Tipperary senior football manager Liam Kearns.
Tipperary football manager Liam Kearns is eagerly looking forward to the 2017 campaign and is keen to see where his fast-improving panel of players can go. Kearns’ men are this week preparing for a trip to the Kingdom on Sunday, January 8th - the Tipperary football team will launch their McGrath Cup campaign against Kerry on Sunday in Austin Stack Park, Tralee (throw-in 2pm).
Last year Kearns' late appointment to the manager's role hampered preparations, but Tipperary are motoring well this term, the players have some solid work behind them and new coach Jerome Stack has settled in well.
“We are in better shape this year than we were at this stage last year,” Liam Kearns told the Tipperary Star this week.
“We have a year's work done with the lads and 2016 was a very progressive year. We are looking forward now to maintaining that progress. I said last year that we were a young, improving team as we progressed through the championship. We improved to the point where we could, and possible should, have reached an All-Ireland final which was phenomenal. I feel that there is more improvement in the squad and in most of the players. So, if we can keep improving and developing it will be very interesting to see where we can go,” the Kerry man added.
This year the provincial pre-season competition will be run on a two-group system. And, Tipperary will play their second, and final game, during the group phase of the McGrath Cup, on Wednesday, January 11th when Liam Kearns’ side host Cork at Dr Morris Park, Thurles (7.30pm). In group B Clare, Waterford and Limerick will battle it out with the winners facing Tipperary, Kerry or Cork in the McGrath Cup final on Sunday, January 22nd. Tipperary last qualified for the McGrath Cup final in 2013 (lost to Kerry). Indeed, it will be interesting to see how seriously Liam Kearns and company take the McGrath Cup competition. Kerry, for example, have revealed that Jack O’Connor’s under-21 team will fulfil Sunday's fixture against Tipp.
It stands to reason that Tipperary will have their thoughts trained on their up-coming division three league campaign which kicks off with a home game against Antrim in Clonmel on Sunday, February 5th.
NUMBER ONE GOAL
During the league Tipperary will also face Sligo (Sunday, February 12th - home), Laois (Saturday, February 25th - away), Longford (Sunday, March 5th - home), Offaly (Sunday, March 19th - away), Lough (Sunday, March 26th - home) and Armagh (Sunday, April 2nd - away). The league final is scheduled for Saturday, April 8th, but, according to Liam Kearns, the championship clash with either Cork or Waterford on the week-ending Sunday, June 11th is his team's priority.
“The league is not a priority, but it would be one of our goals to gain promotion from division three,” Liam Kearns explained.
“It would not be our number one goal. Our number one goal would be the Munster semi-final next June against Waterford or Cork. That will be our number one goal. To get promotion from the league would be a goal, but we would not be training the team with the intention of flogging them and leave our best championship performances out on the training ground prior to the actual championship.”
This week Liam Kearns released a 40-man panel to the Tipperary Star. The squad, of course, features a number of familiar names while the inclusion of others like Liam Casey, Paddy Codd, Willie Connors, Conor Kenny, Liam McGrath, Emmet Moloney and Paul Shanahan is more than encouraging.
“We have a lot of new guys in and we have got different guys at different stages (of their preparation). Obviously, some guys had long years and we are looking after injured guys at this time of the year when you can afford to allow players to rehab and so on,” Tipperary senior football manager Liam Kearns said.
“Invariably at this time of the year we have guys at different stages and we will be looking at the newer players, obviously, to see what they are about. We will be giving them every opportunity and with the McGrath Cup coming up that is exactly what we intend on doing. We want to give as many young players as much of an opportunity as we can.
“There are quite a few of the new players showing up well in training and in the couple of challenge matches that we have played so far. But it is very early in the year and we just have to feel our way into it with them and see how they progress,” Liam Kearns added.
During the off-season Liam Kearns added former Kerry under-21 manager Jerome Stack to his back room team as coach. Stack worked with the Limerick senior team in 2015 and also coached Laois while he made a telling impact on the Dromcollogher-Broadford club team.
Although former selector Tommy Toomey has moved on Golden-Kilfeacle's Shane Stapleton features on the management team as coach-selector alongside Paul Fitzgerald (Fethard). Dave Moriarty heads up the strength and conditioning team alongside Paul Howard while Ian Dowling is the lead physiotherapist with Paul McMahon playing a supporting role. Brian Lacey and Michael Byrnes will perform a key duty for the team in terms of performance analysis.
Although Liam Kearns is looking forward to the year the Kerry man does realise that the trajectory of Tipperary's 2016 championship campaign means that his players will be marked men in 2017.
“The element of surprise is gone and I would say that we will have a target on our backs,” Liam Kearns admitted to the Tipperary Star.
“I am sure that every division three team will see us as a team that they would like to beat based on what we achieved last year, but that's the challenge for us now. We have to deal with that and still make progress. The management team's challenge is to make the players realise that we have to reach certain standards now. We have to be aware now that other teams are going to be targeting us and we have to be able to stand up to that,” Liam Kearns said before his thoughts, unavoidably, turned to the loss of key players, especially that of Moyle Rovers' Peter Acheson.
“Unfortunately we have lost Peter Acheson who is, to all intents and purposes, an All Star,” Liam Kearns explained.
“We are no different to any other county - we can't afford to lose All Stars. We have potentially lost four All Stars in the last two years between Colin O'Riordan, Séamus Kennedy, Steven O'Brien and now Peter Acheson. That is a lot of top class talent to be losing in any county. It's not something that we can afford to do. It is going to be difficult to replace Peter Acheson and that's the aim for the league; to try to replace him. He is a real leader. It's grand to talk about players who are capable of competing for All Stars and players in that bracket, but those kinds of players do not grow on trees.”
Meanwhile Michael Ryan’s All-Ireland champions will not compete in the 2017 Munster Senior Hurling League for the second successive year - Tipperary will play a series of challenges matches prior to launching their Allianz Hurling League Division 1A campaign against Dublin at Croke Park on Saturday, February 11th.
SENIOR FOOTBALL PANEL
The Tipperary senior football panel: Philip Austin (Borrisokane), Liam Boland (Moyle Rovers), Luke Boland (Moyle Rovers), Aidan Buckley (St Patrick’s), David Butler (Knockavilla Kickhams), Alan Campbell (Moyle Rovers), Liam Casey (Cahir), Paddy Codd (Killenaule), Evan Comerford (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Willie Connors (Kiladangan), Martin Dunne (Moyle Rovers), Ian Fahey (Clonmel Commercials), Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials), Jimmy Feehan (Killenaule), Diarmuid Foley (Moyle Rovers), Brian Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty), George Hannigan (Shannon Rovers), Joseph Hennessy (Loughmore-Castleiney), Cian Hennessy (Loughmore-Castleiney), Josh Keane (Golden-Kilfeacle), Jack Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials), Conor Kenny (Borris-Ileigh), Ciarán Kenrick (Moyle Rovers), Robbie Kiely (Carbery Rangers, Cork), Jason Lonergan (Clonmel Commercials), Bill Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Ciarán McDonald (Aherlow), Aidan McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Liam McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Emmet Moloney (Drom & Inch), Alan Moloney (Rockwell Rovers), Ross Mulcahy (Moyle Rovers), Shane O'Connell (Golden-Kilfeacle), Kevin O'Halloran (Portroe), Colm O’Shaughnessy (Ardfinnan), Michael Quinlivan (Clonmel Commercials), Paul Shanahan (Upperchurch-Drombane), Colm Stapleton (Upperchurch-Drombane), Conor Sweeney (Ballyporeen) & Liam Treacy (Loughmore-Castleiney).