Tipp bid to get through to ‘Crystal’ final against Clare as Shefflin returns

Spoilsport weather left us redundant on Sunday with Nenagh rained-off.

Spoilsport weather left us redundant on Sunday with Nenagh rained-off.

That Crystal semi-final with UL has been re-fixed now for next Sunday again at MacDonagh Park. Clare await the winner in the final after their point-prolific win over UCC.

The interruption will tighten the schedule with our league launch billed for February 15.

Yes indeed, the rain may be pelting down and the wind howling but the hurling season is still revving up nicely. And already we’ve had some notable items of interest as Sheflin makes an unseasonal return and Clare pick up where they left off last September. King Henry, according to his manager, is ‘mad for it’. You have to admire the durability of a nine-time All Ireland winner who has been ravaged by injury in recent years and yet a fortnight after his 35th birthday is chipping in with thirteen points on a dirty January day in a Walsh Cup game at Freshford. Isn’t it a lovely antidote to the whingers we constantly hear complaining about the demands being made on players? Sheflin’s early season return – his earliest in nine years I’m told – will have sent a little shiver through the other counties. The King is back and there’s no doubt his leadership will embolden Kilkenny in their bid to regain the summit.

The ‘Cats’ mauled Galway in that Walsh Cup game and the result sets up an early season appetiser at Croke Park this weekend when they face Dublin in the final, part of a double-header with the Dubs and Kerry launching the football league. Anthony Daly’s crew edged past Wexford in the other Walsh Cup semi so early-season bragging rights will be on offer in this tie. It could well be a forerunner of other clashes between the counties in league and championship in 2014 so its importance won’t be overlooked by either Daly or Cody.

From a Tipperary perspective Clare’s big-score win over UCC in their Crystal semi will have been noted too. If we get past UL on Sunday next it will mean a visit to Sixmilebridge for a final under lights on Friday, February 7. The proximity of the Fitzgibbon won’t help the students. Anyway the message from Sixmilebridge on Sunday last was that Clare are back in feisty form, hungry for more success. Our Crystal final defeat to Davy’s crew last year was a harbinger of things to come, so don’t overlook the importance of this clash if it happens.

Returning to local matters I was under the impression that the county draws would be made this Monday night but instead they’re likely to happen next Monday. They’re eagerly awaited by clubs countywide because there’s so much at stake. In one sense the new format has diminished the role of the divisions because the important business of promotion and relegation is mostly confined to the county groups. Some issues around affiliations, including the Lattin/Aherlow crux have delayed the county draws.

Speaking of the divisions all four have now put their structures in place for their hurling championships involving knock-out competitions with losers’ groups, though with some regional variations. Well, why make things simple? For the West and South divisions, each with five senior hurling sides, giving everyone a second chance has led to some creative juggling and they’ve come up with different solutions. In the West, Cappawhite play Clonoulty and Kickhams play Cashel K.C. with the winner in each case qualifying for the semi-finals. Then the loser between Clonoulty and Cappawhite will play Eire Og Annacarty for the third semi place and the loser of that game will face the loser from the Kickhams/Cashel tie for the fourth semi spot.

In the South I think – though as always I’m open to correction here – that Swans play Davins and Ballingarry face Killenaule with both winners into the semis. Then the losers of those two games will draw to see which of them plays Mullinahone for the third semi spot. Finally the loser from that Mullinahone game will play the other loser from the opening pair of games to qualify for the last semi-final spot. Confused? Join the club. Incidentally there will be open draws for the semi-finals in both divisions. It all sounds like a rather convoluted way of producing four semi-finalists from five teams.

In the Mid the big three have stayed apart in the opening bouts. The winners of Sarsfields v. Upperchurch and Loughmore v. Moycarkey go directly into the semis. On the other side the winners of Drom/Inch v. Boherlahan and Holycross v. Brackens play-off with the two teams to emerge from the loser’s section. Again semi-finals will be open draw.

Up North they have fourteen teams so initially they play seven first round games. Then they play seven more games featuring the winners from round one versus the losers from those same round one matches. If you lose both those games then you’re eliminated. If you win one of the two initial rounds then you have to play a third round to make the quarter-finals. If you win both of the initial rounds then you progress directly to the quarter-finals. How all that pans out number-wise in reality I haven’t the energy to pursue.

We must surely have one of the most contorted championship systems in the country. Various social media forums have been buzzing in the past few weeks as followers try to tease out the intricacies of the systems we employ. Good luck to them. I offer no guarantee of total accuracy in my synopsis above.

Speaking of social media and web-based information generally I’ve been asked recently about my attitude to them and how useful I find the various sites and forums. Of course I find them useful and dip into various locations regularly though I’m not without issues in that regard. Twitter can be very useful when tracking the progress of matches though it’s infuriating when you get regular feeds early in the game and then as the match reaches its climax the supply line dries up presumably because the supplier got too wrapped up in the action. Following others of course on Twitter can be entertaining at times but as with Facebook why do people feel the need to tell us they’ve just eaten a boiled egg or their cat is feeling poorly today? Who cares? The best GAA-dedicated site for information nationally is the ‘Hoganstand.com’. It’s the busy man’s instant update on everything that’s happening with brief accounts continuously upgraded. Of course our Tipperary sites are invaluable too and I’m particularly keen to highlight one resource that’s under-utilised: the Tipperary GAA Archives which can be accessed through the County Board website. It has solved many an issue for me and most of the public seem unaware of its existence. Check it out.

Finally, do I access Premierview.ie? Regularly. It’s a zone where this column has received everything from lavish praise to vitriolic abuse – neither deserved. As with a lot of discussion boards you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find what’s worthwhile. Just learn to sidestep the junk.