Tipp manager Kearns laments losing more than half of his panel in just 12 months
Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30
Inter-county player drain is a topical subject, especially among the less successful counties, but there can be little doubt that no team has suffered a greater year-to-year loss than the Tipperary footballers.
This week they are preparing for a Munster quarter-final with Waterford minus 11 of the 21 players that featured in the corresponding game last year, more than 50pc. It is a remarkable exodus in such a short space of time, one their new manager Liam Kearns didn't envisage when he began talking to Tipperary to become Peter Creedon's replacement.
Colin O'Riordan's switch to AFL club Sydney Swans he was aware of but, by ratification time, five more players had indicated that they were heading in a different direction. And some of them were key components in the team.
O'Riordan and Stephen O'Brien were already the established midfield pairing, having led the county to an All-Ireland U-21 semi-final win over Dublin, while Seamus Kennedy looked set for a long career at centre-back.
Not long after O'Riordan's move was confirmed, Kennedy and O'Brien had switched to Michael Ryan's hurling squad. They got scant opportunity in the National Hurling League but Kennedy was a surprise choice at right half-back last Sunday.
O'Brien didn't feature in the 26-man squad, and he wasn't part of the intermediate team either, raising the question as to whether it was worth his while switching.
"Even Dublin would have their resources stretched with those kind of losses. It's a calibre of player too, those three young fellas would have been the mainstays of the team for years to come," said Kearns.
Of the others who started the 2015 Munster quarter-final, Ger Mulhaire is on the long-term injury list and Paddy Codd is unavailable.
Remarkably, all six substitutes who saw action in the 22-point win over Waterford are also gone. James Lonergan and Liam Casey are heading for the US, Andrew Morrissey is retiring, Brian Mulvihill is working abroad, and Sean Flynn and Barry Grogan have made themselves unavailable.
On top of those, the promising Ross Mulcahy and Kevin Fahey, members of last year's U-21 squad who would have been involved with the seniors this season, have also committed to the US for the summer.
Kearns admits it's an issue for counties like Tipperary, who have made such progress with appearances in two All-Ireland minor finals and an All-Ireland U-21 final over the last five years, winning a minor title in 2011.
Their resources have also been stretched by injuries to George Hannigan and Kevin O'Halloran.
"George has been out with a long-running groin problem, Kevin has hardly played anything in the League," said former Limerick and Laois manager Kearns. "Then we had five players tied up with Clonmel Commercials for the early part of the League.
"It's been horrendous stuff really. Yet we put ourselves in a position to get promotion despite everything. That would have been amazing."
Despite the constant stream of defections and the impact that has on morale, Kearns still expects Tipperary to frank their superior League status this weekend.
"We're expecting to win in Waterford. They're Division 4, we're Division 3, we've got to expect that we can confirm that status," he said.
The Tralee native has been able to welcome back Ian Fahey in recent weeks but there are question marks over Conor Sweeney who had a hip injury and Robbie Kiely who has hamstring trouble.
"They are the two main concerns. We'll have to wait until the end of the week to see whether they're going to be ready," said Kearns.