Donal Lynch, accepts the O'Dwyer Cup from County Football Board chairman, Joe Hannigan, after Commercials had defeated Killenaule in last year's county final.
Weather permitting, dare we say it in the second half of April, and if venues are dried out enough following Storm Irene’s good night on Monday, the county senior football championship will kick off this weekend.
Sixteen teams in four groups of four start out on a road that for one will lead to the lifting of the O’Dwyer Cup in the autumn, a trophy currently held by Clonmel Commercials.
A change to the championship this year means that divisional winners WILL NOT gain access to the knockout stages so these group games are the only way to ultimate glory in 2018.
The big question though is can anyone step in to disrupt the duopoly that has seen Clonmel Commercials and Loughmore / Castleiney share the last six county titles between them.
No doubt the Clonmel side will once again start as favourites with a star studded team containing quite a few who featured in the county’s Division 2 campaign during the spring.
Moyle Rovers' Alan Campbell who Tipp manager Liam Kearns regards as one of the best defenders in the country.
County champions in 2017, 2015 and 2012 and Munster champions in 2015 when they defeated Nemo Rangers in the provincial decider, manager Charlie McGeever has the likes of Michael Quinlivan, Jack Kennedy, Kevin and Ian Fahey, Jason Lonergan, Liam Ryan and goalkeeper Michael O’Reilly to backbone another county challenge.
There is strength in depth and loads of experience also available to the Western Road club and if they are properly focused there is no doubt that they should come through Group 4 comfortably.
They open up their campaign on Sunday at noon in Cahir when their famed rivals of yesteryear Ardfinnan provide the opposition. Anything but a win for Commercials against a side who have been struggling in recent years to retain senior status would be a huge shock.
Loughmore / Castleiney are arguably the county’s best club pound-for-pound such are their achievements each year in both codes at senior level. With three county senior football titles over the last six years one can expect them to be the greatest threat again to Commercials and if they can avoid each other in the run-in they could well meet in the county decider.
County teammates Liam McGrath (Loughmore/Castleiney) and Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials) two stars who are sure to brighten up the 2018 County Senior Football Championship.
Champions in 2016, 2014 and 2013 (when they achieved the remarkable football and hurling double), Loughmore are teak tough when it comes to the business end of the year. The imponderable here though can be the demands of the dual code, particularly if their hurlers are going well. Having lost in the county hurling championship to Kildangan on Sunday last, if they were to exit the hurling stage early on, their focus on the big ball, and their threat on the football championship, would greatly increase.
Declan Laffan, Pat McGrath & Co., have county senior players Liam McGrath, John Meagher and Liam Treacy in top form after a spring with Liam Kearns’ side. When you add in the likes of John, Noel and Brian McGrath, Ciaran McGrath, Joseph Hennessy and Evan Sweeney, Loughmore are always tremendously difficult to overcome.
The senior football championship opens with their game v Drom/Inch at The Ragg on Friday night at 7pm. Expect a close local derby but Loughmore will be expected to pick up their first points from Group 1.
Outside of the top two, Moyle Rovers will once again be seen as the team most likely to end the Lanigan’s Ball that has been the Tipperary Senior Football Championship for the past half a dozen years.
Beaten in the semi-final last year by Killenaule, Rovers lost the finals in 2016 (Loughmore) and 2015 (Commercials) and have to go all the way back to the 2009 for their last success when former dual All-Star Declan Browne was their man of the match in a win over Aherlow Gaels. Unsurprisingly to many, Rovers' fortunes faded as the legendary Browne drifted into retirement.
Team manager Niall Fitzgerald will be hoping to set that record straight this year and there are signs, with a county under 21 title last year and a final appearance at the same grade earlier this year, that the tide is turning with new talent arriving on the scene at Monroe.
This year they will have to do without long-serving Martin Dunne who has transferred to Kilrossanty, but they still have plenty of inter-county talent to call on in Alan Campbell, Liam and Luke Boland, Sean Carey, David McGrath and keeper Ciarán Kenrick.
Rovers open their Group 2 campaign against Arravale Rovers in Golden at 2 pm on Sunday. The Tipperary Town side are an outfit they always find hard to defeat and bearing in mind that Arravale Rovers ran county champions Commercials to a point in last year’s quarter-final, the men from the West too will have their eyes on winning a title that hasn’t had their name on it since 1985.
Outside of the top three Kilsheelan/Kilcash and Killenaule will command much respect and either, on a good day, are well capable of competing with the very best.
Killenaule made their way to an historic county final last year, defeating Aherlow Gaels in the quarter-finals and Moyle Rovers in the semi-finals. Like all dual clubs, depending on how their hurlers are faring, will greatly influence their approach to the football code.
Jimmy Feehan (Killenaule) will be hoping 'The Robins' can get back to another county senior football decider this year.
Jimmy and Paudie Feehan, Stephen Browne, Paddy Codd, Liam Bergin, John O’Dwyer, the Doyles are all very talented footballers and will be ones to keep an eye on in Group 3 alongside Cahir, Ballyporeen and newcomers Kildangan.
Kilsheelan have been promising to deliver for a few years now and maybe this might be their time. There is huge talent Suirside with county keeper Evan Comerford, Bill and Paul Maher, Brendan Martin, the Kehoes, and more. They are in a tough Group 1 with Loughmore, JK Brackens and Drom but should progress further.
Donagh Leahy (Arravale Rovers) who along with his brother Shane provide great options always for the Tipperary Town side who will be hoping to bridge a 33 year gap since their last county title in 1985.
Loughmore/Castleiney, Drom/Inch, Kilsheelan/Kilcash, JK Brackens
Moyle Rovers, Arravale Rovers, Galtee Rovers, Upperchurch/Drombane
Killenaule, Kildangan, Ballyporeen, Cahir
Ardfinnan, Clonmel Commercials, Aherlow Gaels, Eire Og Annacarty
EIGHT SENIOR FOOTBALL GAMES THIS WEEKEND
FRIDAY, APRIL 20
Group 1 Round 1
The Ragg 19:00, Loughmore-Castleiney V Drom-Inch
SATURDAY, APRIL 21
Group 2 Round 1
Pairc Ciocaim, Dundrum, 18:30, Galtee Rovers/St Pecaun V Upperchurch-Drombane
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Group 4 Round 1
Cahir 12:00, Ardfinnan V Clonmel Commercials
Group 2 Round 1
Golden 14:00, Moyle Rovers V Arravale Rovers
Group 3 Round 1
Borrisoleigh 15:00, Killenaule V Kildangan
Group 1 Round 1
Leahy Park Cashel 15:30, Kilsheelan-Kilcash V JK Brackens
Group 3 Round 1
Ardfinnan 15:30, Ballyporeen V Cahir
Group 4 Round 1
Sean Treacy Park 15:30, Aherlow Gaels V Éire Óg Annacarty/Donohill