Westside Column 27 April 2018

WESTSIDE

With the dust by now well settled on the league defeat and the inter-county scene in abeyance for a month it’s probably an opportune time to reflect on Tipperary’s whereabouts in the grand scheme of things.

Understandable negativity surrounded that league defeat. It was hard to swallow. Losing to such a new-look Kilkenny side had a tiresome familiarity about it, a sense that nothing changes in our rivalry with the ‘cats’.

Yet on mature reflection, as the politician once said, the outlook is not as bleak as we might have feared.  Perspective is needed, so this week the focus is on accentuating the positives as we anticipate a novel Munster campaign commencing with a visit to Limerick on May 20.

To begin, comparisons with last year are entirely false. Last year’s league final defeat to Galway represented a catastrophic systems failure throughout the team. Losing a national final by sixteen points was humiliating and we never properly recovered from that blow.

It was even more damning because we had a strong team on duty that day featuring thirteen of the starting fifteen which won the All Ireland seven months earlier; ‘Bonner’ Maher, who came on as a substitute, and Seamie Callanan were the notable absentees on the starting line-out.

This year’s league final was entirely different. We had a new-look right flank to the defence in Alan Flynn and Barry Heffernan; an experimental midfield with Seamus Kennedy beside Brendan Maher; a forward division with final debutants, Billy McCarthy and Willie Connors, and featuring only John McGrath from the 2016 attack.

Expect a vastly different line-out when we face Limerick on May 20, so the league loss has to be seen in the context of a team missing most of its forward power especially.

Indeed the game itself bore no similarity to the previous year’s collapse against Galway. The first half was quite positive from a Tipperary perspective, leading by two at half time. The instant goal from Walter Walsh on resuming was unfortunate and could (should?) have been cancelled by John O’Dwyer five minutes later.

That’s not to camouflage our inadequacies in the second half but simply to give a more rounded perspective on the sequence of events. Not matching Kilkenny’s passionate intensity was one of the most annoying aspects but it’s not unreasonable to speculate on a different outcome if we had more first-choice forwards available.

Continuing the positive vibe is the news that the walking wounded are getting back to full health. Dan McCormack and Noel McGrath are back competing with their clubs; Seamie Callanan has resumed contact training; ‘Bonner’ and his hamstring problem is advancing slower but he too is making progress; Joe O’Dwyer is back starring with Killenaule.

All these returnees are going to alter the landscape considerably ahead of the championship. There will still be problematic areas, such as full back, but here’s the key point: if we’re winning collisions further afield then number three becomes less of an issue. And in fairness to James Barry on big days at Croke Park he has never let the side down.

With all hands on deck the management will face some tricky choices. Imagine a full forward line of Callanan, Forde and John McGrath, in whatever sequence; and a half line of Noel, ‘Bonner’ and Dan. Is there no room for Breen? Or ‘Bubbles’? Perhaps Dan at midfield and Breen or ‘Bubbles’ on the half line? And Niall O’Meara is chomping at the bit too and Sean Curran was a first-choice all spring. With all players hitting form that’s potentially the strongest forward division in the country, complete with reserve options.

At midfield we do need a companion for Brendan Maher. Surely Cathal Barrett will return to the defence but who will he displace? Surely not Alan Flynn who’s been the main find from the league series. Where does Seamus Kennedy fit in? Does Barry Heffernan hold the number five slot? What about Joe O’Dwyer? Can Donagh Maher reclaim a spot in the full line?

When you string it all together there is huge potential in the side, it’s simply a matter of getting the best formation and having players at peak form. Not surprisingly the bookies have Tipperary listed as second favourites (3/1) to win the All Ireland, just marginally behind Galway (11/4) and still a step ahead of Kilkenny (4/1). It will be a major turn-up if the eventual winner doesn’t emerge from that trio.

So heads up, let’s pump up the positives rather than dwelling on that league reversal. The competition for places on the panel is so intense that there’s no room for Tossy Hamill, Tom Fox, Conor Kenny and Paul Shanahan, all of whom have been cut loose. Paddy Cadell and Lyndon Fairbrother were also been released though they were only on the fringes anyway and will surely have other opportunities. Interestingly Dillon Quirke has held his place in the official 36.

Meanwhile the county-free zone that is April is progressing quite well, in my estimation, despite all the scorn that some pundits like to pour on the idea. I find Colm O’Rourke quite tiresome at this stage. It’s as if he condemned this development at the start and now wants to cobble together any scraps of evidence to justify his hard line position. Even his treatment of the new Director General, Tom Ryan, has been despicable. The man isn’t in the job a wet week and already he’s acted as judge, jury and executioner on one who apparently isn’t visionary enough for O’Rourke. You get more of the same from Joe Brolly.

Every county is different and I suppose we can only accurately judge on our own experience hereabouts where the club championship has certainly generated momentum and will continue to do so ahead of next week’s games.

There are attractive fixtures all over the county next weekend. Down South St. Mary’s get a chance to put their stamp on the championship when they face Killenaule in a semi-final at Fethard on Sunday. It’s a case of the old versus the new. Killenaule are no strangers to South titles and won’t wish to be turned over by the new boys on the block from Clonmel. Should be an interesting one with, perhaps, Killenaule’s experience shading it. Mullinahone await in the final.

In the West it’s a once-off final between the last two senior sides still standing in the division. Eire Og and Clonoulty have been sharing out the divisional honours between them now for some time and this is just the latest installment.

Not since its inaugural year in 1930 has the West featured just two senior sides. Back then Clonoulty were too strong for Solohead. This time they’ll face a stiff examination against their old foes from Annacarty and Donohill. Each side has played just one county championship tie so there’s not a lot of background evidence to assess the merits of the sides in advance of this final. It tends to be down to form on the day when this pair clashes; past performance guarantees nothing.

In the Mid there are two big fixtures likely to draw the crowds. Sarsfields and Upperchurch is a repeat of last year’s final, one which the ‘Blues’ were lucky to shade. Interesting to see if the ‘Church can go one better this time. Loughmore and Drom/Inch will be a huge attraction also.

Up North there are quarter-finals. Toomevara will be fancied to cope with Portroe, Kilruane will be favourites against Newport and Nenagh will be tipped against Burgess. The highlight game, however, should be Kiladangan versus Borrisoleigh. Kiladangan look like a useful side this year and Borris’ will have it all to do to protect their North title.

Finally the Munster senior hurling and football championships will be officially launched next Monday night at Bunratty Folk Park, County Clare. Tipperary will be represented but the football management has decided to boycott the event in protest at the bringing forward by one week of a likely Munster semi-final clash with Cork.

Our footballers kick off their Munster campaign against Waterford at the Stadium on Saturday May 19. The bookies have them listed at 1/33 odds-on favourites for that game, so on all known form they’ll be expected to progress to a provincial semi-final date with Cork, which is also scheduled for the Stadium.

That game was originally earmarked for Sunday June 3 but with the Tipperary versus Waterford hurling fixture also scheduled for that day in Limerick there was an obvious clash that needed resolving. Different solutions were mooted such as playing the football match on bank holiday Monday, June 4, but this was not acceptable to the counties.

It’s my understanding that Cork agreed initially to have the game put back a week but the Tipp management played hardball and so the Munster competitions control committee fixed the game for Saturday May 26. In response Liam Kearns has been in the media giving out about the one-week turnaround between quarter and semi-final and in protest announcing their boycott of the launch next Monday.

It’s a silly action by the football management. If you’re not flexible in a crux then there’s little point whinging when a fixture is imposed. The Tipp manager has undoubtedly made huge progress with the team but there are times when one gets the sense that he likes lining up excuses ahead of a game, just in case things go wrong. Last year the tactic was to constantly reference the players who were missing, now it’s the fact that they have two games just a week apart.

They beat Cork in the league, should have taken them in last year’s championship at Pairc Ui Rinn, and have every possibility this year of doing the business at the Stadium. Go for it – and stop griping.

 

 

 

 

 

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