A good league campaign is important for new-look Tipp
GAA: Allianz National Hurling League Preview
By Shane Brophy
TIPPERARY v LAOIS
FBD Semple Stadium
Saturday 4th February
Throw-in @ 5.00pm
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin)
The real business starts now!
Following the optimism from the Munster Hurling League, the pressure ramps up on the Tipperary senior hurlers with the start of the National League this Saturday.
The arrival of Laois to Thurles would appear to provide Tipperary with the ideal opportunity to get off to a winning start but that will only come with an efficient and ruthless performance which hopefully will set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
However, Laois will have a lot to say about that, particularly with former Tipperary minor and under 21 manager William Maher now at the helm of the O’Moore county, and the fact there will be two Ballingarry clubmen side-by-side on the side-line, provided another interesting side-bar to what is one of the low-key games of the opening weekend considering the big games taking place this weekend between Cork and Limerick, Wexford and Galway, and Waterford and Dublin, the latter in Tipperary’s group.
Tipp and Laois met in the opening round last year in miserable conditions in Portlaoise and while the premier emerged with the win, there was nothing in the performance to suggest there was something new and the year followed from that.
However, under new manager Liam Cahill, there have been glimpses in the three Munster League games of Tipperary adapting to the modern style of hurling, moving the ball through the lines, more physicality and hard-running to their play, with plenty of movement off the ball.
Pre-season competitions are useful for getting players up to speed but it is only come the league that proper evaluation can take place and what trends are beginning to play out as to a likely Tipperary team come championship.
The first likely indicator will be who starts in goal, Rhys Shelly or Barry Hogan. Shelly got two of the three games in the Munster League, and impressed particularly in his restarts against Cork. However, Hogan has been with Cahill through minor and under 21 and knows his strengths so it will be interesting to see who they choose. Hogan has been around for a few years but hasn’t nailed down a spot and it might not be a bad thing for the management to nail their colours to the mast and give whoever they choose all the league games, rather than giving both game time.
The injuries to Craig Morgan, Barry Heffernan and now Conor McCarthy, and the sad passing of Dillon Quirke has left Tipp short on defensive cover. Cathal Barrett remains Tipp’s best defender but the make-up of the rest of the full back line isn’t so certain. Michael Breen has gotten three games at full back but the jury remains out on whether he is the answer. Ronan Maher is another option but his physicality might be better served further out the field, and there are other options with James Quigley who hasn’t done much wrong so far, or Enda Heffernan, who plays there sometimes for his club and is a big and imposing figure.
Bryan O’Mara looks to the manor born at centre back but his busy college commitments at the moment may see him rested in the coming weeks but looks assured in that pivotal position, while on the wing, at last, Brian McGrath seems to be settling in at senior level and his performance against Cork in the Munster League final should give him a great shot of belief as he as all the ability. Conor Stakelum was one of the few Tipperary players to come out of the 2022 campaign with their credibility enhanced and he has built on that in the early going and looks nailed on for one midfield berth and there are options with Paddy Cadell, Dan McCormack, and indeed Ronan Maher.
Up front, having captain Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher and Seamus Callanan returning provides much needed experience, although I would expect we will see these three players sparingly in the league to keep them fresh for the bigger games later in the year. Jason Forde has thrived in being the leader of the attack so far this year but needs more support. This has the potential to be a huge year for Jake Morris, who should thrive back with his underage management and in a style of play where his eye for goal is encouraged. The same goes for Conor Bowe and Mark Kehoe, although the latter needs to become more ruthless when the chance presents itself.
Gearoid O’Connor and Sean Ryan have been two of the newcomers to impress in the Munster League and if they continue to contribute positively, will find their way into the championship line-up. A knee injury had prevented Andrew Ormond from playing any part so far with his place on the panel taken by Borris-Ileigh’s Jerry Kelly.
So, what would be a good league for Tipperary? In terms of the division split, it is certainly the easier of the two which provides opportunities for wins and to build confidence.
Finishing in the top two and getting to a semi-final is certainly within their compass. In a competition that has been devalued somewhat by the round-robin championship format, the league nowadays is what you want to get from it and in terms of Tipperary, for this year it is one they will be taking very seriously to generate some momentum, from which they can become a dangerous animal.
Tipperary Senior Hurling panel
CAPTAIN – Noel McGrath (Loughmore/Castleiney)
Cathal Barrett – Holycross/Ballycahill
Conor Bowe – Moyne-Templetuohy
Michael Breen – Ballina
Ger Browne – Cashel King Cormacs
Paddy Cadell – JK Brackens
Seamus Callanan – Drom & Inch
John Campion – Drom & Inch
Pauric Campion – Drom & Inch
Ciaran Connolly – Loughmore/Castleiney
Eoghan Connolly – Cashel King Cormacs
Paddy Creedon – Thurles Sarsfields
Joe Fogarty – Moneygall
Jason Forde – Silvermines
Enda Heffernan – Clonoulty/Rossmore
Barry Hogan – Kiladangan
Seamus Kennedy – St Mary’s
Mark Kehoe – Kilsheelan/Kilcash
Jerry Kelly – Borris-Ileigh
Patrick Maher – Lorrha
Ronan Maher – Thurles Sarsfields
Conor McCarthy – Nenagh Eire Og
Dan McCormack – Borris-Ileigh
Brian McGrath – Loughmore/Castleiney
John McGrath – Loughmore/Castleiney
Jake Morris – Nenagh Eire Og
Shane Neville – Cratloe
Gearoid O’Connor – Moyne-Templetuohy
Cian O’Dwyer – Clonakenny
Kian O’Kelly – Kilruane MacDonaghs
Bryan O’Mara – Holycross/Ballycahill
Niall O’Meara – Kilruane MacDonaghs
James Quigley – Kiladangan
Gavin Ryan – Upperchurch/Drombane
Jack Ryan – Clonoulty/Rossmore
Johnny Ryan – Arravale Rovers
Sean Ryan – Templederry Kenyons
Rhys Shelly – Moycarkey/Borris
Conor Stakelum – Thurles Sarsfields
Alan Tynan – Roscrea
Tipperary’s National League Fixtures
Saturday 4th February v Laois in FBD Semple Stadium @ 5.00pm
Sunday 12th February v Kilkenny in UMPC Nowlan Park @ 1.30pm
Saturday 25th February v Dublin at Croke Park @ 5.00pm
Saturday 11th March v Waterford at FBD Semple Stadium @ 7.15pm
Sunday 19th March v Antrim in Corrigan Park @ 1.45pm