The start-up of the 2016 inter-county season may still be a few months away but there’s no shortage of background activity. Counties, including Tipperary, are busy winding up for the New Year.
Inter-county involvement allows for no break nowadays. No sooner are the September All Irelands over than panels are assembled, gym programmes and diet sheets and whatnot dished out and the whole treadmill starts all over once again. There’s novelty in it for the newcomers, I suppose, though I often wonder how the well established guys can muster the appetite for November training.
All our Munster neighbours have been back in harness for some weeks now. Cork came to Thurles at the weekend to avail of facilities under Michael Fennelly and Eoin Cadogan. They’ll be back in town on May 22 for a Munster opener when we’ll be hoping they learn a few more lessons.
For Tipperary the back-to-training schedule has been slower. Mick Ryan and colleagues have been assembling a panel of close to forty players who’ll embark on the winter treadmill ahead of collective training and challenge games in January.
And there’s no shortage of talking points around this panel. Apart from the four retirees three others have been ‘released’, if I may use that euphemism. Shane Bourke has paid a heavy price for that entry and exit against Galway last August; he departs the scene alongside Darragh Egan and Denis Maher. Egan was something of a stop-gap sub goalie last year; his place has been taken by Lorrha’s Brian Hogan, Ken’s son, who played outfield for his club this year. A nagging shoulder injury dogged Denis Maher all summer se he too steps aside despite the fact that many saw him as possessing the type of physique we need.
The newcomers form an eclectic mix ranging from the predictable to the downright puzzling. Discussion of these names will certainly enliven many a winter fireside or barstool gathering in the coming weeks.
Some of these players have been there before. Nobody has suffered a more broken career than Loughmore’s John Meagher who has shown great potential but never had the opportunity to deliver on the promise. A combination of illness and injury has repeatedly disrupted his career so let’s hope he gets a decent run this time and doesn’t end up as one of the might-have-beens of Tipperary hurling.
In the case of Killenaule’s Joe O’Dwyer injury also stalled his progress last year so again the wish has to be that he gets an unbroken spell this time to deliver on the undeniable promise. An interesting inclusion in the list of newcomers is Drom’s Liam Ryan. He never played underage for Tipperary but has consistently been a top performer for his club. It’s encouraging to see Mick Ryan and colleagues looking outside the box on this one; too often we’re slaves to development squads and underage panels.
The issue of the dual player comes into focus with Seamus Kennedy and Steven O’Brien opting to concentrate on hurling for 2016. It can’t have been an easy call for either player given their football profiles. It’s further proof surely of the difficulty of trying to play both though that’s a message that’s still stubbornly resisted in some quarters.
Clonmel’s Kennedy has been a colossus for Commercials in their historic Munster breakthrough but those who’ve been watching him with St. Mary’s have been loud in their praise too. He has the physique so hopefully the hurling touch will be up to requirements also. Commercials’ progress in the football presumably could delay his hurling commitment.
For Steven O’Brien too it’s a major career call. He’s on a football scholarship to DCU so I’m not sure how that will play out. Presumably it ties him into Sigerson Cup action but his county option is separate. He has size and competitiveness so the only uncertainty will be around his hurling skill.
Other additions to the new hurling panel include Mid Tipperary players like Tossy Hamill (Moyne/Templetuohy), Willie Ryan (Clonakenny), Liam McGrath (Loughmore) and Kieran Morris (Moycarkey). Hamill was an exciting minor prospect in the 2012 All Ireland win but has struggled to develop since then. Willie Ryan has played minor, U21 and intermediate for the county and his recognition this time obviously arose from his club’s senior breakthrough.
Liam McGrath was a precocious underage dual talent, having his finest day in the 2011 All Ireland minor football win over Dublin. Since then he’s been hit by injury and has struggled a bit at both codes, probably a victim of his own versatility. I suspect he’s selected on the basis of underage promise rather than present form.
Kieran Morris was another underage talent who has been on the fringes of the senior panel without ever getting a decent run.
The North division supplies a number of additions to the panel. Nenagh’s progress to the county final has helped in the promotion of Daire Quinn and Andrew Coffey. Kildangan’s Joe Gallagher gets the call up too while Templederry’s Adrian Ryan gets a recall. Borrisoleigh’s Dan McCormack joined the panel last summer and he retains his position.
Daire Quinn’s college form got him noticed last year while Andrew Coffey is a pacey forward with two more years at U21 level. Adrian Ryan was on the senior panel back in 2012 so this is a second – possibly last – chance for him to nail down a role. Joe Gallagher is in his mid twenties now so this is an important opportunity also to develop a senior career after playing minor, U21 and intermediate in the past.
From the South division Mullinahone’s Sean Curran gets the nod to embark on a winter training programme. He’s been around the county scene for some time now including the senior panel in 2012 so perhaps this represents an opportunity that he might not have expected. His form with Mullinahone this year has drawn notice as has his robust competitiveness.
The West division supplies two new additions to the panel in Cashel’s Dylan Fitzell and Seanie Ryan of Sean Treacys. Fitzell’s promotion is probably the most extraordinary of the lot. He has All Ireland minor hurling and football medals but has failed to make much impact since those under-eighteen days. He played a crucial role in the 2012 All Ireland minor hurling replay win over Dublin when he was switched to centre forward and perhaps it’s that which has drawn the attention of the management in their trawl for talent. Few would suggest that it’s based on his recent form with Cashel K.C. and remember he couldn’t make T.J. Connolly’s U21 team this year. Sean Ryan has a minor medal from 2012 and is viewed by many observers as a player with potential. His club’s lack of profile hasn’t been helpful but he too now gets a chance to impress the senior management.
In all of this I suppose the players who failed to get the phone call will be left head-scratching and wondering what they need to do. Stephen Cahill, Sarsfields, was man of the match in successive county senior finals and was midfield in last summer’s U21 defeat to Limerick. Perhaps he’s not the style of player the management is seeking but anyway you view it his credentials would put him well ahead of many of the other names on this panel. He can certainly feel aggrieved.
You could make cases for many other players too. Goalie Paul Maher, Moyne/Templetuohy, has had shoulder surgery so presumably that keeps him out of the frame at the moment. Many people see Annacarty’s Darragh Mooney as a goalie with potential too. A few misjudgments at U21 level seem to weigh heavily – and unfairly – against him. Speaking of Eire Og Annacarty the case of Tom Fox continues to puzzle people. He’s another from that exciting minor team of 2012 who was hugely impressive in last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup campaign. Yet he fails to gain any recognition within Tipperary. Actually I’ve never understood the treatment of Brian Fox either who consistently excels for his club and has build a very successful football career but fails to impress the hurling men. Viewed alongside some of the promotions the exclusion of these players is inexplicable.
Anyway the hard reality is that most of these newcomers will fail to make the grade and that reality should temper people’s excitement with recent retirements. When you look ahead to the future shape and style of the Tipperary game there are key issues that the management will have to face. The central spine of the defence has to be revisited. Increasingly there’s a view that Paudie Maher’s best contribution will be at wing rather than centre. Long term I suspect Ronan Maher could settle in as a cuter number six than his brother.
Then the experiment with Brendan Maher at centre forward has probably run its course too. The Borrisoleigh man will surely be relocated to midfield or half back. James Barry isn’t an orthodox full back either so Michael Breen must surely come into consideration for some role either in defence or midfield.
Above all the future emphasis must be on players who are above all else ball winners, a requirement that will put some of our forwards under pressure. The future shape of things has to differ from the past – otherwise we’ll get more of the same results.