08 Aug 2022

Draws and one-sided games dominate opening round of Tipperary club hurling championships

Some pointers to form emerge from opening weekend

Draws and one-sided games dominate opening round of Tipperary club hurling championships

Sean Curran, with Toomevara's Kevin McCarthy keeping tabs on him, goes on the attack for Mullinahone in the opening round of the FBD Insurance county senior hurling championship in Thurles.

The club championship season certainly hit the ground running with two dozen fixtures last weekend producing a catalogue of fascinating results. Draws figured prominently, as did some surprisingly one-sided affairs.
And so, after the hype and hoopla of the inter-county games, the 97 percent of players finally get their chance to ply their wares. Spare a compassionate thought for poor Donal Óg Cusack in his boredom down Leeside, now that the TV gig is over for another season. The rest of us are okay, we have other things to be getting on with.
The debate goes on. We spent years, nay decades, decrying the poor treatment of the club players who were annually corralled into ever shrinking space, as the monster that was the inter-county programme continued to spread uncontrolled.
Apparently, we need reminding of how things were just a few short years ago. Back then the club players were at the mercy of an out-of-control inter-county scene. They started training early in the calendar year. There might be a championship game or two somewhere about March/April. Then again, maybe not.
Training continued for months and somewhere in the distant future your championship would resume. It was all a case of might and maybe and ifs and buts. Fixture certainty? Dream on.
Ironically it took a pandemic to bring sanity. If anyone had proposed (some like Paddy Stapleton did) a split season solution they were laughed out of court.
Suddenly necessity once again became the mother of invention. The split season arrived and, to everyone’s amazement, it worked. Why did nobody think of this before, they said?
Now, however, the wheel has turned once again and there’s a loud chorus of national pundits and journalists lamenting the early All-Irelands. Are they ever happy?
Of course, it won’t have escaped notice that there’s a strong element of self-interest here. Nobody wants to shoot the golden goose and as a result this narrative has gone mostly unchallenged at national level. It needs to be exposed for what it is and faced down.
You can always argue the logic of moving the All-Ireland finals back a week or two but the basic premise of the system needs to be defended. It has brought structure to the club scene. The four divisions put through their championships in the past month or so and these acted as a build-up to the county series, which now has the pitch to itself.
Incidentally, finding room for replays in the inter-county programme is not as simple as some suggest. If Limerick and Clare, for example, replayed their epic Munster final the following week then the loser would have faced an All-Ireland quarter-final six days later. Imagine the outcry from that sequence of energy-sapping games. Replays have significant follow-on consequences.
Anyway, the clubs are up and running and already there are some pointers as to form.
I would have thought in advance of last weekend that the clash of Sarsfields and Borris-Ileigh was a mouth-watering prospect. Two top contenders, both relatively recent winners and some background aspects to whet interest even further. How would Sarsfields fare post Paudie Maher? What of Borris and their high-profile management? Shane O’Neill must have seen some potential to take up the role of manager and bring John Fitzgerald with him as coach. Mikey Bevans from the Cahill cabinet is on board too.
A top contest then you might have expected, but in the event it was a nothing game. Sarsfields simply blew Borris aside. Thirteen-up at half-time, they won eventually by a dozen and that was allowing for an injury-time Dan McCormack goal which was of cosmetic value only.
All over, Sarsfields were a step ahead and when that happens they always have the shooters to really punish an off-form opponent. An early Paddy Creedon goal set the pattern. Denis Maher added a second on the quarter hour and it was all supplemented by a run of slick points from multiple sources.
Brendan Maher yielded to a thigh problem before half-time but by then the one-direction of the game was well established anyway. A worrying leg injury to Ronan Maher in the second half was the only blemish on Sarsfields’ romp.
The Thurles side are the bookies’ favourite for championship honours and this showing won’t have upset those odds.
Ronan Maher played a sweeper role in defence for much of the game but, one suspects, Paudie’s absence will be strongly felt as the season progresses. Seosamh Ryan had early difficulties on Conor Kenny but eventually got on top, as the north side were limited to a paltry return of scores.
The opening game on the Saturday evening programme at the Stadium kept all the excitement for the final moments. Eventually Toome and Mullinahone shared the pot but it was a poor enough game, saved only by the late controversy.
Toomevara looked to have this one well in command for much of the time. First half goals from Alan Ryan and a pair from Jack Delaney had them in cruise control early on. Mikey O’Shea and Eoin O’Dwyer were delivering the best response by way of scores for the south side but it seemed insufficient.
The half-time lead was six and it hovered around five for most of the second half, with Toome seemingly unable to kick for home and Mullinahone not quite able to muster a convincing rally.
Jack Shelly was doing well on the frees to keep Mullinahone in the contest but then he missed a few and the call went out to Eoin Kelly late in the day. Injury had kept 40-year- old Kelly out of the starting line-up.
His arrival seemed to unnerve Toomevara somewhat. He landed a free and then initiated a move that ended with Martin Kehoe finding the net for a rallying goal. Suddenly back to two points, the game was edgy entering injury time. Then came a Mullinahone penalty and with it, controversy.
Did the shot slip inside the post and through the net or was it wide? Could Semple Stadium’s netting be so insecure. The umpire raised the green flag and the decision was endorsed after consultation between the match officials. Toomevara were adamant in their claim that it was wide and I must admit subsequent video of the incident appears to back their case. But the goal stood and, incredibly, Mullinahone were ahead.
More aggravation followed as the referee somehow found almost six minutes of additional time before Toomevara’s Liam Ryan struck a leveller. Maybe in all the confusion a draw was a fair divide of the spoils. To Mullinahone’s credit they stayed in a game that for long spells looked beyond them, and their persistence earned some reward at the end.

Meanwhile, Liam Cahill has wasted little time in finalising his cabinet. The eye-catching addition is Paudie Maher, whose recruitment is an interesting move by the manager. I guess he brings an element of continuity as well as a link with the more seasoned element of the panel. It was known last year that the group was fractured along service lines, with the young and the older elements not mixing too well. Paudie would have been missed in the dressing room this year and his return now in a new capacity should, hopefully, help to bring cohesion.
There’s a clever divisional mix in the management also. TJ Ryan has a long history of service with Cahill at underage and he ticks the western box. Declan Laffan is an interesting inclusion from the mid. He was a low-key but very effective general during Loughmore’s great achievements and is well regarded by those who know him.
As a group this management carries a heavy burden in trying to restore Tipperary’s standing after it slipped to a new low this year.
Finally, Cody has left the room. The undeniably greatest hurling manager ever has decided to slip away after 24 years patrolling the sideline.
His achievements need no elaboration here, they stand on their merits as unmatched and, perhaps, unmatchable. Eleven All-Irelands alone is simply astounding.
Other great managers achieve their greatness with a particular crop of generational players but Brian Cody reconstructed his team several times, which is what truly sets him apart. His latest creation came so close to Limerick a fortnight ago, which is perhaps the reason why some people were a little surprised that he didn’t go again to try and finish the job.
There’s a lot of nonsense talk nowadays about management, tactics and whatnot, all overplayed by a noisy media. Ultimately any manager is judged by one barometer alone: his ability to get the very best out of the players at his disposal. In that regard Cody was peerless.
There was a consistency to his teams over the years that was quite astonishing. They always played to a particular template and never deviated. Others fluctuated but not Kilkenny. His public personality wasn’t particularly endearing and the caper with Shefflin this year did nothing to soften that image, though I suspect that won’t cost him any sleep. What mattered was winning and nothing else.
There’s scope there for a fascinating biography; the previous one was utterly forgettable.

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