In sport, regardless of previous achievements, there’s always a new challenge to be conquered, a new peak to be scaled. For champions, Sarsfields, that new frontier is the Munster and All Ireland club championship. They’ve never won Munster, never even got to the final. Now after putting county titles back-to-back their ambition surely has to extend beyond the county boundary.
However, it’s an ambition that faces a tricky opener on Sunday next when they go to Kilmallock for a semi-final clash with the locals. Given their high-profile names Sarsfields will go in as favourites but will do very well to bring home a win from a venue that hasn’t been kind to Tipperary teams in the past.
Elsewhere, after all the speculation and name-dropping, a new management, it seems, is finally to be announced this week. Declan Ryan takes the baton from Liam Sheedy as he did at minor level in the fall of ’06. Tommy Dunne and Michael Gleeson complete the new cabinet, one that will carry our best wishes at a time of great optimism in the county.
First to that club fixture at Kilmallock, which Sarsfields will hope is a stepping stone to Munster progress. They’ll be seeking to qualify for a first ever Munster final appearance, which is quite a surprising statistic for such a famed club. Five previous attempts have fallen short, the most recent being twelve months ago when Newtownshandrum came to the Cathedral town and took home a one-point win. Sarsfields could have won that day - at the very least should have drawn it - but their record in this competition is poor.
In ’05 it was again Newtown’ who dumped them out of the reckoning down at Pairc Ui Chaoimh after they’d beaten Lixnaw in an opening bout. Tracking back the years their previous outing in this championship was in 1974. That year they again had a bye to the semi-final but bowed to Newmarket-on-Fergus in an ‘away’ game.
Interestingly Sarsfields have never won an ‘away’ game in the Munster club championship. The end of the club’s golden era coincided with the inauguration of this competition. 1964 was the first year of the series. Sarsfields as champions beat Cappamore at Cashel in a first round but fell to Mount Sion down in Waterford in the semi-final. The following year they were ‘away’ again to Limerick champions, this time Patrickswell, and once more they were beaten, hammered in fact by 5-13 to 4-4.
Can the class of 2010 fare better? For sure more is expected of them given the fact that they’ve put county titles back-to-back for the first time since 1965. Winning an isolated county title is often an end in itself but when you put a few together then you should be raising the bar to the next level. Besides, having four All Ireland medallists from last September gives the team an added status, with the consequent raised expectations.
Yet it won’t be easy against the champions of Limerick, a team that has already travelled ‘away’ to Clare where they defeated Crusheen in a first round. On home turf where they’ll enjoy majority backing in a tight arena will make it very difficult for Sarsfields to progress.
It’s a relatively young Kilmallock side with an average age in the low twenties. For Tipperary followers some of them will be familiar names because of their involvement with Limerick. Centre back, Gavin O’Mahoney, is a key cog in the overall machine, hugely impressive in the county final, it seems, and also against Crusheen. Flanking him will be Brian O’Sullivan, a member of Justin McCarthy’s alternative team last year, and Liam Walsh, a nephew of Mike Galligan. It’s a strong half back line and a key plank in their overall framework. Sarsfields could do with ‘Redser’ as a counter-force in this area.
Kilmallock’s midfield is apparently quite useful too. Both Eoin Ryan and Paudie O’Brien are seen as attacking midfielders, players who are well capable of taking scores from a distance – O’Brien scored three points in the county final. Their clash with Alan Kennedy and Michael Gleeson should be interesting.
In attack the familiar names are Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Paudie O’Dwyer and Graham Mulcahy, though they also speak very highly of Jake Mulcahy, Graham’s brother. Another big game from Padraic Maher could be very influential here to counteract the threat.
In a sense Kilmallock
in Limerick mirror Sarsfields in Tipperary, both enjoying highly
successful underage structures and both with the potential to dominate
the senior grade in future years in their respective counties.
Sarsfields will this year be seeking a third county U21 title in a row
and they’ve already taken the minor – in fact they’ve won six of the
last twelve minor championships. Would you believe Sarsfields are on
course for something of a record year in Tipperary with U16, minor,
senior and junior ‘B’ titles already on the sideboard and, be assured,
the U21 will follow.
The venue has to be one of Sarsfields’ biggest worries. I’ve been searching the recesses of the memory for happy days there and I can’t find them. I recall our minors crashing there to a heavy defeat by Limerick in ’05. Two games stand out from the Munster club series. In 1987 Cappawhite played Midleton in the provincial final and lost agonisingly to a last-minute John Fenton point from a ‘65’. I was there in 1983 too when Borrisoleigh lost a replay to Midleton, not helped as I recall by some very questionable refereeing. So it’s not the happiest of hunting grounds for Tipperary teams, club or county.
Anyway let’s hope Sarsfields put that one right on Sunday. They appealed Ger O’Grady’s two-month ban but failed in their bid, so he’s effectively sidelined for the Munster series. He’s a significant loss. In the tight confines of Kilmallock he’d win useful ball there on the half line and in his absence others will have to step up to the mark. I’ve no doubt if the game was played in Semple Stadium Sarsfields would be comfortable favourites but in Kilmallock the balance is shifted considerably. Even back in the nineties teams like Toomevara, Midleton and Erins Own all found Kilmallock a problem venue so this is going to be a tough one for Sarsfields.
It’s also an important one for the club. All the hot-shot teams like Portumna, Newtown’ and Ballyhale Shamrocks have made their exit, so there’s an opening for a new force to emerge. Sarsfields are viewed as a side with some potential in that regard but they’ve yet to show they’re able for the rigours of Munster club hurling in November. Anyway good luck to them.
So, it finally appears that a new management dynasty is due to be unveiled this week. The worst kept secret has been ‘out’ for some time with RTE in particular jumping the gun through their announcement last week of Declan Ryan and Tommy Dunne as the new men. Michael Gleeson it appears completes the line-up, which is expected to be announced officially on Tuesday night at a County Board meeting.
I must say the entire process is messy and we really need to tidy up our recruitment system. To begin with a nine-man committee to head-hunt prospective candidates is ludicrous. Trying to maintain secrecy and confidentiality among such a diverse body of men is virtually impossible. Every time we’re selecting a new management we go through this crazy circus of leaks and rumours, everyone claiming to have the inside track and with truths, half-truths and plain untruths being spread about. It’s a chaotic way to tackle such an important job. Surely a ‘tighter’ group of, say, three would do the business far more efficiently.
Anyway it seems that the decision is made and should be rubber-stamped on Tuesday night. After all the huffing and puffing there wasn’t really much of a decision to be made because the field of candidates was so limited. Once you eliminated the older generation you were down to a very small group of prospective candidates. Ken Hogan ruled himself out and in any case he was unlikely to top the list after his previous spell in charge ended unsatisfactorily. Declan Carr’s U21 term, and in particular last year’s defeat to Waterford, probably took him off the wish list too. Nicky English was never going to return.
So when you looked for people with some track record at underage then Declan and Tommy were the obvious ones unless you were going to pluck a wild-card, someone unproven to take on the job. That surely would have been too much of a gamble.
Inevitably the new men won’t meet with universal approval, though I think the appointments will be welcomed generally within the county. Their first year with the minors was hugely successful when they took over seamlessly from Liam Sheedy and retained the Irish Press Cup in 2007. The follow-up in ’08 was disappointing, with some talk of differences emerging between Declan and Tommy. Last year’s negotiations for Declan to take charge of the U21s broke down too, so it wasn’t automatic that he’d be the top choice of everyone.
The appointments certainly fit the formula that has been the model in this county in recent times with Declan as overall manager and Tommy as the hands-on coach. Michael Gleeson is seen as a quite and steady personality in the background who was there during the minor years and of course has spearheaded Sarsfields emergence as our top club. Some might have misgivings about Tommy Dunne’s involvement while Benny is still a panellist. Mind you on present form Michael Gleeson’s son might come into the frame too when a new panel is assembled.
Anyway my admiration for the new men is hardly a secret so all I can do here is wish them well. Taking over All Ireland champions isn’t easy and will take careful handling to make sure the progress of recent years isn’t undone. Continuity should be their byword. Declan played with some of the older players on the panel and managed several of the younger ones during their minor days so he should be well placed to continue Sheedy’s work. They carry all our hopes for continued success.
P.S. I’m assuming these appointments will be made on Tuesday night, twenty-four hours too late for inclusion here. Assumption is all I can go on in the absence of anything ‘official’ coming my way by late Monday night.