KILLINAN END - A new season always provides hope

Whatever the year ahead brings you have to think the early signs are at least promising. Nothing to write home about in the Munster League at one level with two defeats coming against one win but still much to recommend the competitiveness displayed. Amid stories of intense training there have been plenty of newish faces and a return to old under-age pastures for Michael Breen who has so much to offer if he gets on the ball. At full-back that should not be problem.

Certainly, there seems an energy about that was singularly lacking twelve months ago, a lethargy that ultimately consumed an entire year. Even the young bloom around Thurles and Cashel that will adorn the Harty Cup final has added to that sense of rising. When you consider the relative competitiveness of Templemore in the Harty as well there seems plenty of young talent around.

If the January bounce translates to later performance, there should be little limit to ambition when you look around. No matter what way you look at the early summer there is a prospect of getting out of Munster if there is sufficient intensity and determination to compete. That’s a fair bit further down the road and there are hurdles to jump in the meantime starting on Saturday evening. Even amid last year’s struggles this was a League game which garnered full points.

For neighbouring counties, the paths of Tipperary and Laois rarely cross with only a couple of championship meetings since the 1949 All-Ireland hurling final. That was the year of Laois’s last Leinster title and a time when much was in the mix. Tipperary, after a barren few years, rose from the ashes of despair to enjoy several years of remarkable plenty. The post-1945 Minor teams, when that championship returned after the war years, threw up remarkable talent for Blue and Gold. At the start of 1949 it might not have been obvious though.

Let’s change tack for a moment. Consider a Cork career that might not be recalled much these days. Din Joe Buckley was a Cork and Glen Rovers defender who wore the Blood and Bandage between 1940 and 1949. The ‘40s was his decade. If you want to assess Cork hurling in that decade look no further. And what a career!

In ten championship seasons defeat came only at the hands of eventual All-Ireland champions, and only once not by either a point or in a replay. In between there was five All-Ireland medals. At no point in Din Joe’s career were Cork less than relevant and usually were the team to beat. No more can a man ask for in a career. A big red monster always to be slayed.

That was the vista for Tipp’s young players at the start of that season, and that was not to even consider that Munster Final opponents, Limerick, had beaten Tipp in the previous three years. Yet, folk memory of past wins counts for something. Tipp came good and strong.

For Laois in 1949, challenges were altogether greater with some 34 years having elapsed since they last came through Leinster. Undaunted, they took the provincial title in some style by beating Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in a two-point margin final. One of their midfielders that year was Billy Bohane. He cast a long shadow.

When Laois next threatened to break the glass ceiling his sons were to the fore. The 1980s was a decade of great competitiveness for Laois and though they failed to make a breakthrough they left their mark. They did some damage to Tipp along the way too. In 1981 Laois edged a League quarter-final by a point and subsequently were hard done by in a Leinster fixture with Offaly when a phantom goal knocked them out. The rest is Faithful County history.

Four years later saw Tipp have the better of another League quarter final at the same venue by the Nore but a year earlier was one of the more curious and memorable fixtures. The Centenary Cup has faded into obscure memory but in its own way it captured the excitement of Centenary year. It was a turning point when much changed for the better in the GAA. Not least of it was the association began to get a real sense of its own history and chronicles of counties and clubs began in earnest.

Laois burned a trail through the Centenary Cup until losing the final to Cork. Along the way they beat Limerick, Galway, and Tipp – all three by the smallest margin. If the Centenary Cup didn’t matter it wasn’t obvious when Tipp and Laois timbered each other with abandon. Tipp finished with 12, Laois with 14 – their ‘getting the line’ victim being the son of Billy Bohane of 1949 fame. We’ll hardly see that rawness in Semple Stadium at the weekend but a few fireworks on a cold evening would be welcome.