Westside Column 8 December 2017

WESTSIDE

 

In the strange world of Tipperary GAA it seems to be a case of one step forward, two steps back.

Last Thursday night’s much-anticipated meeting on championship structures produced a crazy outcome. Effectively the reforms of previous years were reversed and the divisional link reinforced. Brace yourselves, folks, for fixture chaos in 2018.

It has long been accepted that Tipperary has too many senior hurling teams. A senseless decision some years back allowed a free-for-all so our collection of senior sides ballooned into the thirties. Clearly many of these teams were senior in name only, therefore some critical realignment was needed.

Reform was eventually introduced and a gradual relegation process saw the number of senior teams being cut from thirty-two to twenty-eight over a four-year period. With most of those relegated teams struggling to survive in the lower grade you could hardly question the justness of the relegation process.

Yet amazingly – bizarrely even – last week’s meeting voted to reverse this trend. Relegation from the Seamus O’Riain Cup is now suspended for two seasons, so by 2020 we’ll be back up to thirty-two senior sides. It’s bonkers.

If bringing the Seamus O’Riain back up to sixteen teams was part of a rebranding process to introduce a premier intermediate grade then it would make sense. But that’s not on the agenda. Instead we’re heading back to the situation of four years ago; perhaps I should rephrase the opening line to read one step forward, four steps back.

The successful motion last week was sponsored by a rainbow coalition of clubs who saw off all other proposals in favour of this regressive move. You had twelve North clubs aided and abetted by Holycross, Moycarkey and Upperchurch from the Mid. It was a strong power block that eventually carried the day.

It’s a senseless yo-yo system now in the Tipperary senior hurling championship. We spent four years laboriously relegating teams and now we’ll replace them with four promoted sides over two seasons. The more we change the more we stay the same.

Another element of the successful motion reinforced the present link between divisional and county championships. Divisional winners will still qualify for a preliminary quarter final, even if they’re part of the Seamus O’Riain Cup.

Presumably in response to the Carrick Swans situation this year, however, a slight adjustment was made to the overall system. In future a team will have to win its division and the county final in order to be exempt from relegation from the Dan Breen championship. If that applied this year then Swans would have faced a relegation play-off.

Maintaining this link with the divisions is the most controversial part of the motion. It has huge implications for fixtures because the county series has to wait on the divisions to finish their business before proceeding. Even county manager, Michael Ryan, recognised the implications of this during the week, though his Upperchurch club obviously holds a different view.

This divisional link seems to be a core article of faith for some yet when you look at the reality it has rarely been of benefit to any club. Swans were the beneficiaries this year but everyone knew they had little interest in going beyond the South. No team availed of the link in 2016 because all four divisional winners had already qualified through their county groups. In was the same in 2015, so where’s the sense in maintaining a link that creates such fixtures problems and yet is rarely of use to any club?

There are anomalies too in this motion that appear to have passed unnoticed on the night. For example in 2020 relegation from the Seamus O’Riain will resume with a stipulation that “no bottom team is exempt”. So, theoretically, you could have a team winning its division, then winning the Dan Breen and still having to face a relegation play-off. Where’s the sense there?

Overall it was a disappointing night for those who see the need for major reform of our structures. The only meaningful change that has occurred in the past number of years was the decoupling of the Dan Breen and the Seamus O’Riain, effectively creating ‘A’ and ‘B’ senior championships. The next step should be to rebrand the Seamus O’Riain as a premier intermediate and that, coupled with the breaking of the divisional link, would do much to bring order to our chaotic structures.

Meanwhile back on the playing fields the U21 hurling grade as usual dominates the rear end of the season with semi-finals last weekend ahead of an eagerly anticipated final this coming Sunday at Templederry between Holycross and Kiladangan.

I saw both semis and I certainly won’t wish to miss the final, which promises to be a cracker. Kiladangan have never won this title on their own, though they sampled success in combination with Burgess back in 1970 and ’71.  For their part Holycross are going for their third title in the grade having previously taken the honours in 1978 and again in 1996.

The Mid champs will be favourites after a slick and efficient demolition of Carrick Swans at Golden on Saturday. It had drifted one-sided by the break when Holycross led by eleven; they’d eventually win by seventeen.

It was quality fare from the winners. Their movement, their touch, combination and striking was a class beyond Swans. Dara Woods went to town in the first half but they had strong performers all over. Stephen Flanagan was a major threat in attack, Brian O’Meara turned in a strong shift and Jack Skehan was excellent. Goalie Ewan Bourke has been attracting notice for some time too, he looks cool and capable and delivers a big puck to boot.

I overheard some Carrick fans being critical of their side afterwards claiming they never showed up, never competed. It was nonsense talk, they simply met a superior force and there was damn all they could do about it. Sometimes when you’re being outclassed your judgment and general anticipation is inferior so it can look as if you’re not getting up close and personal.

Not competing is something I never associate with Swans and I wouldn’t lay the charge at this team either. They were just out-hurled. They scored a mere two points from play, both credited to Dean Waters, the only forward who seemed capable of inflicting damage. Jack Cooke did well on the frees before collecting a second yellow. He might have got red on the first one, which was dangerous, but the second hardly merited any card.

The gap between Kiladangan and Clonoulty in Templetuohy on Sunday wasn’t as wide but it was still quite emphatic. There wasn’t a lot between them early on but as the second period advanced the superiority of the North champs became more pronounced. They had squandered several goal chances but eventually managed to beat David Egan who’d previously made a few fine stops. Bryan McLoughney was the goal getter; he’s a nephew of Pat McLoughney the former Tipperary goalie of the late seventies and early eighties, a double All Star winner in ’79 and ’80.

Clonoulty got a goal back when a Dillon Quirke sideline ‘cut’ seemed to go all the way but the final quarter really belonged to the North champs who hit some quality points to see the contest out, a Ciaran Kelly effort from half back among the very best; he’s the son of Laois manager, Eamon. Willie Connors played a man-of-the-match role.

Clonoulty were aggrieved at having to play twenty-four hours after winning the West but this has become something of a pattern in recent years. Last year Toomevara played Carrick Swans the day after they went to extra time in the North final versus Kilruane. It’s unsatisfactory but is regularly the fate in a grade that annually gets dumped back to the tail end of the season.

The final should be a good one. Interestingly three years ago as minors Kiladangan were winning the ‘B’ grade, so this is major progress to now be in contention in the ‘A’ U21 decider. Holycross might be a step too far but I’m certainly relishing the prospect of a final that shouldn’t disappoint.

Finally, Saturday night last we enjoyed some great entertainment at St. Patrick’s College in Thurles as Noel Dundon of our sister paper ‘The Tipperary Star’ launched his latest production called ‘Premier Legends’. It’s a follow-up to a previous book he launched a few years back called ‘Captains of the Premier Ship’ which profiled Tipperary’s winning captains.

This latest work features seventeen of the county’s legendary hurlers and is a commendable production. The career of each player is outlined in a very readable style with plenty of quotes and anecdotes enlivening the narrative. The marvelous collection of photographs included makes it extra special.

Noel’s brother-in-law, Donal Ryan, put on a veritable tour de force as master of ceremonies. He provided colourful pen-pictures of the players. It all seemed to be unscripted and just flowed from Donal with endless recall of days and deeds as each player’s career was set in context. Nenagh man, Vincent Hogan of the ‘Irish Independent’, did the official launch and in a comment on the MC suggested that Marty Morrissey needs to watch his back.

For one who’s not a fan of many of these modern player autobiographies I see great merit in Noel’s work, which has solid substance outlining careers and offering an invaluable reference source for years to come.

The book sells for just €20 and truly is an ideal Christmas present, one that all GAA followers will really relish. The fact that the proceeds are going to charity is an added recommendation.

P.S. Attendees at the book launch will know the answer to this but it might tease the brains of others for a week: what Tipperary player won an All Star hurling award in a year when he played no championship game? He’s one of Noel Dundon’s ‘Premier Legends’. Answer next week.

 

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