Shane McGrath (centre) pictured celebrating Tipperary’s 2015 Munster final triumph alongside Pádraic Maher (left) and Patrick Maher (right).
Tipperary's senior hurling clubs have been busy in recent weeks appointing managers and coaches as preparations for the 2017 championship ramp up a gear or three - please read on for our profile of the managers and coaches of the 29 senior clubs.
The most eye-catching appointment is that of Shane McGrath as coach with Kilruane MacDonagh's. The Ballinahinch man and decorated inter-county player will work under manager Liam O'Shea who guided Kilruane to the county semi-finals as recently as 2015.
While Killenaule brought Kilruane's 2016 campaign to an abrupt halt the MacDonagh's also qualified for the North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final and there is no doubting that Liam O'Shea and Shane McGrath have talent to work with.
There will be plenty of interest to see how the popular Shane McGrath does with Kilruane. McGrath played 46 times in championship hurling for Tipperary and also captained the side. The 32-year-old primary school teacher won five Munster titles, one All-Ireland, one National League and two All Stars in a distinguished inter-county hurling career.
McGrath also helped to coach the Ballinahinch-Templederry under-21B side to a divisional title in 2016 and is sure to bring a wealth of knowledge to the role having played under renowned coaches like Eamon O'Shea during his career.
The top seeds in Roinn I of this year's Tipperary County Senior Hurling Championship are Killenaule, Kiladangan, Clonoulty-Rossmore and, of course, Thurles Sarsfields.
The Sarsfields are chasing a fourth consecutive county title in 2017 and will take beating. As of yet Thurles have not appointed their senior management team. That appointment will be confirmed at the club's adjourned AGM during the coming weeks while rumours suggest that Tom Maher will return as manager alongside coach Paddy McCormack. Considering the disappointing end to Thurles' 2016 Munster club campaign (semi-final defeat to Ballyea in Ennis) there may be a sense of unfinished business in the Blues' camp. And, that, of course, signals bad news for any pretenders to the Sarsfields throne in Tipperary.
Thurles man Paddy Moore returns as coach with Killenaule for a third consecutive year alongside manager Kenneth Browne while Pat O'Connor and Michael Gleeson act as selectors. Killenaule were denied a South title by Mullinahone in 2016, but Browne's side are more than capable and are sure to have their sights trained on the knock-out stages of the 2017 county championship.
Kiladangan were beaten well by Thurles Sarsfields in the 2016 county final, but there is no doubt that Kiladangan's current group of players are making solid progress under manager Dan Hackett who remains at the helm. Hackett's men will be favoured to win a third consecutive North title in 2017, but you can be sure that Kiladangan will also have ambitions of making their mark on the county stage. Portumna's Seán Treacy has moved on as coach, but has been replaced by fellow Galway man Gavin Keary (Loughrea).
Philip Quirke is back as manager of Clonoulty-Rossmore for the 2017 season, but this time will work alongside coach Seán Prendergast (Lismore, Waterford). Prendergast previously coached Drom & Inch (2016) and Doon (2015) and should enjoy his time with the West champions who will hope to improve on their 2016 showing in the county semi-finals.
Drom & Inch are the pick of the Roinn I second seeds. Pádraig Butler takes over in Drom as manager, Paul Collins and Jimmy Maher (Freshford, Kilkenny) will take responsibility for the coaching of the side while Mick O'Sullivan and Kieran Young will work as selectors. There is no doubting the ability of the Drom & Inch players who must be a solid bet to do damage come the business end of the 2017 season.
Portumna's Johnny Kelly, who previously guided Kiladangan to the 2013 county semi-final as coach under Séamus Gleeson, has been appointed coach with Borris-Ileigh and will work alongside John McGrath and Philip Maher. Borris-Ileigh will benefit greatly from the full-time presence of Paddy Stapleton at training and considering the fact that a bunch of young players are now bedded into the side 2017 could be a significant year for the club.
Liam O'Shea and Shane McGrath will guide the fortunes of Kilruane MacDonagh's while Paul Curran returns as manager of Mullinahone for the second consecutive year. Darragh Duggan also returns as coach of the South champions. Duggan, originally from Holycross-Ballycahill, is a coach of real substance and Mullinahone could be one to watch out for. Mullinahone, of course, will be hoping that veteran Eoin Kelly recovers from a cruciate injury to play a part in their season.
Kilruane MacDonagh’s manager Liam O’Shea.
Upperchurch-Drombane, Éire Óg Annacarty, Nenagh Éire Óg and Portroe are the third-seeded teams in Roinn I.
Upperchurch-Drombane have appointed Séamus Gleeson as coach for the forthcoming season under manager John Ryan - the Kiladangan man replaces Thurles' Garry Mernagh. Gleeson previously managed a Kiladangan side who played a thrilling brand of hurling while he also guided the fortunes of Seán Treacy's and the Tipperary under-17 hurling team. Upperchurch have plenty of ability and a good hard edge to them which Gleeson can work with.
Éire Óg Annacarty will not officially confirm their senior management team until the club's adjourned AGM on January 13th. Ollie Kelly is the out-going manager with Annacarty. Kelly worked alongside coach Paul Sexton in 2016 and it is understood that the Éire Óg players would welcome the re-appointment of both.
2016 manager Anthony Freeman returns to the fold in Portroe, but as a member of a re-jigged management team which also features Paudie Hickey and John Sheedy (also a selector with the Tipperary minor team). Former Clare hurler and proud Feakle man Tommy Guilfoyle will take responsibility for the coaching duties. Guilfoyle made a positive impact on Knockavilla Kickhams in recent years and it will be interesting to see how the Clare man fares in this company.
Having lost out by a point in the 2013 county final, 2014 quarter-final and the 2015 county final Nenagh Éire Óg faltered badly in 2016 when losing out to Kiladangan and Mullinahone during the group stage of the championship. Éire Óg have appointed Donach O’Donnell as manager-coach in time for the 2017 season. O'Donnell coached Toomevara in 2015, Clonoulty-Rossmore in 2016 and, of course, also coached Limerick to a famous Munster senior hurling title in 2013. O'Donnell also won an All-Ireland colleges title in 2012 with a Nenagh CBS team which featured several of the current Éire Óg panel.
Although not officially confirmed the indications are that Declan Laffan and Pat McGrath will be re-appointed as the guiding force behind Loughmore-Castleiney for the 2017 season. Loughmore, of course, are the defending Mid champions and are smarting from their reasonably controversial exit from the 2016 county championship at the hands of Drom & Inch. Loughmore-Castleiney have oodles of talent and won the county title outright as recently as 2013 - the group they are drawn in will be more than interesting.
Burgess, Carrick Swan and Ballina represent the other fourth seeds in Roinn I. Manager Timmy Hogan returns at the Burgess helm for a second year while the club plan to appoint a coach during the coming weeks. Carrick Swan will be managed by Derek Hogan and coached by Niall O'Donnell. Finally, Brendan McKeogh has moved on as manager-coach with Ballina has been replaced by former Offaly player and former Faithful under-21 manager Aidan Hanrahan.
The top seeds in Roinn II are JK Bracken's, Roscrea, Templederry and Lorrha-Dorrha.
There is no appointment confirmed as of yet in Templemore while it's as you were in Roscrea with Ger Fitzpatrick as manager and Michael Scully as coach. Roscrea made great strides in 2016, especially during an encouraging divisional campaign, and will hope to carry that momentum into 2017.
Tom Madden has taken over as manager with Lorrha-Dorrha and he will be joined by Ken Hogan as coach. Hogan, the former Tipperary senior and under-21 manager, will be hoping that to steer his beloved Lorrha back into Roinn I.
The Templederry Kenyons took some notable scalps and qualified for a first-ever North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final (2015) under coach Brian Horgan, but the Knockavilla Kickhams man has since moved on and has been replaced by Eoin Brislane. The Toomevara man has been building quite an impressive coaching CV in recent years with the Tipperary Camogie team and the University of Limerick Fitzgibbon Cup team where he worked under Clare’s Brian Lohan. Indeed, in 2016 he managed both the Toomevara under-16 and minor teams and improved both to a significant degree. Therefore Brislane could be the man to make a key difference to a Templederry side who will benefit greatly from the presence of inter-county retiree Gearóid Ryan at training.
Michael Ferncombe will guide the fortunes of Holycross-Ballycahill in 2017. Considering the work that has gone into the Holycross club at underage level it is likely that Ferncombe's team are going to burst into life at some point. Michael Ferncombe is a man in demand on the coaching circuit considering the fact that he made a telling difference to the Tipperary intermediate hurling team which won back-to-back All-Ireland titles in recent years under manager Michael Ryan (Fethard). Holycross have the talent to play in Roinn I and Ferncombe is well capable of drawing solid performances out of his players.
Carrickshock's James O'Shea is reportedly taking the reins in Ballingarry - the South side performed admirably well in 2016 and only missed out on promotion to Roinn I on scoring difference to Ballina. Meanwhile Moycarkey-Borris will not confirm their management team for the 2017 season until the club's adjourned AGM takes place in the coming weeks.
Toomevara, Borrisokane and Clonakenny represent the third seeds in Roinn II.
Vincent McKenna, who helped to propel Clonakenny to a county intermediate hurling title in 2015, returns to the helm of his home club Borrisokane. McKenna has dedicated his life to the fortunes of Borris and you can expect Borrisokane to fight for their lives. Birr’s Oisín O’Neill has been confirmed as McKenna's replacement in Clonakenny while Toomevara have plumbed for club stalwarts Denis Kelly and Tommy Dunne.
Dunne will take responsibility for the coaching of the side - the 2001 hurler of the year requires no introduction to supporters of the blue and gold. Denis Kelly managed JK Bracken's in 2015-16 and also worked alongside Tommy and Ken Dunne with the Greyhounds' under-21A side which landed a divisional title in 2016. Toomevara are eager to extricate themselves from Roinn II and if Kelly's side play with the raw passion Denis was known for as a player then Toome could take stopping.
Newport will become the 35th club team to play in the revamped county senior hurling championship which was inaugurated in 2014 and features a two-tier group-phased system. Newport claimed the 2016 county intermediate hurling title under Dinny Ryan as manager and Martin Maher as coach. Borris-Ileigh's Martin Maher returns as coach in 2017 while Mark Harrington graduates from the role of selector to manager.
Paudie Slattery is taking over as manager with a Knockavilla Kickhams side who could really benefit from the coaching of Brian Horgan who did some exceptional work in transforming the Templederry Kenyons into a senior outfit of real note. Indeed, Horgan was misfortunate not to land the Kenyons' first-ever North title in 2015. Brian Horgan is also strongly associated with Michael Ryan’s Tipperary senior hurlers, but he is capable of making a huge impact on Knockavilla.
Finally, Na Piarsaigh's John Fitzgerald has been appointed as manager-coach with Silvermines. The Limerick man has traded one shade of blue for another in North Tipperary - Fitzgerald coached Nenagh Éire Óg during the 2013-16 period and enjoyed a notable success in 2014 when the Blues won the Frank McGrath Cup. Fitzgerald also coached Éire Óg to the 2013 and 2015 county finals. Indeed, he will be hoping to work the oracle with a Silvermines side who qualified for the 2013 North final, but who have miss-fired a little since than.
County Board chairman Michael Bourke pictured presenting the Dan Breen Cup to Thurles Sarsfields captain Pádraic Maher.
2017 SENIOR CLUB STRUCTURE
The structure of the 2017 Tipperary Water County Senior Hurling Championship is as follows: the competition is divided into two tiers, Roinn I and Roinn II.
In Roinn I the 16 participating teams are divided into four seeded groups with each side playing each group member.
Following three rounds of games each group winner qualifies for the county quarter-finals while each group runner-up battles it out with the divisional champions in the preliminary quarter-finals. The last placed teams in each group play-off in two games with the individual game losers demoted to Roinn II for 2018.
Thirteen teams in all will compete in Roinn II in 2017. There is, however, a significant change to the format of Roinn II for the coming season. The teams, similarly to Roinn I, will be divided into four groups with the group winners and runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals of the Ó Riain Cup. The winner of that round of games qualifies for the semi-finals of the Ó Riain Cup while both finalists are promoted to Roinn I for 2018.
The only way for Roinn II teams to compete for the Dan Breen Cup in 2017 is by winning their respective divisional championship and thereby qualify for a preliminary quarter-final against a second-placed team from a Roinn I group with a place in the outright quarter-finals up for grabs.
The seedings for 2017 senior club hurling championship draw are based on the finishing position of each club following the group stage of the 2016 senior hurling championship.
Therefore the Roinn I seedings are as follows:-
One: Killenaule, Thurles Sarsfields, Kiladangan & Clonoulty-Rossmore.
Two: Drom & Inch, Borris-Ileigh, Mullinahone & Kilruane.
Three: Upperchurch-Drombane, Éire Óg Annacarty, Nenagh Éire Óg & Portroe.
Four: Burgess, Carrick Swans, Loughmore-Castleiney & Ballina.
Each group will feature a team from each seeding category i.e. the draw, for instance, could pit Thurles Sarsfields, Drom & Inch, Upperchurch-Drombane and Loughmore-Castleiney against one another.
The Roinn II seedings are as follows:-
One: JK Bracken’s, Roscrea, Templederry & Lorrha.
Two: Holycross-Ballycahill, Moycarkey-Borris & Ballingarry.
Three: Toomevara, Borrisokane & Clonakenny.
Four: Knockavilla Kickhams, Silvermines & Newport.
Similarly to Roinn I each group will feature a team from each seeding category.