Tipperary's reservoir of underage hurling talent is not as deep as has been suggested

As the second major competition the national league is still a significant prize

Noel McGrath

Westside says it would be a shame if Tipperary heroes such as Noel McGrath didn’t add a national league medal to their considerable collection of honours

At the halfway stage in the hurling league it seems an appropriate time to take stock of events. After three rounds Tipperary remain unbeaten and well placed to attack the two remaining fixtures – in Mullingar on Sunday to face Westmeath and then the final spin down to Walsh Park the following week for a date with Liam Cahill and the Deise.
Tipperary haven’t won the league since 2008, which means that Seamie Callanan is the only member of the present panel with a league medal. It’s a glaring omission and won’t it be a shame if players like Paudie and Brendan and Noel slip away into retirement without a league to sit beside all their other trophies.
Okay, no amount of league medals would ever equate to an All-Ireland, but as the second major competition in the sport the league is still a significant prize. Imagine our heroes of the past decade and more sitting back and admiring their achievements from All-Irelands at minor, U21 and senior level to Munster wins and All-Star statuettes and then realising there’s a gap on the sideboard.
Coming from a county once regarded as the league specialists would make that absence all the more pronounced. Without a league the roll of honour is incomplete.
A league title then is a desirable target and one that Tipperary has every incentive to reach for this year. Of course, if Cork win their two remaining games then that ambition is frustrated for another year. However, the Rebels face Limerick and Galway in those two fixtures so winning both will be difficult. Any slip and Tipperary are back in the game.
All of which sets the background for the county’s two remaining matches. They’ll be expected to collect the points against Westmeath and in the process enhance score difference, which would then set up the Waterford tie as a really tasty one.
Given that the team won’t make its championship bow until July 4 there’s every reason to build up for a major effort in that Waterford match. There’s then a gap of three weeks before the championship outing so the timeline is ideal.
Doing the business in Mullingar is the first task and it will be interesting to see what formation Liam Sheedy sends into action this time. It’s a game that, for obvious reasons, allows more scope for experimentation so you’d expect more fringe players to see action.
Already this year there have been encouraging signs from some of the new players. Brian McGrath surely did enough to earn more exposure and Paddy Cadell offered evidence of his potential too, especially in the first half of the Galway game.
Bryan O’Mara, one of the brightest prospects, was unfortunate to be the victim of some rough treatment in the Limerick game but his recovery is reported to be well ahead of schedule, so we may see him back in the colours sooner than expected.
In all of this, however, expectations need to be tempered. Liam Cahill’s underage achievements in Tipperary created a false narrative that suggested a rich reservoir of talent bubbling to the surface. One of the daily papers in recent weeks carried a headline about a “gush” of talent emerging in Tipperary.
If only. The reality is a lot more sober than such a tabloid tone suggests. There is no surge of talent chomping at the bit. Instead, we have a limited number of players with some potential to make the grade. Ultimately if Tipperary are to succeed this year it will be driven again by the tried, tested and trusted, supplemented by a few newbies. There is certainly nothing there to compare with the generation of talent that emerged in 2009.
Thus far in the league Westmeath have been something of the whipping boys of Group A. Ahead of Sunday’s match their score difference stands at minus 66 points. In their last game they endured a 33-point mauling by Cork. Previously Galway hit them with a 30-point margin, though only 3 points separated them from a very experimental Waterford.
Anything other than another hefty gap on Sunday will raise issues about Tipperary. And of course, for Liam Sheedy any displays by upcoming players must be assessed in the context of the opposition.
This will be only our tenth ever league meeting with Westmeath with the score standing at seven-two in Tipperary’s favour. We lost twice in the early eighties to the Lake County when the so-called famine was still proving difficult to shake. Last year’s corresponding fixture in the Stadium went 3-27 to 0-16 in Tipperary’s favour.
With the bookies you’ll have to invest 500 euro to win 1 if you’re backing Tipperary. Defeat then is unthinkable so the main focus will be on how the newcomers fare and how our score differential is affected.
Elsewhere the league has tossed up a few items of interest. Kilkenny haven’t gone away you know, so Cody’s crew are sitting pretty at the top of Group B. The nature of their win over Wexford at the weekend, in a Covid-delayed fixture, raised eyebrows as much for the poverty of the Yellowbellies display as the power of the stripey ones. Cody may not have the rich resources of the past but he’s certainly getting the best out of what he has.
Limerick encountering some turbulence was another notable aspect of the series in recent weeks. Defeats on the bounce by Galway and Waterford contrasted with their all-conquering motion of previous years and, perhaps, prompted some reassessment. A tighter rule interpretation certainly isn’t to their liking but I’ve no doubt they’ll adapt and adjust as the season advances.
Mrs Kiely’s son landed himself in some difficulty after comments following the Galway game. Watching John, I always think of the late Br Tom Horgan in the Abbey. Wexford by birth, Tipperary by adoption, he was the last of the Brothers there and something of a loved legend in the place for many years. He taught John Kiely but always referred to him as Mrs Kiely’s son.
Anyway, the Limerick manager got himself into difficulties when he cut loose in that interview following the defeat to Galway. There was a gripe about the new rules but it was the simulation charge against Galway that was bound to be most problematic. Two thoughts strike me in relation to the whole episode.
Firstly, it was entirely uncharacteristic. Since taking over as Limerick manager he has rightly won much praise and admiration for his conduct both during and after games. He has been articulate, measured and dignified on all occasions, contributing majorly to the high regard the public had for Limerick’s breakthrough achievements.
Secondly, what happened in the days subsequent to the interview was a textbook example of how to address these situations. Instead of doubling down or trying to explain (when you’re explaining you’re losing) he put his hands up and came out with an unreserved mea culpa. It was exactly what any PR expert would advise and it buried the controversy before it had time to develop.
One incidental consequence was, perhaps, that his comments on the rules, which would have a lot of public support, got lost behind the simulation charge.
Overall, it was a slip-up but John will have emerged a far wiser man from it and I’d be astonished if there was ever a repeat. Limerick remain All-Ireland favourites, the team everyone will have to beat once championship kicks off. Mrs Kiely’s son still holds the strongest hand.
Limerick’s opening match against Cork on July 3 is shaping up to be some event. The Rebels have found a new bounce this year and with the Shannonsiders wobbling slightly in the league it has the potential to be a real cracker - and one that could have a major bearing on the outcome of the championship.
Finally, there’s no major update at writing time on the west Tipp transfer story, as the county board still awaits the written verdict of the DRA. Once that has been received, I understand there may be some clarification sought and then the new committee will proceed with the re-hearing of the case.
It all seems torturously slow with the players, in the meantime, left in limbo. May 31 was the deadline for player registrations, so it’s unclear now how that is going to affect the players involved in this case.
I would assume, if one can assume anything in this scenario, that if the transfers eventually go through then some derogation will be sought with regard to the registration rules.
It will be interesting to see how the new committee deals with the DRA recommendation. The obvious response would be to accept the verdict and sanction the transfers but there may be some reservations concerning the long-term implications.
I am aware of some annoyance on the players’ side with the local media when they link the case to the parish rule. The argument is that the transfer requests didn’t use the parish rule - i.e. Cashel residence - so therefore it’s irrelevant to the overall case.
Well, the original refusal of the transfer requests was because they were in breach of the parish rule and what the DRA is suggesting is a way of overriding the strict terms of that same by- law. In those circumstances I’m not sure how you can divorce the two.
Anyway, we await developments.

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