The only way is up!
By Shane Brophy
If Colm Bonnar leads Tipperary to All-Ireland glory during his term as manager, the fact he lost his first game in charge to Kerry will be quickly forgotten.
Stepping into the shoes of Liam Sheedy is a big task in its own right so to get off to a losing start to the weakest county in Munster is the last thing he would have wanted, but nonetheless is not the end of the world.
Still, it was an ignominious start to a new era for Tipperary hurling as very much a fringe selection fell to a 0-17 to 0-14 defeat in the quarter final of the Munster Hurling League at a frigid Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Saturday.
It means Tipperary will go into the National League which starts on February 5th, with no further competitive games, although they have challenge matches lined up, starting with Darragh Egan’s Wexford next weekend.
In some way it may suit Colm Bonnar and his management to continue their preparations under the radar over the next four weeks as they put the finishing touches to their panel, currently at 47, to be whittled down to around 35 before they travel to Laois on the first Saturday in February.
Certainly, last Saturday many players who got an opportunity to stake a claim didn’t do their chances any good at all, particularly with a number of experienced campaigners set to return in the coming weeks, including Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher who the Tipp manager revealed is back in full training, saying he is a “shining example for all”.
The fact that Tipperary had just twenty players available last Saturday, for various reasons, including Covid and close contacts, certainly didn’t help their chances of getting off to a winning start but Bonnar has been pleased with the commitment shown so far in the first month of training, even though he hasn’t had a full deck present yet.
“I have to give it to the players; they have been looking after themselves. Anyone we have brought in are in very good condition,” he said.
“Everybody that wants to play for Tipperary knows they have to be ready when they come onto the field. It is not just a case of getting a surprise when called up and then having to play catch-up. A lot of the players we have brought in there is a massive amount of work put into these players over the past three or four years. They have been biting at the bit to see can they get a shot at this.
“Fitness is never a worry for me, and everybody knows Tipp lads can hurl a ball through your ears, but it is what you bring when you get out onto the field that is what we are looking at.
“We are hoping by the third week of January that we will be looking at a fairly settled panel in terms of what we would hope to move forward with.”
Bonnar confirmed that he is expecting no more retirements from the senior players, on top of Brendan Maher who called it a day last year, while also confirming that Niall O’Meara and Bryan O’Mara cannot commit this year and won’t be part of the panel.
The Cashel King Cormacs clubman also confirmed the rest of his backroom, an impressive collection of experienced and professional experts in their fields, with Strength & Conditioning coach Tom Hargroves, out of Setanta College, who previously worked with Bristol Rugby and the Laois footballers.
The connection to Setanta College is further strengthened by Damien Young staying on as performance analyst, and Niall Heuston who will be the nutritionist who comes from Loughborough University in the UK, and former Ireland rugby international Stephen McIvor who will be the team’s performance coach.
“I knew the value of Setanta College having done a few courses there and I knew what they were about. I know Liam Hennessy from when he started up the company,” Bonner said.
“There is a totally new fresh approach inside there from all the different people we have pulled in. We have a top-class management team behind us and that has brought a freshness.”
Nenagh based John Casey is back as team physiotherapist after Paddy O’Brien stepped away, while Mick Clohessy staying on as masseur. Tom Hassett from Cloughjordan is kitman with Thurles’ Jim Gould as logistics manager, while Dr Paul Ryan, also from Thurles, is the new team doctor, replacing Dr Brendan Murphy.