Out with the old and in with the new. Just as 2014 starts to recede in the rear-view mirror the headlights zoom ahead to 2015.
There’s no gentle easing into the new season but more of a feet-first lunge into the deep end. Having just touched down from Dubai the hurlers are into a brand new campaign. Collective training resumes this Wednesday, the Waterford Crystal kicks off on Friday night and there’s a charity game with Wexford on Sunday.
It’s a hectic re-introduction to the rigours of inter-county hurling. For some, such as Ronan Maher, there’s unfinished club business as well to negotiate. Sarsfields and Loughmore play the 2014 Mid U21 final this Sunday with newly crowned South champs, Kilsheelan/Kilcash, awaiting the winners in the county semi-final. So much for a closed season!
2015 promises to be a significant one for Tipperary hurling. We look to the U21s to build on the minor success of 2012. Clare has dominated this grade for the past three years though we have been their nearest opponents. Now surely the time has come to take their place. There’s plenty of pressure then on T.J. Connolly and company who face a stiff opener away to Limerick.
But, of course, it’s the seniors who will ultimately give the New Year its lasting flavour. After the near miss of last September expectations will be high. Nothing bar a return to the summit will represent progress in 2015.
The positives from 2014 should act as a solid base from which to attack the new season. Encouragingly O’Shea’s retention offers continuity while the addition of Declan Fanning to the management team adds a fresh voice to the dressing room.
On the player front 2014 offered real encouragement. Darren Gleeson was an All Star replacement for Brendan Cummins, Cathal Barrett and James Barry soundly slotted into the full back line and Kieran Bergin, although in his second year, really bedded in at half back for the All Ireland series. At midfield Shane McGrath resurrected his career while in attack ‘Bubbles’ announced his arrival and Seamus Callanan found new levels at full forward. ‘Bonner’ remained a central cog in the attacking machine.
All of these are positives which we’ll hope to further develop in 2015 though in the natural order of things there are likely to be pluses and minuses as events unfold.
Not everything was ideal in 2014. We survived with a makeshift full back. Full credit to James Barry for adjusting his natural instincts but looking ahead a more specialist number three is surely on our wish list for the New Year. We’ll wish too that Mickey Cahill returns to full health for a more central input this year.
We have wishes also for the attacking end. Seamus Callanan has out-lasted his greatest opponent so his game should now flourish even further. Hopefully we’ll see more from Corbett as well after a year of intermittent impact. And then there’s the conundrum of Noel McGrath. Enda McEvoy very generously lists him on his team of the decade but many Tipp fans are less kind. Noel draws more fire than any other Tipp player, his lazy-looking approach at times doing him no favours. 2014 wasn’t his best year so here’s hoping that he can recover the All Star form of ’09 and ’10 in the year ahead.
Most of all we’ll hope for more hands-on assistance for ‘Bonner’ Maher in the 2015 campaign. Denis Maher surely deserves more exposure and it will be interesting to see if the new boys in training, such as Sean Maher, David Butler and Liam Treacy, have what it takes. We should see more of Jason Forde and Ronan Maher too in the coming months. We have hurlers in the forward line but perhaps not enough grafters.
A final wish for 2015 might be that we avoid the depressing lows of 2014. The early stages of last year’s league were torturous, the defence at times as leaky as a colander. I’ve no doubt the collateral damage from those defeats left morale brittle when the pressure came on against Limerick in the championship. Let’s hope for a steadier ship this time.
There’s no doubt Kilkenny will be the team to dislodge once more in 2015. They might have been grinding out wins in the last two years but they still remain on top of the pile. The fascination this year will be to see if Cody can rebuild yet again after so many retirements.
When peripheral players slip away the loss is minimal but the departure of J.J. Delaney is in a different category. They were leaking goals early in the league last spring but always knew that Delaney’s return would tighten things up when it mattered. This time they have to find a new number three and it’s unlikely he’ll be as imperious as the departing one. I’d rate Brian Hogan a significant loss too even if he was replaced for the replay in September and the further absence of players like Tommy Walsh and Aidan Fogarty does reduce their options.
Still the Cody factor means that they remain the ones to catch.
Elsewhere it’s going to be an interesting year for a number of other counties. Clare have had their breather after the hectic days of 2013 so most analysts will expect a rebound from the Banner this time. Three U21 successes offers a rich conveyor belt and the age profile of the side means that they’ll surely have more days in the sun, whether this year or later.
Clare’s neighbours, Limerick, will see grounds for optimism too. Their near miss to Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi showed just how close they were and being within touching distance will further drive on that passionate hurling county.
What of Cork? Their season last year went smoothly to plan until that collapse in the All Ireland semi. They’re still puzzling that one and so are many others. After being within seconds of the title the previous year this left their followers dumbfounded. It truth it was freakish to some extent, though where their true merits lies has still to be revealed. Otherwise enigmatic Galway remain, well, enigmatic and Dublin will have to rebuild after the departure of Daly.
Overall 2015 is fascinating to anticipate. In the meantime we have two games to anticipate this weekend. The students of Mary Immaculate visit Morris Park on Friday night for an opening bout of the Waterford Crystal. Their footballers took a real thumping from Cork in the McGrath Cup last week though we’ll hardly have a repeat here. If we win there’s a quarter-final date with Clare the following week and either way we have an interesting challenge with Wexford at Cashel on Sunday afternoon. Proceeds will be in aid of St. John the Baptist’s boys and girls schools in the town.
Finally the business end of the Harty Cup kicks off with two Tipperary schools involved in the coming week. This Friday at Kilmallock Thurles CBS take on Cork school Gaelcholaiste Mhuire AG in one quarter-final. In another quarter-final Nenagh CBS face Rochestown the following Wednesday with venue details still to be finalised. Should both advance the Tipperary schools won’t meet in the semis. In the group stages Thurles were impressive, finishing top of their section, while Nenagh ended second in their group. Good luck to them both in the knock-outs.