Cross-fertilisation between different disciplines has become part of the sporting landscape in recent years and Tipperary is clearly following that trend. First we had the appointment of noted sprinter, Gary Ryan, as trainer and now comes news that Kieran McGeeney will be motivating our hurlers in 2014.
Attracting the ‘Geezer’ is something of a coup for Eamonn O’Shea even if the All Ireland captain of ’02 will be double-jobbing, having previously committed to a role with his home county, Armagh. He’s certainly a high-profile personality who enjoyed a colourful term with Kildare footballers until his controversial removal last summer.
I suppose from O’Shea’s perspective it’s all part of bringing freshness to the set-up and trying to gain whatever edge you can for the next championship season. McGeeney certainly has the reputation for instilling mental toughness so hopefully he can deliver.
2014 is going to be a critical year for the Tipperary management. There’s always an element of indulgence with new managers in their first season but then tolerance levels start to dip. O’Shea will be aware of that and will know that his report card from 2013 carries the legend ‘Must do better’.
Speaking of 2014 leads on nicely to the Munster championship draws for U21, which were issued during the past week. Our U21 hurlers got a bye to the Munster semi-final but then drew the short straw. In that semi they’ll be ‘away’ to either Clare or Limerick. On known form it should be Clare so a clash with the reigning All Ireland champions in Ennis will be a tough assignment indeed.
Given Clare’s elevated status at the moment we’d travel to Cusack Park as outsiders. As minors three years back in 2011 Tipperary lost to Clare in the Munster semi-final. That was a Clare side that contained some names which have since become household in the hurling world. Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly were midfield while Shane O’Donnell was corner forward with Seadna Morey corner back. O’Donnell was minor again the following year.
For T.J. Connolly it’s going to be a testing debut as manager though he’ll surely be encouraged by the number of U21 players at present on call-up to an extended senior panel. The backdrop of an All Ireland minor title in 2012 will be encouraging too so it should be some clash in Ennis -assuming of course that Limerick don’t upset expectations in the opening round.
Co-operation with his football counterpart, David Power, will be critical too given the number of dual players involved. This has the potential, if not managed carefully, to become a flashpoint in the dual-code issue.
For David Power the Munster draw was much kinder though I’m sure he’ll be too shrewd to be dismissive of either Waterford or Clare on that side of the draw. This is the big grade for Tipperary football as the minor class of 2011 try to go the next step. From this distance they seem well set up for Munster though the All Ireland challenge is a different matter with Dessie Farrell I’m sure itching for revenge.
Our senior footballers of course are party to that boycott of the McGrath Cup in reaction to the seeding of the senior football draw for 2014. I can understand the position taken by the four Munster counties though the weakness of their argument is the gaping gap in standard between Cork/Kerry and the rest as evidenced by winning margins this year. From a Munster Council perspective it makes obvious sense to have their feature game of the season as Munster final.
In any case nobody seems too bothered by the boycott so as a type of strike tactic I think it will have no effect with all those colleges filling the gap. Actually I’d be quite happy if the hurlers boycotted the Waterford Crystal tournament because the games are mostly meaningless exercises. The hurlers play LIT in an opening round and, if successful, head to Kerry. I wish them a safe journey.
Meanwhile the All Star awards reflected the year’s fate with Clare dominating the gala event at Croke Park. Their eight statuettes was a rich harvest for their efforts and Tony Kelly enjoyed individual distinction with both the young hurler and overall hurler awards. As ever these items will incite plenty of debate.
These selections are very subjective judgments with committee members compromising in order to produce fifteen winners. Everyone will have their individual gripe about an inclusion or exclusion and I suppose the best you can say is that it provides lots of material for debate on these winter nights.
It would have taken extraordinary powers of prophecy at the start of season to anticipate that neither Kilkenny nor Tipperary nor Galway would have an All Star by season’s end. Even by the end of the league little seemed to have changed from previous years and I suspect there will be some grumbling down Noreside particularly over the absence of representation on this selection.
It’s quite clear now that these awards are not based on a season’s hurling but rather on the final stages of the championship. In fact you can scale it down to the All Ireland semi-finals and final and virtually ignore all that went before. The league is irrelevant to the All Stars as are the early rounds of the championship. It has become a very restricted remit.
There was a time when stand-out players from so-called weaker counties got recognition but those days are over. Not since Paul McKillen (Antrim) in 1993 have we seen an All Star award go to a non-traditional county. Prior to that you had Gerard McGrattan (Down) getting a statuette in 1992; several Antrim players got recognition in the late eighties and early nineties such as Ciaran Barr, Dessie Donnelly, Olcan McFetridge and Terence McNaughton; Brian McMahon was a Dublin winner in 1990 before the Dubs emerged as a major force; in the eighties you had David Kilcoyne (Westmeath) and Pat Critchley (Laois) being honoured; indeed the very first All Stars in 1971 included Mick Bermingham of Dublin.
However, all’s changed now with the selection confined to the latter stages of the championship.
From a Tipperary perspective I don’t think we can have any gripe about the absence of an All Star for 2013 though I find it difficult to understand how Mickey Cahill could have been overlooked for a nomination. You could make a nomination case for Brendan Maher too but otherwise we had no contenders.