Sunday’s meeting of Tipperary and Cork in the fifth round of the National Hurling League at Pairc Ui Chaoimh (2.30) will be watched closely to see how many – or should that read if any – pointers it produces for the championship clash of the counties at the end of May.
The teams will face one another in their latest championship duel in Thurles in nine weeks time and they will limber up for that much more important May 29th date on Sunday afternoon.
Tipp’s preparations for the game suffered a blow with the news that Brendan Maher, last year’s Young Hurler of the Year, has sustained a suspected broken ankle in a domestic accident.
The full extent of the injury was to be revaled yesterday, Tuesday, although it’s feared it could rule him out for up to three months.
Tipp have two wins and two defeats from their opening four games, an identical record to Cork and one that has left them sitting in the middle of the Division One table and with an outside chance of reaching the League Final on May 1st if they win their remaining games, which also include a trip to Pearse Stadium in Salthill to take on Galway and a home game against joint bottom of the table Wexford.
Defeats by Kilkenny and Dublin were followed by wins over Waterford and Offaly and manager Declan Ryan is satisfied with the performances in the early days of his reign.
“We’ve made steady progress since we started”, he said this week. He’s pleased that he has a couple of good utility players at his disposal who are versatile in whatever position they line out.
The team has recovered well from those early setbacks and he makes the point that his players are fitter and stronger than when they started the campaign against Kilkenny on February 12th.
“The League is important but the championship is the big competition and that’s what we’re gearing towards”, he says.
He hopes that his team will continue to be competitive and makes progress in their performances, and that Sunday will be another step in that direction. He says it will also be interesting to see how the players react to a higher intensity game.
“We’re looking forward to it and it will be a good test of where we’re at. Cork are going reasonably well in the League and they showed good quality when beating Galway, and against Kilkenny.
We can expect a much stiffer test than we got against Offaly the last day”.
He said that Pairc Ui Chaoimh was never an easy place to go in either the league or championship but that Tipp, as a group, were looking forward to the challenge and relishing the chance of giving it their best shot.
Apart from Brendan Maher captain, Eoin Kelly will also miss out this weekend, as well as having to sit out the game against Galway the following weekend, after he suffered a compound fracture of a finger after just 4 minutes of the 13-points win over Offaly in Nenagh a fortnight ago.
Seamus Hennessy (knee) and Seamus Callanan (collarbone) are long-term absentees but John O’Brien, who hasn’t figured at all so far this season, is on the road to recovery.
“He has been training well so he’ll be coming into the reckoning in the very near future”, says Declan Ryan.
Cork, who lost to Waterford by a point in a closely contested affair a fortnight ago, are level in the table on four points with Tipp, although Tipp are ahead on scoring difference.
In their other matches The Rebels beat Galway by 1-20 to 1-17, had 5 points to spare over Offaly (1-20 to 1-15) and lost to Kilkenny, also by just a point.
Their midfield of Lorcan McLoughlin and Pa Cronin dominated against Waterford, a match in which newcomers Willie Egan and Stephen O’Donnell caught the eye in defence.
Pat Horgan did most of their scoring, from play and from frees, and other familiar names that featured in that line-up included Ronan Curran, John Gardiner, Brian Murphy, Jerry O’Connor, Niall McCarthy, Tom Kenny and Paudie O’Sullivan.