Westside Column 6 July 2018


At a time when we’re still hurting over a short-lived senior season, it’s wonderful to see the under-age teams lift the mood.

Tommy Dunne’s minors have endured their share of ups and downs, but it all came good on Sunday with that resounding win over Limerick. Provincial title number forty was sweet; if the U21s could somehow repeat the trick at Cork midweek then the year’s complexion would suddenly look a lot sunnier.

Isn’t it a funny old game where fortunes can sway so rapidly? Limerick is a case in point. A few weeks back they were riding the crest of a hurling wave. Their teams could do no wrong, seniors and minors seemed primed for Munster finals and the U21s were off to a flier in the defence of their All Ireland title.

Now suddenly all’s changed. Their seniors came a cropper to Clare sending John Kiely and company back to that old proverbial drawing board. A visit to Dr. Cullen Park next weekend for a preliminary quarter-final against Colm Bonnar’s McDonagh Cup winners, Carlow,  should help the rehabilitation process.

Their U21 fate was more dramatic. Having, in the words of Anthony Daly, ‘hockeyed’ Clare in their first outing at Ennis it all came apart last week at the hands of Liam Cahill’s finely tuned formation in the semi-final. Then our minors delivered another body blow on Sunday last, emphatically reversing the first round result between the sides back on May 20.  Suddenly the green tide has ebbed significantly. Such is the way of the world, the hurling world especially.

That minor win has certainly lifted Tipperary spirits and helped ease the pain of the senior demise. Coming the week after the U21 victory the combined effect has re-energized the county. Keeping the supply lines in robust health is an obvious priority so there’s understandable applause for the work of our underage management teams.

It has been a curious, yo-yo season for these U17 players. They got off to a bad start against Limerick back in May and tended to alternate the good and bad over subsequent games. The Waterford match was probably the most traumatic with a hefty lead being coughed up on the home straight. Management took a hit on that one, though they refocused the team admirably for the Clare game where a late push got the job done.

The round robin system has certainly been a help to Tipperary in this regard. Back in the day that first round defeat to Limerick would have been it – kaput! Indeed the previous system with its second-chance was useful too. Remember we lost the opening round to Waterford in 2016 before regrouping for ultimate All Ireland glory. Even back in 2006 with that sprinkling of future senior stars on board we still fell to Cork in Munster before again regrouping for September acclaim. Previous generations weren’t so lucky.

The minor class of 2018 has certainly been on a learning curve, which is an essential process in this grade. They’ve learned a few harsh lessons along the way and I’ve no doubt it stood to them on Sunday. They needed concentrated effort throughout to build that interval lead before Mikey O’Shea’s goal then put the seal on the outcome heading into the final phase.

Johnny Ryan was a popular captain who had the honour of accepting the trophy on what was an historic occasion with the grade dropping to seventeen for the first time. (Before the tweets start I know there was an U17 competition last year but the official minor grade was still U18 in 2017).

The team captain follows an interesting West Tipp tradition. He’s the first Munster winning captain from the division since Bansha’s, David Morrissey, back in 2003. Now there’s an interesting player recall. The Galtee Rovers man won three Munster medals, captaining the side in his final year. Unluckily there wasn’t an All Ireland win in those years. He was a precocious talent, also playing county minor football and, unfortunately, serves as a classic example of the effects of early burn-out. You’d hope that players are protected better these days.

Anyway back to Captain Johnny Ryan. He’s the first from Arravale Rvs. to captain a Munster minor winning side since John O’Donoghue back in 1960.  It’s not a bad lineage to be maintaining, is it? Unfortunately for goalie, O’Donoghue, he was hit for seven goals by Kilkenny in the All Ireland final so there was no happy ending to the season. He was, however, on the winning team the previous year in what was our last minor success for almost two decades.

Hopefully Johnny Ryan can go one better this time. One notes that Dublin hit Kilkenny for a goal rush in the Leinster final at the weekend so they’re going to be part of this minor narrative too. And of course, as always, Galway are perennial contenders.

For the moment we can only congratulate these minors and their mentors on a resounding win. I’m sure there was particular glee around Knockavilla with cousins, Aaron and Devon, playing important roles in the success. Granddad, Eamon, will be beaming – and why not.

Meanwhile the Browne’s will, no doubt, be off to Cork during the week to watch Ger and his U21 colleagues try to follow the minor lead. Their commanding win over Limerick certainly drew notice though now they face a really stiff one against the high-flying rebels.

This is a provincial title Tipperary hasn’t claimed since 2010; Cork’s last hurrah was in 2007. In the meantime the likes of Clare, Limerick and Waterford have dominated the grade.  Underage hurling has proven problematic for Cork in recent years but they’ll be hopeful of a turnaround here. The county is in bubbly mood following their win last Sunday and with senior stars like Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Robbie O’Flynn to call on they’ll be difficult to beat.

Liam Cahill depends mainly on the minor class of 2016 to backbone the effort and following their superb display against Limerick in the semi-final hopes are high in Tipperary also.  Cork are slight favourites in the betting, 8/13 against 13/8, so it promises to be a cracking game at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Good luck to them.

Meanwhile the fate of Michael Ryan and his management team remains undecided. No doubt there are lots of discussions proceeding in the background and one assumes that a decision is in the offing. There’s definitely nothing to be gained by prolonged uncertainty.

It’s a major decision for the manager so I’m sure he’s done plenty mulling over the pros and cons. A fact not often acknowledged is that managing this Tipperary panel isn’t easy. I suppose it’s never easy with any team, but Tipperary seem to present particular difficulties. We seem to swing to extremes from brilliance to brittleness so finding an even keel is always problematic.

One can’t be specific here, for obvious reasons, but there are problem players that make a manager’s job particularly trying. We have a few highly talented but troublesome individuals on the panel who present specific challenges. Then there are a few egos that need managing or massaging as the case may be. The big majority, of course, are exemplary but it only takes a few to sour the atmosphere.

Anyway hopefully we won’t have long more to wait for a decision on management.

In the meantime the All Ireland series is revving up as the summer progresses. I slightly fancied Clare last weekend and that view seemed well justified up to half time. What happened thereafter will be central to the Banner’s post-mortem this week. The simplistic analysis suggests that Cork found their man, Colm Spillane, to quell John Conlon and everything flowed from that. I disagree. Clare’s problems were far more widespread once Cork hit form. These swings rarely come down to just one particular duel.

In the other big game of the weekend Galway and Kilkenny slugged it out at Croke Park in something of an arm wrestle – certainly a game of few frills. The ‘cats’ haven’t gone away, you know, and if Cody masterminds another winning side from present resources then it will probably be his greatest feat of all.

I still fancy Galway to come through in the replay though last week’s experience must have sown a seed or two of doubt in their minds. It will be fascinating to watch.


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