Westside column – November 19th 2011

Westside column – November 19th 2011

Fail to plan and you plan to fail, is an old cliché you often hear bandied about and I suppose in this winter season planning is the buzz word in GAA units all over the land. Even clubs nowadays are into winter training programmes as the inter-county model gets copied nationwide. For Declan Ryan and his team collective training is banned until January but that doesn’t prevent individual training schedules being put in place. Winter is a busy time in gyms all over the land.
For the Tipperary management next year’s playing season is going to be critical. Having inherited All Ireland champions nothing short of retaking the McCarthy cup will now satisfy the fans. The lingering glory from 2010 made last September somewhat bearable but the knives will certainly be sharpened if there’s a repeat failure in 2012. It’s high stakes then for Declan and colleagues as they ponder and plot over the winter months.
In fairness to the management taking on reigning champions was high risk because nothing short of a repeat is deemed success. What everyone will be watching now is how Declan and his colleagues react to their first season’s experience and what changes they’ll embrace for the new year. In terms of personnel there’s been little significant change thus far. Shane Maher has returned to the panel and Templederry’s Adrian Ryan has been added. Otherwise, apart from Benny Dunne’s retirement, it’s as you were for 2012, though a few have been handed winter training plans as preparation for future trials.
The return of Shane Maher is somewhat surprising. He’ll be thirty-one next April and resumes with the panel after taking a year out. He’s had quite a varied career with the county. Actually he played county football at all grades and has been in and out of the senior hurling team since 2004 when he made his league debut against Offaly. He played centre forward that day on a team that lost at Birr. It’s generally accepted that half back in his best position and ’08 was probably his finest season with Tipperary after which he was nominated for an Allstar award. Since then injuries have been unkind to him and I suspect he was disappointed to be so far down the pecking order on the 2010 panel. He can be very effective in the air. I recall him scoring a great equaliser for Burgess against Drom in this year’s county championship before his direct opponent, Seamus Callanan, denied the North team extra time with a massive point from a long-distance free.  Actually it’s amazing how close Drom were to losing that day at Templemore.
Trying to get back on board at this stage is quite a challenge for Shane and I certainly admire both his courage and enthusiasm.  Adrian Ryan is at the other end of the age spectrum, widely seen as one of the brighter sparks on last summer’s U21 team which lost to Cork. He played midfield that evening, scoring two points, and has obviously been identified as a player of some potential. I hear on the grapevine that a number of other players have also been handed winter training programmes though these are not officially on the panel and of course my list may well be incomplete. Being delivered one of these training schemes is akin to being given a sort of nod and wink –  you’re on the fringes, lad, so get ready for a possible try-out in January.
Interestingly Conor O’Brien is among this group, a name that kept cropping up all last season and whose dropping was definitely one of the more controversial moves by the new management. It’s good to see decisions being reviewed. Drom’s success in the county championship is reflected in the fact that both Johnny Ryan and David Collins have also been handed winter programmes. Johnny, ex-All Ireland minor winning goalie and man-of-the-match in the county final, has been Mr. Consistency for Drom over several seasons. David Collins too had a fine part in their county final win though some might have given the nod to David Butler instead.
Another interesting name to appear on this list is Gerry Walsh of Carrick Swans. He certainly has an impressive record in the head-to-head clashes with Eoin Kelly – I wonder if the captain suggested his name! Donagh Maher, a brother of Shane’s from Burgess, is also a winter programmer. I don’t wish to deflate these guys but the reality is that few, if any of them will make the ‘cut’ next year. Still it’s always wise to keep the panel flexible and have back-up players ready if called upon. Perhaps a worry when you look at the fringe material is the fact that physicality isn’t a prominent feature, something that many would see as essential when going hip-to-hip against the likes of Kilkenny.
Anyway the county panel is off to Lanzarote this weekend for a holiday that at one stage seemed to be in some doubt because of financial constraints. It’s not quite as exotic as the Jamaica visit last year but I suppose losing the All Ireland has to be reflected somehow in a more scaled-down break. For several of the players there’s also an upcoming Allstar trip to San Francisco at the end of this month. That event features the last two Allstar selections so Tipperary will be strongly represented. I’ve heard that Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher has been added by way of replacement to the Allstars. He deserves it.
The players may enjoy their breaks now because once they return the heavy training kicks in ahead of the January resumption of collective sessions. Once the New Year arrives it’s back to competitive action with the Waterford Crystal tournament where Tipperary face LIT to begin with and then UL if they progress to the next round. The new management had a poor start to the season last spring so I suspect they’ll look for more encouraging signs this time. The new league format presents us with fewer rounds – five against seven previously – though there is a stronger chance of making the knock-outs with the top three qualifying for semi-finals together with the division 1B winners. All of which then leads onto quite a tough championship route with Limerick at home to start with and then ‘away’ to Cork if we progress. It won’t be easy.
Incidentally our U21 management has been finalised with ex-Holycross and Tipp player, Tony ‘Tonto’ Lanigan, joining Ken Hogan and T.J. Connolly. It’s a grade where the draw has been most unkind to Tipperary. We travel to Cork for a first round – even our champion side of 2010 struggled to come out of there. Our minors have an easier opener next year: we play Kerry in a first round and then either Clare or Waterford in a semi-final. No column these weeks, it seems, would be complete without some reference to the long-running serial that is the Cashel relegation saga. Episode five was heard at Munster Council last Thursday night where the King Cormacs successfully appealed against the county CCC decision. Now Ballybacon take the case to Croke Park and the Central Hearings Committee. On and on it goes.
This entire case really is an indictment of how we run our affairs. Apparently it was claimed at some meeting or other that ‘Westside’ got some details of the case wrong. Shall I tell you folks who got things wrong? Initially the case went to county CCC who refused to adjudicate on the matter. Wrong decision, as Munster Council subsequently ruled. Then it went to County Management where the appeal was rejected on the strange grounds that no rule had been breached. Once more a wrong decision as subsequent events proved. Munster Council then directed it back to county CCC where again the appeal was rejected in favour of Ballybacon’s counter-appeal. Yet again, this time a re-constituted CCC, got it badly wrong. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!  Last week Munster Council finally told everyone that Cashel had right on their side and so we now go to the next stage as Ballybacon take the case to Croke Park.
I have no axe to grind on either side of this particular debate but it does seem to me that there was reluctance at County Board level to accept the basic facts of the case. There is a county regulation which specifies that relegation games should not include extra-time and clearly that regulation was breached in this case. All this argy-bargy about who said what at the end of normal time and whether teams were forced to play extra-time or whether they volunteered is, in a sense, irrelevant. Extra time is not part of relegation – and for very good reasons given the seriousness of what’s at stake for clubs. So episode six of the saga now takes the case to Croke Park. Pending the outcome of that the remaining relegation games have been provisionally fixed by County CCC. Dream on guys!
One’s natural sympathy is with the South club who won the extra time and celebrated what they felt was a famous win. If they lose at Croke Park and refuse to play the game then what happens? Will they be relegated by default? There would hardly be much justice in that course of action. Of course the simple, unavoidable solution at this stage is to set aside relegation for the year and learn the lessons from this entire fiasco. So far that outcome is being stubbornly resisted. In the meantime clubs like Cashel and Ballybacon expend energy and resources traipsing around the country in a ping-pong game of appeal and counter-appeal. It’s about time the Board put an end to all this nonsense and embraced the only solution available.
Finally former county secretary, Tommy Barrett, launched his memoir last weekend, a book charting fifty years of GAA memories. His decades of involvement as county secretary made him something of an institution in Tipperary and inevitably there will be widespread interest in this production. I haven’t had time to do more than a cursory flick through the pages but hope to give it more detailed treatment in the weeks ahead.
On a flick through one item caught my attention: his all-time Tipperary team. It’s one I think will enliven many a fireside, even pub-stool, debate over the winter nights. Two of the present team feature with Paul Curran at number four and Eoin Kelly at thirteen. Cormac Bonnar at full forward will be debated too I’m sure. Nicky English I suppose was automatic – he’s placed at fifteen. Many of the other names I suppose would be automatic too from Reddin in goal, Doyle at corner back, Jimmy Finn at wing, Tony Wall at centre and Tommy Doyle at number seven. Mick Maher at full might be contested by some. Midfield has Mick Roche and Theo English while the half forward line features Jimmy Doyle, Mick Ryan (Roscrea) and Liam Devaney. As I said an interesting selection with Cormac Bonnar ahead of Declan Ryan, for example, and no Tony Brennan, the man Barrett defeated to become county secretary back in the sixties. No better man than Tommy to stir debate.

 

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