The shift in mood has been noticeable in recent weeks. A sense of pessimism and deflation could be detected across the county after Tipperary were well beaten by Cork in the National Hurling League semi-final at the end of April, a state of affairs that wasn’t helped when Kilkenny subsequently swatted Cork aside in the final.
That was followed by wild and inaccurate rumours of Tommy Dunne being replaced as coach by Eamon O’Shea, amid reports of unrest in the camp.
However the outlook has brightened in recent weeks. Lar Corbett’s return from his self-enforced 14-week absence, hinted at in the same story that suggested a change in the coaching staff, has been confirmed and given everyone a lift, as has the return of a clutch of players including Bonnar Maher, Paul Curran and Seamus Callanan from injury.
The views emerging from within the camp have been encouraging too, which is why Tipperary should approach Sunday’s Munster Senior Hurling quarter-final against Limerick at Semple Stadium in a much better frame of mind.
The road to redemption after last year’s All-Ireland Final defeat will be a long one. First and foremost the Munster campaign looks as if it will be another minefield. The winners of this weekend’s tie will have the daunting prospect of a rejuvenated Cork waiting for them in the semi-final before a date with either Clare or Waterford in the final.
Tipp may be the holders of the provincial crown but it remains to be seen if there will be a shift of emphasis this year in an attempt to bring the team to a peak later in the year; the destruction of Waterford at Pairc Ui Chaoimh last July was the highpoint of last year.
The League campaign was patchy and disappointing, described by Padraic Maher as topsy-turvy. The defeats by Kilkenny in the opening game and the late collapse in the semi-final were particularly worrying, although it wouldn’t be the first time that the phoney war of the league served as a false barometer of a team’s championship prospects.
If anything the league put the county’s All-Ireland ambitions into perspective, with Tipp now rated as a 11/4 chance to regain the McCarthy Cup behind odds-on favourites Kilkenny.
Manager Declan Ryan, not one to ever lose the run of himself in interviews, claims that his side is more of a championship team than a league team and that the players relish the big occasion, which will be music to the ears of all Tipperary supporters.
The manager has been buoyed by Lar Corbett’s return and county is rightly basking in the feelgood factor that his decision to re-commit to the panel generated. The departure and subsequent return may heap a considerable burden of expectation on his shoulders in time to come, particularly if can’t re-capture his best form and if others in the forward line don’t step up to the mark, but for now it can only be good news.
When the announcement was made selector Michael Gleeson said the Limerick game would be too soon for the Sarsfields player to appear against Limerick. And while Declan Ryan in a subsequent interview wasn’t as emphatic of clear when questioned about his availability for Semple Stadium on Sunday, it would come as a major surprise if he was to play any part in the game.
All the talk in the last fortnight has centred around Corbett. As much as the team has missed his artistry and ability, the industry of Bonnar Maher, who missed all of the league through injury, has been a comparable loss.
His recovery in time for the championship will inject more badly-needed aggression into the team and increase the options in attack, as will the return of the silken touches of Seamus Callanan. The knee injury sustained in a club game by captain Paul Curran has also healed and he’s expected to occupy his customary full-back role, allowing Padraic Maher to enjoy the freedom of the half back line.
While suggestions of a change in Tipp’s backroom team may have been wide of the mark there was upheaval in Limerick’s management, with selector and former great Ciaran Carey departing amid claims that the team’s fitness hadn’t reached the desired levels.
On Sunday manager John Allen will be without Seamus Hickey, who broke a bone in his arm playing for Murroe-Boher and who will be a huge loss, according to his manager.
Limerick’s league campaign was as disappointing as Tipperary’s, a two-points defeat by Clare in the Division 1B final condemning them to another season in the lower tier.
Limerick were 6 points ahead twice in the first half and stretched that advantage to 8 ten minutes into the second half, only to fade away as the game entered its crucial phase.
They’re building for the future and with players of the calibre Paul Browne, Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling in their ranks they’re not facing that future without hope.
However this game against a much more experienced outfit comes too early in their development and they look destined for a run in the qualifiers. Tipp should win with about a half a dozen points to spare.
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