Tipperary's Jake Morris puts Waterford's Shane McNulty under pressure during the All-Ireland senior hurling championship quarter-final. Picture: Sportsfile
However far the senior team advanced in the championship, this year was always going to be a watershed one for Tipperary hurling.
With a core of players nearing the end of their careers and some uncertainty over whether Liam Sheedy will continue as manager, it’s evident that a rebuilding exercise of some description will be needed.
The All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Waterford has only served to intensify the spotlight on the question of where hurling in the county goes from here.
Tipp were second best for the majority of a thrilling tussle at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and yet they were still within touching distance of a place in the last four in the dying minutes. However their spirited fightback, launched at a time when they looked dead and buried, didn’t alter the game’s trajectory, as Waterford prevailed in a sometimes chaotic finale.
This was Tipp’s fourth defeat in their last six championship games, a far cry from the golden memories of relatively recent All-Ireland success in 2016 and 2019, with a new order having been established in the game’s hierarchy.
Many of the same cast may be still involved on either side of the whitewash, yet much of the spark that lit up the performances of those wearing the blue and gold two years ago, five years ago, in the drawn All-Ireland final of 2014 and in 2010 seems to have vanished.
If there are to be wholesale changes in the camp, both on and off the field, then those departing should do so with every good wish and a deep sense of gratitude for everything they have given the county, not to mention what they achieved over the past decade or so.
It may have been said countless times already but they really do owe their county nothing at this stage.
Players including Padraic Maher, Seamus Callanan, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath and Patrick Bonner Maher are up there with the county’s all time greats. And if any of them decide to call it a day, their places won’t be too easily filled.
Liam Sheedy also has a big decision to make about his future, and whether he sticks around to oversee the rebuilding job or decides that now is the right time to step away. His record of two All-Ireland titles in two separate spells in charge bears favourable comparison with any of his predecessors.
If he leaves, then speculation will inevitably focus on Waterford manager Liam Cahill as his replacement.
The Ballingarry man’s CV from his recent time as an underage manager in his native county is beyond compare, with All-Ireland titles won at minor, Under 21 and Under 20. He is someone who lives and breathes the game and talks about it with a passion and an honesty that’s refreshing.
“I take no pleasure in being part of this Waterford team that knocked Tipperary out of the championship,” he said last Saturday.
“A lot of those fellas that played there for Tipp and were on the panel have been great warriors for me a number of years ago and it was a difficult place to be today. But look, a job had to be done and it was done and we move on now,” he said.
In the event of a managerial vacancy arising in Tipperary this autumn, it can’t be taken as a given that Liam Cahill will jump ship and return home. Before he took over, Waterford hadn’t won a championship match in two years. Since his arrival they have beaten Tipp, Cork, Kilkenny, Clare and Galway.
It’s highly likely that at some point in the future he will be the Tipp manager. However, for the time being he might want to try and finish what he has started with Waterford, with the county still searching for a first All-Ireland title since 1959.
For now, Tipperary supporters can only speculate on what their team will look like by the time they take to the field for their first league game next year.
The game was played at Golden at the weekend
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