Tipperary’s Minor hurlers begin their championship campaign with a Munster quarter-final against a highly-rated Limerick team at the Gaelic Grounds at 7pm on this Thursday evening.
According to their manager Liam Cahill, Tipp will have it all to do against a Limerick side that are “red hot favourites”.
“They’ve very high hopes for this team, as they’ve shown a lot of potential since they were U-14s and a massive amount of work has been put into them. It’ll be a big ask for us because some people fancy Limerick not just for the Munster championship but the All-Ireland as well”, he says.
Tipp’s preparations have gone well, despite the difficulties posed by an exceptionally wet winter.
“It has been a hard few months weather-wise to assess fellows properly and make sure you’re bringing in the right players”, says the Ballingarry man.
“We believe we have assembled the best 30 players to represent the county. But if we’re lucky enough to progress in the campaign we’ll be re-opening the book. We looked at more than 90 players and reduced that number to 30. That will be looked at again as the year progresses, especially when the club championships start.
Any player that is showing form has a chance of being included in the panel as long as we’re involved in the championship”, he says.
The teams go into Thursday’s tie in the knowledge they have a safety net - the winners will qualify for the Munster semi-final on June 25 or 26, where they will play either Cork or Kerry. The losers, meanwhile, will play the losers of the first play-off game on Wednesday, April 30 or May 7.
The final will be played on July 13 as the curtain-raiser to the senior decider.
And while Tipp will travel to Limerick, the title holders, with every intention of winning, Liam Cahill says the game will tell him an awful lot more about his players.
“While Limerick are favourites we’ll ask very serious questions of them in their own backyard. However it goes we will improve after that because there’s nothing like a competitive match to bring a team on”, he says.
The manager says he has a very well balanced team that doesn’t rely on any particular individuals.
In preparation for the championship they played several challenges, including games against Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois and Dublin. They also played St. Kieran’s College and Kilkenny CBS in the early assessment stage of players.
Liam Cahill and his selectors Sean Corbett (Durlas Óg), TJ Ryan (Clonoulty-Rossmore) and John Sheedy (Portroe) also welcome back three players who had been sidelined with long-term injuries - Nenagh Eire Og’s Shane Hennessy, Toomevara’s Paul Ryan and Kildangan’s Willie Connors.
“All these guys have done exceptionally well to get back”, he says.
Tipperary captain, Brian Hogan, is the son of former Tipperary Senior Hurling goalkeeper and manager Ken. Brian lined out in goal for the Tipperary Minors in their two matches last year, emulating his father, who was the Tipperary Minor Hurling goalkeeper in 1980 and 1981, winning Munster and All-Ireland Minor Hurling medals in 1980.
Tipp have 37 provincial titles, the most of any county. Their last was won in 2012, the same year that they won their 19th All-Ireland Minor crown.
Limerick are the defending Munster Minor Hurling champions, following a 1-20 to 4-8 victory over Waterford at Semple Stadium in last year’s final replay.
That success was only their sixth at Minor level in Munster, their previous title having been won way back in 1984.
Centenary year was the last of their three All-Irelands won at U-18.
Liam Cahill, who won an All-Star in 1996, says he’s enjoying his first year in charge of the Minors.
“Working with great quality players, the cream of every club in the county, is the nearest you’ll get to playing yourself”, he says.
“We hope to steer these guys in the right direction and make sure we’ve good and capable hurlers for U-21 and Senior level, and so they’ll know what inter-county hurling is all about.
If a Munster title or All-Ireland comes their way that will be a bonus but what we’re really looking at is the development of these players”.
The referee on Thursday evening is Cork’s Joe Larkin and if necessary extra time will be played.