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Tipp can expect a ‘warm’ welcome in Ennis as points are vital to both teams

Given Clare’s dire need for league points it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a hot reception awaiting Tipperary at Cusack Park on Sunday next.

Given Clare’s dire need for league points it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a hot reception awaiting Tipperary at Cusack Park on Sunday next.

After two defeats Davy Fitzgerald’s (inset) side is propping up the base of the table and they have made no secret of their deep desire to get back on track this Sunday when Tipperary visit.

Tipperary isn’t exactly in a comfort zone either. The defeat of Galway has eased the pressure slightly after folding so comprehensively at Parnell Park. However, another reversal could see us bottom of the pile ahead of tricky fixtures against Kilkenny and Cork in the final rounds.

There’s a lot to play for then on Sunday as we renew acquaintance with the ‘Banner’. This league group is ultra tight and final positions could well depend on the results of the last round of games, just as they did in 2014.

This time last year Clare came to the stadium and found Tipperary very brittle in defence. We’d leaked five goals to Kilkenny in the previous round and spilled another four here as Clare took away a 4-15 to 0-20 victory. It was the middle game in a run of three defeats as something of a crisis hit ahead of our eventual recovery to make the final.

En route to that decider we got revenge on Clare in a semi-final game at the Gaelic Grounds in late April where we came out 2-24 to 2-17 winners. In fact our overall league record against Clare is quite impressive: we’ve lost just three of the last ten encounters.

Anyway Clare won’t want to drift into the relegation zone so early and with the likes of Tony Kelly back from injury, as we saw in the Fitzgibbon Cup, I expect a major drive from them on Sunday. They lost narrowly, tantalizingly even, to Galway in the opening round and were well behind Cork on their second outing.

In preparation for Ennis, Tipperary engaged Waterford in a Clonmel fund-raiser last Sunday and the teams shared the credits by the time Fergal Horgan called an early halt to the action. The Tipperary team announced in advance looked promising with James Barry making a comeback in defence and ‘Bonner’ Maher named in the attack. ‘Bonner’, however, didn’t feature, which was disappointing for the handful of hardy followers who braved the conditions.

Defensively Tipperary did well with Darragh Egan keeping a clean sheet after a few useful stops. Michael Breen caught the eye at wing back while Conor O’Mahony was very solid at full, even if it’s a position he doesn’t relish. John Meagher at number six had a very bright opening quarter but then was misfortunate to collect another injury. This time he felt the full force of the ‘sliotar’ where it really hurts. Ouch! I could feel his pain. Hopefully it’s not serious. He really must be the unluckiest player ever to don a Tipperary jersey.

Otherwise the game time will have helped James Barry as he works towards match fitness. Bill Maher, who replaced ‘Bonner’ at the start, looked lively and inventive hitting three points. Noel McGrath hit some neat scores from centre forward and Sean Maher took his goal very well. Otherwise there wasn’t much to brag about in an attack where David Butler, Shane Bourke (replacement for Conor Kenny) and Niall O’Meara manned the full forward line.

As ever it will be interesting to see what fifteen O’Shea and company plump for when they announce the team later in the week (a Congress motion means that in future teams will have to be announced by Thursday). Gleeson is obviously first-choice goalie, unless there’s a desire to give game time to the understudy, Egan; a rotation policy operated in the past.

Our defence is ravaged by injuries. Barry returned on Sunday though obviously lacking the match sharpness that’s required for Clare. Perhaps the six will be the same as against Galway: Barrett, Curran and O’Brien on the full line; Breen, Paudie and brother Ronan on the ‘forty’.

Bergin will surely resume at midfield where he delivered a tour de force in the first half the last day. His partner is problematic. Shane McGrath is recovering from concussion so perhaps Woodlock or Gearoid Ryan will again complete the formation. Brendan Maher will surely be slotted in either at midfield or half forward.

Otherwise in attack we’ll expect to see ‘Bonner’ return to action beside ‘Bubbles’, Callanan, Noel McGrath and Forde. John McGrath started the last day and did well though his first half removal from the Fitzgibbon final was very pointed.

All of that, of course, is speculation so we await the team announcement for this crucial challenge. If we lose in Ennis it’s going to be difficult to salvage much in the final games. We need a big delivery here, bigger than we could muster in either of the opening rounds.

Being a rule-change year Congress attracted more than its share of publicity with the proposals from the ‘Hurling 2020’ group facing the ballot. Overall Liam Sheedy and his colleagues will have been pleased with the outcome. As expected the suggestion to allow a replacement for a double-yellow offender was soundly rejected but there was widespread support for some of the other initiatives.

The one-on-one penalty has become a reality and will be implemented later in the spring. Cork’s backing for the move was significant though I suspect there was momentum behind it anyway. It’s now up to players to adapt to the new dispensation. Placing the ‘sliotar’ away from the goalie, as in soccer, will now surely be more important than power. If we get around an eighty percent conversion rate the move will have been a success.

In other moves only five defenders will now be allowed to face a twenty-meter free and the advantage rule has been embraced. The latter is a sensible change allowing advantage for five seconds and then recalling the free if no advantage results. Of course all of these changes depend upon the competence of the referees and that’s an area that doesn’t fill me with confidence.

The rejection of a football-style black card will be seen by some as a case of hurling snobbery. So, cynicism doesn’t exist in hurling? Indeed. Hurlers are a purer breed who would never lower themselves to the type of base tactics we regularly see in football. Yeah.

Despite being passed at two previous Congresses the hooter system was rejected this time after a concerted background campaign, it seems. Disappointing to see our Tipperary delegates joining that particular chorus. I’m sure Peter Creedon and his footballers would have liked a hooter in Armagh some weeks ago. Incidentally the same referee who irked Creedon was in the firing line again last Sunday when Derry’s manager let rip after the awarding of a late equaliser to Tyrone. Will there be another sideline ban here? The Croke Park disciplinarians are going to have a busy year if others are to be treated with the same sternness as the Tipp manager.

A Tipperary motion to have extra time in all key games was, thankfully, rejected. The proposal to me sounded like an over-reaction to some high-profile draws in recent years.

P.S. The legendary Tony Reddin has finally left this earthly playing field after a long innings. May his eagle eyes guard the gates of heaven as they did the Tipperary posts from ’49 to ’57. Brendan Cummins tweeted, ‘Greatest hurling goalie of all time’. Sounds a bit obsequious to me because neither B. Cummins nor I ever saw him play. Oh that we had video from those years!

P.P.S. Following on from last week’s Harty Cup final I received a query: if the game had gone to extra time would Ronan Heffernan, Thurles CBS, have been eligible to play given that he had served his two-game ban. It’s an interesting one and it points up a glaring anomaly in the rules. The Clonoulty lad wouldn’t have been eligible because the extra time is considered part of that day’s fixture. Yet if Thurles had a player sent off in the original hour they would have been allowed restore their fifteen for the extra time because it’s considered a new game. It’s the GAA’s version of double-think.

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