrading and will stubbornly resist the move. The divisions too will fight any perceived weakening of their role. Self-interest dominates and very few take a global perspective on the issue.

Anyway back to Boherlahan’s exit from the Munster series. The result was certainly conclusive and in these situations you have to simply raise your hands and acknowledge that the better team advanced to the Munster final. The Cork champions got away to a flier and we spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. It was a chase that was simply beyond the team though there was nothing lacking in the second half effort by the pursuers.

We knew in advance that this Cork team tends to start well in every game. In their county final they had a goal after about thirty seconds and here they were doing a reprise in Boherlahan. In hindsight maybe we should have packed that defence for the opening minutes but as ever it’s easy to be wise afterwards.

With that goal and the strong wind at their backs Cloughduv dominated the first quarter before Boherlahan eventually gained a bit more traction and went in eight behind at half time. In fairness they made a bold second half bid, paring the lead back to five at one stage. One sensed that a goal was needed and when it never came the Cork champs always had enough in reserve.

It’s disappointing but in the overall scheme it takes little from the year’s main achievement. It’s been a memorable turnaround season for the club and the ‘B’ side still has a Munster series to contest in the New Year. Eamon Kelly and Conor Gleeson certainly worked the oracle in transforming the fortunes of the club. It was a pleasure to be part of it all.

Meanwhile the Munster final in Thurles produced a major upset with favourites, Na Piarsaigh, well off requirements against a bouncy, ebullient Ballygunner. It was quite a turnaround from last year’s final – a fourteen point swing in fact from an eight-point defeat to a six-point win. Amazingly it was a first ever Munster reversal for the Limerick champions who had a perfect four coming into Sunday.

I’m pleased for Ballygunner. They won the title back in 2001 but lost eight finals over the years including two to Na Piarsaigh. So often the bridesmaids, this was a victory for persistence.

It’s a result that sees the Waterford champs installed as favourites for the All Ireland, ahead of St. Thomas’s of Galway and Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny. That’s quite a sudden elevation and managing expectations will now be a major job for Fergal Hartley and company. No Waterford side has ever won this title; in fact De La Salle in 2008/09 and Mount Sion in 1981/82 were the only Deise champions ever to make the final.

Speaking of this club championship reminds me of a story currently on the grapevine regarding Cuala, winners of the last two finals. Their manager from those wins, Mattie Kenny, is the new Dublin boss replacing Pat Gilroy. But who will replace Kenny at Cuala? Would you believe William Maher of Ballingarry? The man who at one stage was in pole position to replace Michael Ryan is, I’m told, poised to be announced as the new manager of the Dublin club. Brian Horgan is reportedly on the ticket too as coach. Gossip or gospel? Time will tell. If true it’s a tough gig for the Ballingarry man because success will be measured in All Irelands alone.

Meanwhile Liam Sheedy has made his first major statement of intent with the announcement of his forty-man panel for winter training. Not surprisingly he leans heavily on the U21 winners with no fewer than a dozen from Liam Cahill’s team being called to arms. It’s sensible. If you’re looking for emerging talent then a generation that possesses minor and U21 medals must surely be your first port of call.

The onus will fall on the new strength and conditioning coach to develop these lads who obviously have some distance to travel to be ready for the rigours of senior inter-county. The new S & C guy, Ceirbre O Caireallan, (glad I’m not pronouncing his name!) is a Belfast native with a masters in sports science from UL and significant experience with different teams. He worked with Australian Rules side Adelaide Crows as well as spending time at Arsenal football club. He previously worked with the Limerick minors as well as a number of clubs in the county. He fills a role that has a lot of emphasis placed on it nowadays.

There were some surprises when Liam Sheedy named his winter panel. U21 goalie, Barry Hogan, was included but omitted were two of last year’s ‘keepers – Darragh Mooney and Paul Maher (Moyne). It’s been a strange rollercoaster for the Annacarty man particularly. He was fancied by many to be the starting goalie against Limerick in last year’s championship but Brian Hogan got the nod instead and he has since established himself as number one. It’s an unforgiving position where there’s no margin for error – you can go from hero to zero in an eye blink.

Interestingly players like Paul Maher (Kilsheelan), Paudie Feehan (Killenaule) and John Meagher (Loughmore) are on the county football panel when some might have expected to see their names on Sheedy’s list. Whether this was a choice made by the players or whether they were overlooked by the hurling manager is unclear – I suspect it was the latter.

Clonoulty’s county final win has obviously helped the promotion of Conor Hammersley to the county panel. He was recently named the TippFM club player of the year so his consistently high standards have drawn attention. It’s deserved. He joins club mate Dillon Quirke. As always this is a starting panel but not one cast in stone – expect plenty of adjustment throughout the season.

Finally, as ever the U21 hurling grade gets the rawest of deals being consigned to the back end of the year. The West put on its ‘A’ final last Sunday with Clonoulty pointing their way to a deserved, if unimpressive win over Cashel K.C. Cappawhite Gaels were too strong for Kickhams in the ‘B’. The other divisions have some ground to make up.

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