On St. Patrick’s Day the Tipperary hurlers climbed Slievenamon. Stiffer mountains loom ahead in the next week with ‘away’ fixtures to Cork and Galway. Half way through the present league series and there are still many issues to be sorted. For Tipperary, however, there is just one inescapable certainty: lose on Sunday and our league bid is definitely over. Cork, likewise on two defeats, is in an identical position.
It’s a crunch tie then for both sides with the added dimension of a championship rematch on the May horizon to further sharpen intensity. The corresponding fixture last year fell Cork’s way, aided by some dodgy refereeing. It gave a foretaste of what would follow in May, though ultimately our season turned around quite spectacularly in the summer. Still, we won’t wish for a repeat this time, so the significance of Sunday will be lost on no one.
Significant too is the search for new talent with Sunday’s clash likely to prove far more testing than Offaly in the previous bout. For the management that means a difficult call with the desire to put a strong formation on duty being balanced by the need to test some of the wannabes. Given the demands of the occasion it will be interesting to see what team formation is entrusted with the job.
Defensively, I suppose, we begin with a toss-up between Cummins and Gleeson for the number one slot: either go for the known pedigree of the long-server or further ‘blood’ the heir apparent. Will they start with the first-choice full back line of Stapleton, Curran and Cahill or chance Eddie Connolly again after his success the last day? I suspect the former. Then to the half line and whether to opt for Young, O’Mahony and Padraic Maher or find a space for John O’Keeffe? If there is to be a trialist in the defensive sestet then perhaps O’Keeffe has the best prospect. David Young suffered the last day and has left some lingering doubts about his tenancy.
Midfield has Brendan Maher as a certainty but major uncertainty about his partner. Gearoid Ryan did well the last day and Shane McGrath’s form has been iffy. If McGrath gets the nod then Gearoid presumably plays wing forward.
The attack is difficult enough to ‘read’ at this stage. Eoin Kelly is out for several weeks and others such as John O’Brien and Seamus Callanan are on the way back, though perhaps not fully there yet. Lar Corbett is back and presumably will feature along with such as Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher and Pa Bourke. Benny Dunne got among the scorers quite usefully against Offaly, though may be seen more is an impact sub at this stage rather than a starter. Paul Kelly didn’t further his prospects the last day though Shane Burke did. John O’Neill is close to a return too after a recent injury. Again one would expect the management to opt for known strength with perhaps one trialist at most. If we lose on Sunday there will be ample scope for trying players in the remaining few games.
A bit like ourselves Cork have had quite a varied league campaign thus far. They began with a win over Offaly but then fell to Kilkenny at Nowlan Park. They were really over-run in the opening half of that game but rallied powerfully in the second period and were unlucky to lose to a late Richie Hogan pointed free. I suppose you could describe it as a moral victory.
The unpredictability of the league continued in the next round when Cork had too much for Galway but once more they followed that with a one-point defeat ‘away’ to Waterford. They’re difficult to handle at home where the fortress mentality is strong but they’re less impressive when travelling away. All of which underlines the difficulty we face on Sunday.
Like Tipperary Cork have been testing some newcomers but inevitably they tend to fall back on the old reliable survivors from better days. Curran and Gardner can still match up to the best at half back. The O’Connor brothers and Tom Kenny are still plying their trade in various roles. Pat Horgan has tended to be central to their attacking options with Cathal Naughton, Paudie O’Sullivan, Pa Cronin and others playing significant roles on different days. I expect Denis Walsh will opt for known strength for this crucial tie.
There’s more than the league points at stake when this pair collide so Sunday should be revealing. The venue might tilt it Cork’s way but we’ll certainly look for evidence that the progress of recent weeks is being sustained.
Apart from the Tipp\Cork game there are several other crucial clashes this Sunday in round five of the campaign. Waterford’s visit to Nowlan Park should be interesting. Davy, I notice, has ‘escaped’ with a one month ban after the game in Thurles when he was cited for some indiscreet comments directed at the match official. The initial twelve-week penalty has been reduced on appeal. I can’t help feel that this particular sanction was a long time coming for the feisty Davy.
Further fall-out from that Waterford\Tipperary game has seen the red-carded pair getting one-month bans. Cast your mind back to last summer and the one-month suspensions doled out to players like Diarmaid Lyng of Wexford as well as our own ‘Buggy’ O’Meara and John Coghlan. It takes some skewed sense of justice to put their offences in the same category as Clinton Hennessy’s tackle on Patrick Maher. Yet this is justice GAA style with its one-size-fits-all policy of punishment.
And a comparison of these suspensions highlights yet another absurdity in GAA ‘justice’ where penalties are time-based rather than match based. A month’s suspension in March is relatively painless; you miss a few league matches but you’re back in good time for the important championship stuff in summer. Get the same punishment in July or August and you’re likely to miss crucial championship games, such as John Coghlan being deprived of the chance to play in the All Ireland U21 final. It’s a ludicrous system but so many people have been saying this for decades and yet there seems to be no will to tackle the issue.
Meanwhile Dublin’s newfound prominence atop the hurling table faces a major challenge on Sunday when they entertain Galway at Parnell Park. There’s a tough few weeks ahead for the Dubs with Kilkenny and Cork to follow in remaining games. Still I suspect getting clear of the relegation zone was Anthony Daly’s main ambition at the start of the series so this is bonus territory for the side as they chase down a place in the final.
At the other end of the table Wexford and Offaly clash at Tullamore in what effectively is a relegation battle. Wexford had a horrendous day early on against Galway but have rallied strongly since then. No doubt both sides will view this as their best chance to escape relegation so it should be a cracker. Lots of engrossing action then promised this Sunday with a round of matches that should be revealing.
Meanwhile the threat of strike action by Tipperary referees seems to have subsided though the issue isn’t fully resolved yet. The meeting with County Board officials it seems solved little but the County Executive is now set to put a proposal to County Board which should end the impasse.
It will be remembered that the sticking point was the passes for umpires and the proposal that they only apply to divisional games. The County Executive is now proposing that all passes be restored in line with previous years but with a very significant restriction: the passes will not apply to county finals. And as a gesture it has been decided that even Board officials will pay into county finals this year.
All of this is in the context of diminishing receipts and the necessity to make cost-cutting changes in view of a major budget deficit last year. To some it might seem petty but there are big bucks involved. As an example there were, it seems, around seven hundred passes used to gain entry to last year’s county hurling final. At twenty euro per head that tots up to the hefty sum of fourteen thousand euro. That’s a lot of money.
Incidentally I’m not convinced that it is the best solution to the problem but the officers probably feel it’s the best available outcome at this stage. I think it’s an issue that will be revisited. For the referees it probably represents a victory of sorts but ultimately I suspect time is running out on these passes.
Finally my one-week absence recently meant that I missed commenting on the appointment of Ed Donnelly to the position of Munster Council PRO in place of the retiring Jim Forbes. The former Tipperary PR man was unopposed for the position, which in its own way was a tribute to his towering reputation in this particular field. He has been operating the Munster website for some years now which left him ideally placed for the provincial job.
As with his previous work I’ve no doubt he’ll be outstanding in the role. It’s no secret that I always regarded Ed as the first real PRO in Tipperary. He reinvented the job making it fit to purpose for modern requirements. In the past the PRO’s role was very hazy and undefined but Ed turned it into an information channel for everything to do with GAA affairs in the county.
Unfortunately I think the general public was often unaware of Ed’s work, such is the nature of the job. The greatest beneficiaries were journalists, both nationally and locally, whose jobs were made so much easier by having instant access to all sorts of information. Ask any of the national journalists and they’ll have Ed up there at the top of the class, among the very best in his field.
Having created the template Ed then passed the baton to the present incumbent, Ger Ryan, and, trust me, the changeover was seamless. Ger has matched and maintained what Ed started as well as adding his own affable touch to the job. I’ve no doubt we’re market leaders in this area. I often cringe when I think back to the old days when you almost needed to be an investigative journalist to access even the most basic of information. You either had to cultivate contacts with a player or two or else with a member of the county management and that carried its own risks. It was great while you were praising but once you criticised your phone calls went unanswered. Not any more thanks to people like Ed and Ger. We owe them a debt.