Westside column – January 21st 2012

The pre-season warm-up continued last Sunday when Leinster club champions, Coolderry, crossed the Offaly border to visit Cloughjordan. A nippy, breezy afternoon saw Tipperary go from two-down at half time to seven-up by the end of another useful workout.
The preliminaries over, the action now steps up a notch next Sunday with the first competitive game of the year. Waterford Crystal action brings LIT to Dolla where Tipperary will hope to continue the winning trend.
January has certainly accommodated teams returning to action after the ‘closed’ season. Another crisp day at the home of Kilruane MacDonagh’s and another chance for Declan Ryan and company to view his panellists, and in particular the fringe players trying to impress the management. A fair crowd turned up too prompting one board officer to quip that they should have charged admission. Indeed.
Once more the occasion was used to run-out several of the aspiring players. Only Shane McGrath of the All-Ireland team started, this time in an unusual centre forward role. The defence too had an unusual aspect to it with James Barry corner back beside David Young at full and Gerry Walsh on the left. John Coghlan filled the pivotal centre back spot flanked by Donagh Maher and Thomas Stapleton. Darren Gleeson kept goal for the entire game.
Midfield too was experimental with Johnny Ryan and Stephen Lillis. On the half forward line Shane McGrath was flanked by David Collins and Pat Kerwick. The inside line began with Pa Bourke, Brian O’Meara and Timmy Hammersley.
Against the wind in the first half this formation was second best to the Offaly men. Tipp had an early goal from ‘Feisty’ Kerwick but the preponderance of play and possession was with the Leinster men thereafter. But for a string of wasteful wides they’d have built a more commanding interval lead than the two point margin.
Tipperary reshaped forces for the resumption. David Young and Gerry Walsh were withdrawn from the defence with Thomas Stapleton going full and Conor O’Brien and Shane Maher coming on at corner and wing respectively. A new midfield pair was introduced: Brendan Maher and James Woodlock. Collins and Kerwick were withdrawn from the attack with Shane Bourke and Eoin Kelly coming in. Then during the second half Adrian Ryan went in for Pa Bourke and Paul Curran for Thomas Stapleton.
With the wind in their backs and a slightly strengthened team Tipperary upped the ante enough to push clear of the club side in the second half. ‘Buggy’ O’Meara set up Hammersley for our second goal and even though Coolderry got one back the flow of points was liberal enough to carry Tipp to a comfortable margin, 2-22 to 1-18.

Overall there was nothing spectacular to report. Perhaps the most promising individual display came from Donagh Maher at wing back who again showed signs of potential; one point at the end of an up-field surge was a particular highlight in the second half. James Barry had quite a confident game too though corner back hardly seems the optimum position for one who’s often considered loose at wing. John Coghlan had a strong game at centre back. The arrival of Eoin Kelly certainly increased scoring options in attack where substitutes Shane Bourke and Adrian Ryan clipped over a few. Timmy Hammersley ended on 1-2.
After two Sundays of ‘friendly’ action I suppose the strongest impression one gets is that the supplementary material available to Declan Ryan is quite limited. Come the big days of summer and very few of those in action at Cloughjordan will be on the first fifteen. Many of these trialists are effectively competing for panel places rather than starting roles on a championship side.
Next Sunday should see an increase in tempo as the team takes on LIT in the Waterford Crystal at Dolla. Given the fact that the league doesn’t start until late February a decent run in this competition would indeed be welcome. Last year we exited to WIT in a game played at Clonmel and its four years since we won the competition so progress this time would be helpful.
It will be interesting to see what line-out is chosen for the job. College students are out of bounds so that immediately reduces the options. I presume we’ll opt for a mixture of regulars and fringe players. Going totally experimental would make little sense but on the other side you do want to give further exposure to the extended panel. It then becomes a balancing act where you use up to half of the All-Ireland side supplemented by others.
With Davy Fitzgerald in charge and the Fitzgibbon cup upcoming you’d expect LIT to be well focused at this stage. John O’Keeffe is the only Tipperary name on their panel now that Seamus Callanan is out injured. In this case the Rossmore man has two managers to impress. Joe Canning is also listed as an LIT player so it will be interesting to see if he’s on board for Sunday.
This competition has the potential to keep Tipperary active for the coming weeks so I’d expect the management to be keen enough in its approach. The winners on Sunday play UL a fortnight later in the quarter-finals of the competition and for the semi-finals onFebruary 12 there’s the possibility of meeting Cork. Wouldn’t that be an ideal lead-in to the start of the league because competitive games are always more useful than ‘friendlies’.
Not even leukaemia, it seems, can moderate the views of one Ger Loughnane who returned to the limelight last week with those ‘Irish Daily Star’ interviews. As brash and brazen as ever, Ger has a lash at several targets. It’s great to have him back though – weren’t things so dull in his absence.
Ger returns to ‘The Sunday Game’ panel this year and I can imagine a slightly strained atmosphere when he teams up once again with the lads. Come to think of it I wonder how RTE will react to some of his comments about the programme – not to mention the unnamed reporter from the station who asked for an interview just as he was commencing his course of chemotherapy.
Anyway Ger would prefer to watch ‘Columbo’ than ‘The Sunday Game’ following last year’s qualifier between Galway and Clare when, he claims, the panel ‘were pumping Galway up to the limit’ while there wasn’t a word about Clare being ‘putrid’. It was enough to send Ger scrambling for the remote to switch channels. This year, no doubt, Ger will come to the rescue of the programme with his own individual brand of incisive assessment.
On the upcoming championship Ger has equally trenchant views, especially in his assessment of Tipperary. ‘They’re way over-rated’, says Ger, who concludes that Tipperary haven’t a chance of beating Kilkenny in 2012. The victory of 2010 is put down entirely to Liam Sheedy and his management team and then he gets even more specific: ‘Tipp need a new goalkeeper, a whole new right side to their defence, a new centre back … their two midfielders – you can forget about them after what happened in the All-Ireland .. the half forward line was wiped out completely … Eoin Kelly’s legs aren’t what they were …. and neither are Lar Corbett’s’.
There you have it, an entirely new Tipperary team needed if we’re to have a chance in 2012. It’s headline grabbing stuff which has become the hallmark of the same Ger over the years. I can imagine the hackles being raised in some sensitive quarters, though personally I take it for its amusement quality. It’s entertainment rather than hurling assessment, over-the-top hyperbole designed for shock impact.
Might I suggest that Declan Ryan have the offending piece laminated and displayed in the Tipperary dressing room on appropriate occasions during the season. Great teams always have a new motivation each year, according to Ger. Well, here’s Tipperary’s. Thank you Ger.
On a more serious note Loughnane identifies Dublin as the main threat to Kilkenny this year. Here he becomes more logical and rational in his commentary. Any look-ahead to the 2012 championship would have to factor in the Dubs as serious contenders. If they get their injured players back to supplement what they produced last year then they must surely be reckoned with.
Actually I feel the 2012 season has the potential to be the most open and exciting for many years. Undeniably there is the Dublin factor but also I suspect Kilkenny are not quite the fearsome force they were in the past. The retirement of Eddie Brennan and yet another enforced lay-off by Shefflin does diminish the side. They still deserve respect as the foremost power in the game but somehow they now seem more beatable than in the past. (Actually it was ungracious of Loughnane not to acknowledge that Tipperary was the only county to successfully challenge the Kilkenny dynasty and in the process do hurling generally a major service).
So with Kilkenny becoming more beatable, Dublin getting closer, Tipperary still hanging in there (hopefully) and others getting a bounce factor from new managements we can surely look forward to a reinvigorated championship.
P.S. Who is Columbo? Well, you need to be of a certain vintage to know that he was a one-eyed, slovenly dressed cop from the American TV series. Probably has Clare ancestry.

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