A major revamp of the club scene in Tipperary is underway with new structures kicking in this year as part of a four-year project. The ultimate aim is to cut the number of senior hurling sides so relegation will be a major bogey man for the next four years with two teams dropping status each season.

The background to all this can be traced to 2008 and a special County Convention which voted heavily to abolish relegation entirely. The aim was to empower clubs with self regulation but, in truth, it was a disastrous move. A free-for-all followed so that in 2008 alone the number of senior teams increased from twenty-four to twenty-nine; by 2011 the number of senior sides was thirty-two – and rising.

Action was needed so relegation was reborn in 2011. It would prove a difficult birth with controversy dogging the process before Ballybacon eventually saved the Board’s blushes by voluntarily taking the drop after a protracted entanglement with Cashel K.C. and Borrisokane. Since then the West has lost Aherlow and Golden\Kilfeacle and is likely to be at risk of further reduction this year.

It has created quite a lopsided picture in the county with the North division now having fourteen senior sides – seven of the last ten county intermediate winners have come from the North. The Mid has eight clubs and is surely the strongest division with Loughmore, Sarsfields and Drom all in the mix. The West and South have five senior sides apiece and will worry about any further reduction in their numbers.

Anyway the new system divides the county’s thirty-two teams into two tiers of sixteen apiece. This divide-up is based on championship results in 2013. In each case the sixteen will then be divided into four groups of four where teams will play a round robin series of games.  The top two from each group in the top tier go forward to preliminary county quarter-finals where they will be joined by the four group winners from tier two as well as the four divisional champions. Incidentally the divisional championships will be played on a knock-out basis with a losers group.

It’s quite an intricate system so I’m only giving a skeletal outline here. Relegation will come from the tier two teams – or Roinn 2 as they’re officially called. The bottom team in each of the four groups will play-off two relegation games with the losers dropping to intermediate. Clearly the make-up of the groups is going to be crucial and obviously clubs will be eagerly awaiting that draw next Monday night. The impasse over the status of Aherlow/Lattin has delayed matters.

This convoluted system will continue until 2018 when a review will take place. It’s difficult to argue with the need to reduce senior numbers though that will be little consolation to those at risk.

One of the benefits of being senior is that it generates a great buzz around this time of year as training resumes, often under the baton of a new manager/coach who has been recruited by the club. The traffic in club managers is hectic during the winter months because many clubs see it as essential to get an outsider to guide their fortunes in the upcoming season.

All of this, of course, costs money with coaches typically getting around one hundred euro per session. Depending on the length of season that can mount up to anywhere between seven and ten thousand in the year. It’s a lot of cash and in many cases there is little tangible result by the end of season. The lotto remains the biggest source of funds to meet such an outlay.

A number of high profile appointments have been publicised in recent weeks with county boundaries nowadays being no obstacle to such activities. St. Mary’s in Clonmel will certainly regard it as something of a coup to have captured ex-Waterford boss, Michael Ryan, for the coming season. His controversial removal from the Waterford job last year was widely regarded as extremely harsh.

Also leaving Waterford is the Tipperary duo of Colm Bonnar and Andy Moloney following their spat with Ballygunner. They take up appointment with Henry Sheflin’s Ballyhale Shamrocks in Kilkenny. It’s a high-profile appointment though it carries a heavy onus because Shamrocks will have big ambitions.

Within Tipperary Drom/Inch will have ambitions too after a disappointing 2013. They’ve parted company with Waterford man, Sean Prendergast, and will this time be coached by Cork native Declan Fitzgerald who first came to prominence with the Limerick minors who reached the All Ireland decider in 2005. Their near rivals, Sarsfields, will also want to forget 2013 and in their bid for restoration they’ve changed management, though staying in-house with Tommy Maher and Paddy McCormack taking over.

Borrisoleigh is a club with tradition and ambition in abundance too and they’ve landed a big name in Ollie Moran to do the coaching in 2014 alongside manager, Conor Stakelum. Staying in the North division the word is that Dinny Cahill will coach local in 2014 as he teams up with Vincent McKenna in a bid to resurrect Kilruane’s fortunes. Given their underage prominence in recent years they’ve certainly under-delivered at senior. Nenagh have John Fitzgerald once again coaching after their near miss in 2013.

In the West Clonoulty have recruited Holycross man Michael Ferncombe who was prominent last year with the Tipperary intermediates as well as with Borrisoleigh. Brian Flannery arrives into Cashel K.C. hoping no doubt that this coming year won’t be dominated by relegation as it has been in recent seasons. Cappawhite will be coached by Thurles man, Paddy Moore, who guided the Golden\Annacarty combo to a county final appearance in 2004. Kickhams stay in-house with an ever-passionate Paudie Slattery returning to the helm while Eire Og not surprisingly remain unchanged with Paul Sexton again in a central role.

Loughmore retain their successful management team from 2013 which is hardly surprising. Boherlahan have brought Waterford man, Pat Bennett, on board while their neighbours, Holycross, stay local with David Burke. South champions, Killenaule, probably feel there’s unfinished business after their championship exit last season – Sean O’Regan it seems will again manage their fortunes. Toomevara’s Michael Bevans stays with Upperchurch while Lorrha have Jim Williams, Roscrea with Paul Murphy (Ex-Birr), Silvermines with Michael Gleeson (Sarsfields), Brackens with Denis Kelly (Toomevara) and the list goes on and on.

For some of these managers/coaches the experience will be fruitful – for most it won’t.

Meanwhile following their quarter-final win over Kerry last weekend Tipperary host UL at Nenagh on Sunday in the Crystal semi-final. It’s a university team with Brian Lohan at the helm and plenty of Tipperary input to the panel. They beat WIT last week with a side that had Drom’s Shane Hassett in goal, Nenagh’s Daire Quinn at corner back, Kilsheelan’s Bill Maher at midfield and Templederry’s Brian Stapleton at wing forward. Jason Forde came on as a sub. With Clare likely to come through in the other semi a win for Tipperary here would set up an attractive final with the All Ireland champs. Let’s hope for it.




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