TIPPERARY v WATERFORD
(Semple Stadium, Tonight 7.30, live Setanta Ire)
WHEN does the honeymoon period officially end for a manager who inherits an All-Ireland winning team?
For Declan Ryan (pictured), we suspect, it's happened already. If not, then that moment would surely arrive tonight were Tipperary to make it three league defeats on the bounce. Tipp fans aren't noted for resting on their laurels -- or titles -- and Ryan's status as a bona fide Premier legend will only garner so many brownie points when you are now entrusted with managing the current glittering crop.
In fairness to the new incumbent, his selection options have been curtailed in defence and almost decimated up front. They haven't improved immeasurably for tonight's home clash against Munster rivals Waterford, although the return of two current All Stars -- goalkeeper Brendan Cummins and centre-forward Noel McGrath -- should certainly help steady the listing ship.
Tipp's listless performance (after a flying start) against Kilkenny was perhaps understandable given their absentee list and January team holiday, coupled with the gung-ho opposition. Against Dublin, their shortcomings in attack were all-too-apparent and this is reflected in their latest reshuffle: Ryan goes with an all-new inside trio, with Pa Bourke relocating from the '40' and recalls for Brian O'Meara and the veteran Paul Kelly.
Kelly's younger brother, team skipper Eoin, has yet to resume in the starting 15 despite a scoring cameo against the Dubs. Ditto with Hurler of the Year Lar Corbett, despite his return to training this week after injury.
Waterford have endured their own multiple absenteeism issues this spring, between injuries, club commitments and veterans making late training returns ... and yet they've made a much better start, drawing with Dublin and squeezing past Wexford.
Tonight, however, those selection restrictions are liable to finally catch up on the Déise -- especially against rivals driven by the pressing requirement for a belated first victory in front of their own demanding fans.
ODDS: Tipp 4/9, Draw 10/1, Waterford 21/10