IN ALL FAIRNESS - Warming up for 2023

Collective training was allowed to recommence as of last Thursday, but most inter-county players would have been doing gym sessions long before that to tune up for the harshness of what is to come. These dark evenings under the lights are what can make or break a team. Banking these stamina-laden physical sessions can have marked results in the last fifteen minutes of a championship game late next summer.

From a Tipperary perspective, we hope we will be involved at that stage, so these early sessions are vital for new manager Liam Cahill and his backroom team to set-out their stall and from where players will get a feel of what they are about and what is to come.

In announcing his first forty-man panel earlier this month, Cahill gave a glimpse to the future but not completely forgetting about the present. While Tipperary have to build a new team, the value of experience remains vital and retaining new skipper Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Patrick Maher suggests Cahill wants Tipperary to be able achieve something in 2023, rather than focusing completely on rebuilding which can sometimes lead to a down year in terms of results.

When taking the helm in Waterford, Liam Cahill had a talented panel to walk into, many of whom won an under 21 All-Ireland in 2016 and played in a senior All-Ireland in 2017. They had two down years following that but the age profile and quality of which suggested they were under-performing and Cahill was able to turn things around quickly, reaching an All-Ireland final, semi-final, and winning a National League in this three years in charge.

I’d argue he is coming into a Tipperary team in a similar position. We does have players from successful underage teams with the talent to come into the senior set-up and make an impact, however, some are coming in late and will need time to catch up in many areas, but with Cahill’s infectious enthusiasm, and Michael Bevans quality coaching, they can bridge a substantial part of the gap in 2023.

The new panel doesn’t contain too many surprises. In the in-column, Andrew Ormond, John & Podge Campion, Paddy Creedon, Sean Ryan have all been rewarded for strong underage and club campaigns this year. That Jerome Cahill wasn’t included isn’t a surprise as he stated as much after Kilruane’s county final success that the inter-county game doesn’t marry with his work-life balance at the moment. John O’Dwyer’s absence more or less confirms that we have likely seen the last of the mercurial Killenaule clubman who is as gifted a hurler to ever wear a Tipperary jersey.

In terms of players not retained from Colm Bonnar’s final panel, Robert Byrne and Alan Flynn were the two notable omissions. Considering Byrne made such an impact in 2018 for Cahill in that under 21 All-Ireland success, you felt this abrasive style would be right up the managers’ alley in terms of a defender. Alan Flynn never really had a settled position on the team, but he covered a range of positions from corner back to midfield and that versatility made him such an important player for previous managers. His form this year for club and county wasn’t to his usual high level but it was one down year in what was a consistent run up to that.

So, what does success in 2023 look like for Tipperar?. A good National League campaign is a must. While the league has been devalued by the round-robin provincial championships, it does depend on where each county is coming from. Tipperary need to get wins on the board to generate momentum and optimism going into the championship, which is going to be difficult. Winning games is difficult when you are trying to blood players but with a hunger and enthusiasm it can happen.

Tipp need to carry some kind of momentum into the championship as the schedule is not kind to them, starting with two away games against Clare and Cork, followed by home games against Limerick and Waterford. The target will be finishing in third spot at least, but it wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility that for how improved Tipperary are in 2023, they could still lose all four games again, such is the quality of the other four teams in the province at the moment.

However, such is the dog-eat-dog nature of the Munster Championship, form now mean will count for nothing come next April and May. How many, this time last year, saw Clare as being the side that could challenge Limerick the strongest in the championship? That is how quickly things can change with some positivity and momentum.