The inter-county U-21 championships can be regarded as unique in the GAA calendar, as they hark back to the days when there was no second chance. The absence of a safety net or backdoor, call it what you will, in a competition that’s run on a straight knockout format from the start substantially reduces the margin for error.
“But that’s the beauty of it and why it’s such a good championship” says Ken Hogan, whose Tipperary team entertains Limerick in the Munster U-21 Hurling Championship quarter-final at Semple Stadium at 7.30 on this Friday evening, 31st.
The sides last met in this competition 12 months ago in the semi-final. Denis Maher scored 1-3 and John O’Dwyer added 9 points to ensure a 5-point victory (1-16 to 1-11) for Tipp, before they were beaten by Clare in the Munster Final.
The counties have experienced contrasting fortunes in this championship in the last number of years. Tipp (who won their last title 3 years ago) have won at least one match in 11 of the last 12 seasons, 2007 being the exception when they lost to Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in the first round.
Meanwhile Limerick, whose last success in the province was two years ago, have lost their first match in the championship in 5 of the last 7 seasons.
Ken Hogan, understanably, is paying no heed to those statistics. “Limerick will come with a big reputation as they have a lot of guys with senior experience including Declan Hannon and Shane Dowling. They’ve 9 of the senior panel, 4 or 5 of them should be playing, and they’ve done a lot of work under (manager) TJ Ryan. We beat them last year but they’ll be a big challenge for us again this season”, he says.
Tipp can call upon survivors from last year including Andrew Ryan (Toomevara), Justin Cahill (Kilruane MacDonaghs) and senior player Jason Forde (Silvermines) and their manager is hoping that their experience will shine through.
Templederry’s Brian Stapleton could form the midfield partnership with Bill Maher (Kilsheelan), captain of last year’s All-Ireland winning Minor team, although Stapleton has been bothered of late by a hamstring injury. Tipp have other injury problems with the Loughmore/Castleiney duo of John Maher and Liam McGrath rated as doubtful while another Loughmore player, John McGrath, is sitting his Leaving Cert and will be unavailable.
Captain Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonaghs) is struggling with a knee cartilage injury while Michael O’Brien of Thurles Sarsfields and Dan McCormack of Borris-Ileigh could also be absent as they’re sitting college exams.
Ken Hogan described the team’s preparations as stop-start, with so many club games being played, but added “we cannot use that as an excuse”. The team beat Waterford by 1-22 to 1-20 in a challenge at Davin Park in Carrick-on-Suir almost a fortnight ago, a match the manager was delighted with; and they played Offaly in Birr in another challenge in Birr last Thursday evening.
Friday’s match will be refereed by Cork’s Colm Lyons and extra time will be played if the sides are level at the end of the hour. The winners meet Cork in the semi-final on Wednesday, July 17.