Westside column – February 4th 2012

Resplendent in their effeminate pink jerseys Tipperary played out quite a chivalrous charity game against the manly blues of Munster at Nenagh on Saturday last. Actually the ‘blues’ had a strong Tipperary presence too with seven of the starting provincial fifteen coming from Declan Ryan’s panel. In any event the ‘pinks’ outdid the ‘blues’ by six points, having trailed by one at the interval.

There’s a more serious agenda in store next weekend with the quarter-final of the Waterford Crystal against UL. Nenagh will again be the venue but the game has been brought forward to Saturday. That means the long-awaited, controversial relegation tie between Cashel K.C. and Ballybacon/Grange has been put back to Sunday when Clonmel will be the host venue.

A damp day at Nenagh saw a bloodless encounter between a premier selection and a premier-dominated Munster fifteen. It was more like an in-house Tipperary challenge with a few outsiders thrown into the mix to enliven matters. Not that there was much enlivenment (or enlightenment for that matter) on view for the meagre attendance who patronised the affair.

It was pretty tame stuff as you’d expect from a charity gig where nothing significant was at stake. The Munster’s led at half time thanks to a Patrick Maher goal. The tearaway from Lorrha was busy on the left flank and took a pass from Cork’s Pat Horgan to beat Darren Gleeson for the only goal of the half. John O’Brien was the only All-Ireland starter on the Tipp side and he certainly left his imprint on proceedings with three eye-catching points in that period.
The Tipperary selection definitely had the better of the second half. Timmy Hammersley led the scoring from play and frees and then his club mate, John O’Neill, put his name to the side’s only goal. It was a lodgement that could be put down as an error by goalie, Nicky Quaid, who’d replaced Donal Og Cusack at half time. The best cheer of the match came late when replacement Tipperary goalie, James Logue, denied Declan Hannon with a fine reflex save.
It was very much an experimental Tipperary side with most of our top names on duty for the province. Tipperary supplied four of the provincial defence with Paul Curran and Michael Cahill on the full line behind Conor O’Mahony and Padraic Maher on the ‘forty’. Shane McGrath was midfield while Patrick Maher and Eoin Kelly were in the attack. In the second half Brendan Maher, Gearoid Ryan and Lar Corbett all saw action with Munster.

The Tipperary side then was experimental. Darren Gleeson was fronted by Conor O’Brien, Thomas Stapleton and Gerry Walsh. I thought this was the most positive showing by Conor O’Brien since he’s been recalled. Shane Maher was centre back between John Coghlan and Stephen Lillis. At midfield we had David Young and Johnny Ryan, the latter getting through quite a lot of useful work. Our half forward line began with Pat Kerwick, Paddy Murphy and David Collins while inside we started with John O’Brien, Brian O’Meara and Timmy Hammersley.
Individually I felt the most encouraging aspect of the event was the form shown by John O’Brien. This was his first taste of game-time this year and he certainly stood out, hitting five points over the hour. Timmy Hammersley will have given Declan Ryan a few issues to ponder too as he found his scoring touch in that second half. Among the subs introduced in the second period were James Logue, Paddy Stapleton, Pa Bourke, James Woodlock and Adrian Ryan.

The action should be a tad more competitive next Saturday in the Waterford Crystal with a semi-final place at stake against UL. One assumes the management will again opt for a mix of players to do duty. Progressing in the competition is desirable because it ensures on-going competitive action in the build up to the league. One wonders, though, how the college side will approach the affair given their involvement in the Fitzgibbon midweek. The inclusion of college sides in the Waterford Crystal – and its equivalent in other provinces – is becoming problematic and surely needs to be re-examined. WIT’s drubbing by Clare last weekend highlights the issue.
A number of Tipperary players are likely to feature on the University of Limerick side also including Paddy Stapleton, Paddy Murphy and Paul Kelly. And then there’s the curious case of Padraic Maher, at present a student at UL but somehow debarred from playing with the Fitzgibbon side. His case it seems is going to a Croke Park appeal this week so, depending on the outcome there, he could be playing with UL or with Tipperary next Saturday.
It seems his case revolves around some rule relating to playing with three different third level colleges. In the past he was registered at WIT but quickly changed to Tipperary IT without having played with the Waterford college. I’m not clear on the intricacies of the case and the relevant rules but I’m sure it will all be thrashed out at Croke Park. Clearly he’d be a major capture for UL and, no doubt, there are others who look askance at such a prospect. Anyway he should know his fate during the week.

Four weeks into the new season and it appears that Declan Ryan and colleagues have decided to prune back their extended panel which contained almost forty players over the winter period. There are some interesting casualties as the management drop seven from their list including three from last year’s panel.

Probably the highest profile victim of the cull is Killenaule’s Pat Kerwick. He first sampled action with the team in 2006 in the Waterford Crystal and he’s been a regular on the panel for the past four years. He’s one of those few players who never played minor or U21 for the county and then made the senior set-up in his twenties. In ’09 he was nominated for an All Star at wing forward. He was on the subs bench for the 2010 success. An on-going injury problem did him no favours last year and he’s struggled to regain form since. He can sing too.

Also gone from last year’s panel are Nenagh’s Paddy Murphy and Stephen Lillis, Sarsfields. The Thurles man has had a more traditional route up through the grades serving time with the county minors in 2004 and the U21s in 2006 and 2007. He was also on the senior panel in ’07 and again last year but has failed to pin down a spot for the coming season. Paddy Murphy was a county minor for two years, ’07 and ’08, winning an All-Ireland medal the former year. He spent three years on the county U21 panel winning an All-Ireland in the middle year, 2010. He was viewed as a really bright prospect at one stage but has so far failed to deliver on the promise shown as an underage player.
The other four players dropped from the extended panel are Gerry Walsh (Swans), David Collins (Drom), Kieran Morris (Moycarkey) and James Barry (Upperchurch).

I suppose when some players are dropped there’s a sigh of relief from others who’ve avoided the ‘cut’ this time. Interestingly the two newcomers to stay on board are Adrian Ryan, Templederry, and Donagh Maher, Burgess. They’ve certainly shown more potential than many others so their continuation on the panel is no real surprise. Interesting also Conor O’Brien has avoided the ‘cut’ as has Timmy Hammersley, though of course in this game there’s never any guarantee for the future. Drom’s Johnny Ryan is another newcomer to keep his place for the present.
In terms of team shape I suspect there are a few areas that are concerning the management as they view their options. Clearly the right flank of defence is a worry. Paddy Stapleton may be under pressure to hold right corner and then there’s the issue of wing which drew so much criticism after last year’s All Ireland. Shane Maher has returned but it remains to be seen whether or not he can regain the impact of ’08. His brother Donagh might come into the mix and then you have John O’Keeffe, David Young and possibly Conor O’Brien and John Coghlan.
Hopefully Brendan Maher will settle into a long stint at midfield so the quest here will be for a suitable partner. The issue is interlaced with the problem of centre forward where Shane McGrath has been tried a lot in recent weeks. Gearoid Ryan, James Woodlock and possibly Johnny Ryan are other options. Actually we’re not overstocked with midfield options, which helps the case of Johnny Ryan.

Anyway these are the issues the management have to grapple with so for the rest of us it’s a waiting game to see what emerges.
For Cashel and Ballybacon the waiting however, it seems, is over. I honestly didn’t believe this game would ever happen so it will be something of a victory (and a relief) for the board if the teams finally play ball next Sunday. Given everything that’s happened it’s going to be a tense affair with a lot at stake for both teams. Public sympathy has to be with Ballybacon who celebrated a famous win only to subsequently discover that it was all in vain. Cashel’s subsequent actions angered some but in fairness they did what most clubs would do in a similar plight. In the GAA culture of our county playing senior is a badge of honour so most clubs will defend that right zealously.
While most clubs at this time of year are on a slow-burner build-up in preparation for the upcoming playing season Ballybacon and Cashel have had to hit the ground running in order to reach an immediate peak. Meanwhile Borrisokane wait on the sidelines to know their final opponents; they’ll be at a disadvantage when that final is eventually staged.

I’ve noticed on the list of transfers that Cashel have made two acquisitions from Dr. Crokes of Kerry. Turlough Bonner, Cormac’s son, played with the King Cormacs previously and he now returns. Darren O’Day is the other new signing. Given the fact that this relegation is a leftover from 2011 I wonder are they eligible to play next Sunday? Colm Bonner it seems is back guiding the King Cormacs in their hour of need. Incidentally that same transfer list reveals that Donal Shelly returns to Ballingarry after a stint with Killenaule. Anyway Philip Kelly of Ballinahinch is the appointed referee for what should be an intriguing contest.

Not for the first time the GAA is in the dock over unseemly events, this time featuring that junior football game at Portlaoise. Responses have been predictable, ranging from the outraged to those who’d like to dismiss it all as a minor tiff. Not surprisingly some papers have trawled their files for other incidents in the past and inevitably the Willie Barrett one crops up conveniently.
It strikes me that in the modern era the camera phone means there’s no place to hide anymore. In the past this would all have been dismissed as simply media exaggeration but when there’s footage of the melee being beamed all over the world denial becomes more difficult. Anyway firm, decisive action is required but, on past evidence, don’t expect it to happen.

Finally the Harty Cup moves on to semi-finals following Nenagh’s noteworthy victory over Thurles CBS at the second attempt. It was an outcome that went contrary to general expectations but maybe the Nenagh lads weren’t granted due respect after the luckless nature of the draw the previous week. Anyway they face a stiff semi-final against Ard Scoil Ris of Limerick on Sunday next at Sean Treacy Park. Should be worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity.

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