It’s that reflective time of year, sometimes referred to as the silly season, when the lack of playing activity leads people to ponder on various aspects of our sporting world. The convention season obviously facilitates such introspection with no shortage of suggestions for improvement. County secretary, Timmy Floyd, has produced his fourth annual report and the ‘Yearbook’ has hit the shelves in time for the Christmas market. There’s certainly no shortage of reading material to fill these icy winter nights.

Timmy Floyd’s report has its usual comprehensive account of the year with obvious focus on its winning points. We bask in the glory of a memorable season capped by those hurling wins at senior and U21 but also including the footballers and their historic Munster U21 triumph. There’s no shortage of material then and the county secretary hits an appropriate celebratory tone throughout.

However, he also includes comments and suggestions, which will no doubt give rise to discussion at County Convention on December 20. Our county senior hurling championship has undergone a lot of changes in the past and I suspect will be a hot topic again this time before a format is finalised for 2011. There’s dissatisfaction with the shape of our senior competition and the pressure for change is mounting.

Timmy Floyd wants relegation reintroduced as a core principle. Others would agree though there was major opposition to relegation a few years ago, opposition which eventually led to self-regulation being embraced. The hope then was that clubs would drop grade voluntarily in the knowledge that they could step up again in the future without having to win a county intermediate title. In practice what has happened is that six clubs have since stepped up to senior with nobody taking the drop. We now have thirty-two senior hurling teams in Tipperary.

With a new senior team being added each year the present system is clearly unsustainable. Timmy Floyd wants relegation to be played off on a knock-out basis among all teams who fail to win more than one game in their division. He’d play the O’Riain Cup among teams that failed to make their divisional semi-finals and, crucially, would complete the competition before the Dan Breen began. The O’Riain Cup was an embarrassment this year when it was part of the county final programme but proved a non-event when Loughmore played a shadow team because of an upcoming football fixture. Finally Timmy Floyd would play the Dan Breen Cup among the divisional semi-finalists plus a few qualifiers from the O’Riain Cup.

I suspect there will be several other suggestions before the County Board decides on a system in the New Year. Clearly there are teams playing senior at present who are well short of senior standard but finding an acceptable system won’t be easy.  The issue of relegation will be the stumbling block for many clubs who value senior status above all else.

I was interested to read in the county secretary’s report that forty new referees completed a course during November. Hopefully it will lead to enhanced standards. I would list refereeing and its associated problems as one of the main challenges facing the Association countrywide. Referees play such a crucial role in the games, in many cases effectively deciding the outcome of matches, and yet standards are, at best, variable.

You only had to look at the latter stages of our county championship to see such variation. One official made a point of strictly enforcing the hand-pass rule for example. Others ignored it or at best penalised on just a few occasions. That was just one of many examples of inconsistency.

The case of ‘Redser’ was another one that has drawn much attention in recent weeks. He was sent off in the county semi-final against Toomevara and got a two-month term. He might as well have got six months such was the severity of the penalty. His two months meant that he missed the county final as well as the Munster club series against both Kilmallock and De Le Salle. It all cost Sarsfields dearly.

Yet in the county final you had a number of very serious incidents but nobody will miss a single game as a result. So much for consistency in the application of the rules. I’m certainly not going to pose as ‘Redser’s’ defender. He deserved to be sent off and suspended but I would question the terms of a report that ensured he got two months instead of one. Okay if that was the standard all round but we all know it isn’t.

Incidentally while I’m on the ‘Redser’ case, I thought it was strange how the Munster club football final was postponed last Sunday because a small patch of the Gaelic Grounds remained frozen. Half or more of Pairc Ui Chaoimh was frozen when the hurling equivalent went ahead a few weeks back. And here’s the interesting aspect: if the hurling had been postponed like the football ‘Redser’ would be back for the refixture. It’s yet another one of the ‘what ifs’ that will haunt Sarsfields; and once more it highlights the injustice of a penalty system that is time-based rather than match-based.

With regard to those Munster club games in general Timmy Floyd suggests that they be delayed until the New Year, which would avoid the panic playing of matched to meet deadlines in October or November. This year it will be recalled that our club championship was hurried off with games played in quick succession under lights in order to be ready for Munster targets. Once again Timmy has a valid point.

On other issues too the County Secretary makes noteworthy comments. For example he has an interesting suggestion on the bottle carriers at major matches where he proposes ‘time-outs’, similar to Basketball,  to allow hydration take place. His comments arise from the situation where John ‘Hotpoint’ Hayes was banned from the sideline for the All Ireland final after too many incursions during a previous game. Incidentally his replacement, Mick Clohessy, as well as the other water-carrier, James Woodlock, also broke the rules on September 5 and are banned for our first game in 2011. Hopefully Woodlock will be back carrying a ‘caman’ by then instead of a water bottle.

Croke Park and its regulations come in for flak too in relation to John Coghlan and the upgrading of his yellow card against Antrim, which cost him a place in the All Ireland U21 final against Galway. It was one of two upgradings we suffered during the year, the other being Brian O’Meara following the senior game against Cork in May. In the case of Coghlan the secretary is adamant that he had a very strong case, supported by a DVD showing a step-by-step sequence of the tackle. However, the CCC refused to budge and the ban remained.

Timmy Floyd’s criticism centres on the use of video to indict the player initially and then the failure to employ the same technology in the hearing of his appeal. I find the entire procedure in these cases objectionable. Under the present system the referee is sent a video clip and asked to review his initial decision. The message to the referee is, in effect, to change his decision. It puts unfair pressure on the official who is mindful that he may not be appointed for future games if he doesn’t play ball. It would be far more honest if the CCC had the courage to review the incidents themselves and make their own decision instead of throwing it back onto the referee.

My other issue with these cases is the selective use of video evidence. In our league game with Cork last spring there was surely a case to be answered in relation to a Pat Horgan incident, yet nothing happened. Cork’s John Gardner also escaped censure following an incident in the league final against Galway. Indeed a tackle on Patrick Maher in the Munster U21 final against Clare surely merited more attention, but once again nothing happened. Selective justice is really injustice by another name.

Anyway Timmy Floyd has produced a very worthwhile report, which I’m sure will spark debate at Convention.

Elsewhere I’ve been mentioning players who’ve received training programmes from county management in recent weeks, so I think it’s only fair that I complete the list. Initially four players, Sean Carey, John Coghlan, John O’Neill and Michael Gleeson were added to the Tipperary panel. A further ten players have been supplied with these training schedules to work on over December ahead of a try-out in the New Year. They’re part of what might be termed an extended panel, which must now be close to fifty.

In previous weeks I mentioned Darragh Hickey, Denis Maher, Matthew Ryan and Stephen Lillis. You can now add to that list the names of Paddy Murphy (Nenagh), John O’Keeffe (Clonoulty), Timmy Dalton (Arravale Rvs), Eddie Connolly (Loughmore) and Shane Bourke (J.K.Brackens). It’s a veritable who’s who of potential panellists; if you’re not on the list don’t expect a call from Declan Ryan any time soon.

Paddy Murphy comes into the reckoning after being part of this year’s successful U21 side. He won his minor hurling medal in 2007 and at that stage was seen as a bright prospect, though perhaps less influential with the minors in ’08. As a forward he’s vying for an area where there’s always a look-out for new talent. By contrast John O’Neill, Clonoulty, is seen more as a half back or midfielder. He was a minor team mate of Timmy Dalton in that 2006 All Ireland win against Joe Canning and Galway. The Arravale Rvs. player is perhaps a surprise nomination because we haven’t seen much of him since his minor days. Playing with Arravale gives him less exposure than players from senior clubs and he has always tended to divide his efforts between football and hurling. Some see him as more talented at football, though as a minor he showed great hurling potential too; remember his goal in the final against Galway.

Eddie Connolly and Shane Bourke complete the list of players who have been asked to take part in these winter training programmes ahead of a try-out in the New Year. Both have featured at underage.  In fairness to the new management they’re casting their net very wide indeed in the search for potential talent. And it’s commendable that players are being given notice to prepare and be ready for a trial; too often in the past guys were called in without preparation and then discarded. For the players it’s an opportunity, though the harsh reality of inter-county hurling means that few of them will ultimately make the cut.

Finally the ‘Yearbook’ is on the shelves to brighten up these grim winter months. It’s a celebratory one after a year of high prominence and achievement, principally through the seniors and U21s. All the great feats are chronicled in a colourful production spanning almost 260 pages. There are feature articles too from members of the national media and all the local club affairs, all colourfully presented. As ever the ‘Yearbook’ contains a mix, seeking to act as recorder of the year’s events as well as entertainer with ‘colour’ pieces. In a year of All Ireland success is an essential purchase. Make sure you get your copy.

P.S. By next weekend we should have a county U21 semi-final to attend. Loughmore play Sarsfields in the belated Mid decider this Wednesday and Arravale Rvs. await the winners on Sunday. The final is planned for St. Stephen’s day, which is a sad indictment of our games’ structures.

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