A major item on Colm Bonnar's CV is his success in bringing Carlow up through the ranks, says Westside
White smoke finally billowed from the County Board chambers during the week to announce the arrival of the newly anointed one to guide Tipperary hurling for the next three years. Habemus papam.
We have a new hurling supremo after Colm Bonnar’s endorsement as successor to Liam Sheedy. The news came as a surprise to many and reactions have been mixed.
His name is one of those often mentioned in passing with regard to the Tipp job but he was never seen as a front runner. Yet last week, as it became clear that William Maher wasn’t winning favour and options were diminishing fast, the Cashel man suddenly found himself elevated. I suspect it was as much a surprise to Colm as it was to many others.
His hurling pedigree is impressive. He was a key player in that emerging generation of the early eighties that would eventually end the famine and harvest two All-Irelands in the process. Actually, Colm has the complete package of All-Ireland medals from minor, U21, senior and intermediate.
I was an unapologetic fan of Colm the player, something which at times drew criticism my way. As a hurler he had his limitations – Babs Keating was always critical of his failure to address these – but it was the warrior spirit in him that I admired most. If you wanted someone to wade into the trenches, as every team does, then Colm was your man.
At club level in the west, Kickhams were an emerging side in the nineties but they regularly came up short against Cashel and Colm, more than any other King Cormacs player, was always regarded as the main stumbling block.
As coach/trainer his experience is extensive. I suppose the college in Waterford was the base from which everything else developed. He established quite a dynasty of Fitzgibbon Cup wins and inevitably was lured into the Waterford set-up. Incidentally he played club with Dunhill at one stage in the nineties.
Michael Cleary saw his value to the camogie team, where he oversaw more success, and he’s been involved with a number of club sides, most recently Dicksboro of Kilkenny. Ken Hogan, of course, brought him on board as physical trainer with Tipperary during his term as manager.
A major item on his CV is his success in bringing Carlow up through the ranks in past years. Previous to that he spent three years managing Wexford but without any noteworthy success.
And therein lies the main question mark people will raise about the new manager. As a hands-on coach/trainer his credentials are impressive but the requirements of managing a team like Tipperary, particularly at this crossroads moment in the county’s history, are complex and multi-faceted and require an entirely different set of skills. Has he got that capability? Only Colm himself can ultimately provide the answer.
Much may depend on the team he assembles around him and many have been surprised that his appointment was endorsed without having that team in place. Has the board effectively given the new manager a blank cheque to appoint his own men or do they retain the right to veto anyone they consider unsuitable? Nowadays, more than ever, managers tend to come as a package rather than standalone individuals and yet that requirement doesn’t appear to have been put in place here.
In all of this, and not withstanding reservations, the new man deserves our good wishes. In wishing him well we’re effectively wishing ourselves well because he carries all our hopes.
Meanwhile the playing pitches were buzzing last weekend, with games galore countywide producing some significant outcomes.
I felt in advance that the Borris-Ileigh/Kilruane clash was going to be a weekend highlight and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a right dinger of a contest, brimful of incident and drama, one of those games where there was little time for note-taking as events unfolded at a frantic pace.
The MacDonaghs came to the game with a notable win over Nenagh and they certainly sustained that form line here with a right positive display that Borris ultimately couldn’t handle. Kilruane were hugely disappointing in crunch ties in recent years but the evidence here was entirely different. This was old-style Kilruane, dogged and effective and well worthy of their win.
They led by six at half-time. The sight of Craig Morgan barrelling out of defence to drive a huge point from inside his own half epitomised the spirit of his team. Mind you, they might have spilled a few early goals and did eventually leak two to James Devaney and Gerry Kelly before the interval. Sandwiched between those, however, was a Willie Cleary response and the MacDonaghs’ greater points spread, many coming from turnovers, was the critical factor.
By now both sides had suffered significant blows, however. Dan McCormack, Borris-Ileigh’s best player up to that point, was hit with a late tackle on a surge upfield and eventually had to be replaced. It was a heavy blow for Borris.
Then Niall O’Meara’s injury woes struck again when he seemed to go over on an ankle and had to be helped off. There was further depletion of player numbers just before half-time when Kilruane’s Cian Darcy and Borris-Ileigh’s Tommy Ryan saw red after an off-the-ball altercation. Blink and you were likely to miss the action here.
To their credit Borris-Ileigh mounted a stubborn rally in the third quarter, spearheaded by the point scoring of Eddie Ryan and Conor Kenny. However, just when they seemed to be motoring Kilruane struck for their second goal, Seamus Hennessy the finisher of an ensemble move that started outfield.
It remained a tight enough issue to the very end, a pair of late Seamus Hennessy points critical in keeping his side ahead for a rousing win. Eddie Ryan was narrowly wide on a late effort that would have tied the game.
Kilruane are now guaranteed quarter-final action and in this mood will be a handful for any side. As for Borris, their fate rests on a crunch tie with Nenagh, which is one to anticipate.
Two years ago, back in April 2019, Eire Og Annacarty pulled off a notable win over Thurles Sarsfields in a group game at Dundrum. It was one of those moments where you knew that Sars were really on the slide.
Well, the clubs revisited the same venue on Sunday evening last but with a vastly different outcome this time. Rumours of a Sarsfields revival are well founded, the evidence here quite emphatic.
This was a tour de force by a rejuvenated Thurles side who are right back in the mix after a few slack years. They led by fifteen at half-time and eventually won by twenty in what was a tough outing for Annacarty.
It certainly looks like a rejuvenated, if not entirely reinvented Sarsfields side. With new management they’ve rejigged matters and are building a nice head of steam, playing a style that’s full of energy, running and slick score taking. It was all too much for Annacarty.
A lot of the old reliables are still there for Sarsfields with Paudie and Ronan anchoring the defence, Michael Cahill and Stephen Cahill at midfield and Aidan McCormack and Pa Bourke still a force in attack. But they’re blended with a neat mix of newer lads who look really sharp, such as Paddy Creedon, Conor Stakelum and Seanie Butler in attack as well as Jack Derby, David Corbett, Seosamh Ryan and Paul Maher in defence. Darragh Stakelum was out injured and Billy McCarthy is said to be on the way back. They look a potent force at this stage.
Eire Og, true to character, kept battling, with Tom Fox crashing in a smashing second half goal but overall they simply couldn’t match the expansive play of Thurles. They now face a tough one against Drom in the final outing.
Clonoulty too face a real dogfight against neighbours Holycross in their final round after coming off a point short to Toomevara on Sunday last. It wasn’t the best of the games at the weekend but it was certainly tight and featured a tense finish, as a Jack Ryan goal from a free gave the west side a late chance to steal a draw. However, the final free from midfield veered left of the target and Toome prevailed.
On balance the north side just about deserved to edge this one. They were a bit sharper and snappier in their play, Mark McCarthy their top scorer on ten points, two from play. Clonoulty were more wasteful of their chances from play and frees and in the end it was the difference.
This is arguably the tightest of all the groups, with Toomevara facing Mullinahone and Clonoulty up against Holycross in the final games, which will decide places. Mullinahone had a valuable one-point win over Holycross last weekend, Eoin Kelly inevitably with the winner. The final round here could produce several permutations.
In the intermediate grade I saw Kilsheelan/Kilcash score a big win over Boherlahan. Hero of the hour was Jamie Roche, son of 2005 All-Ireland final referee Seamus Roche. Jamie hit 2-3 by my reckoning in an eleven-point win. The winners looked a useful combination.
Finally, a Declan Carr tweet during the week suggested that Liam Sheedy should be recruited to oversee a major overhaul of the county’s hurling development structures. I don’t always agree with Declan but he’s on the money here. The problem is that the County Board seems to be tone deaf on the issue.
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