I won't rush Tipp's young stars into team – Creedon
An EARLY-season dress-rehearsal with Kerry in tomorrow's McGrath Cup clash has given Tipperary's footballers and manager Peter Creedon the perfect start to 2013.
It is less than a year since the Rosscarbery man took over after John Evans' resignation last March and he already has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
They lost to the Kingdom in Munster last summer but Tipp went on to beat Offaly, Wexford and Antrim before losing to Down in the last round of the qualifiers.
"Down beat us by six eventually but if they hadn't got that goal just before half-time, you wouldn't know how it might have gone," Creedon reflects.
"Still, we got five championship games last summer, which has to be useful in the long term, and now it looks like we'll get three good games ahead of the league, which is a great start to the season."
If his transition into senior management has looked relatively seamless, that is understandable because Creedon, a secondary school principal in Tipperary town, was already well acquainted with the county's burgeoning big-ball talent.
He coached Cashel Community School to Munster titles and went on to manage the county minors and U-21s from 2003 to 2008.
And he has very clear ideas about how they need to manage their All-Ireland winning minors of 2011 to ensure they don't get burnt out or lost in the transition to senior football.
"A lot of that minor team were only 17, they're still playing U-21 and we really need to bed them in at senior level nice and slowly," Creedon stresses.
"A lot of them (like Liam McGrath and Seamus Kennedy) are dual players too, which complicates things further, and it's really important we don't rush them through.
"Senior football is a lot more physical, and these lads need time to adjust and be able to cope with that."
Michael Quinlivan, he accepts, was an exception, a big teenager physically capable of making a remarkably quick transition – he caused Kerry some problems when he made his championship debut against them last summer.
But Creedon's guiding principle is to phase in just a couple of new youngsters each season, and he reckons that two more of the 2011 minor team will be ready for the step up next summer.
Tipp also won their first Munster U-21 title in 2010, and many of those players have been college-tied for the McGrath Cup.
Peter Acheson played with UCC, Alan Moloney with UL; Robbie Kiely and Ciaran McDonald were initially with NUIG but have since become available for McGrath Cup action.
Given that Tipp are also playing Kerry again in Munster next May, this is a useful exercise, no matter how experimental either side is. Tipperary have already knocked out Cork – by a one-goal margin – and beat Waterford after extra-time.
To do so, despite some significant injuries, indicates the strength in depth that the county has developed thanks to its recent underage successes.
Quinlivan is among those on the casualty list (ankle ligament) and looks set to miss their Division 4 opener against Carlow on February 3.
More long-term absentees are Philip Austin and Robbie Costigan.
Austin is out for 10 weeks after damaging his AC shoulder joint, while Costigan is expected to have a similar lay-off after a badly fractured finger.
But such is the Premier County's depth of talent now that they have plenty cover. The return of Barry Grogan, who went to America to work last summer, is an undoubted addition and he has already scored 1-6 in each of their McGrath Cup matches to date.
And another encouraging sign for Creedon is that John Coghlan – a former All-Ireland winning minor and U-21 hurler who was centre-back for the U-21 footballers in 2010 – has thrown his lot in solely with the footballers this season.
With Kerry under new management, there is huge interest in how they'll go about trying to retain their McGrath Cup title. But their opponents will certainly not stand off them in front of their home supporters and, Creedon adds, "it gives us a great chance to learn a little bit more about our younger fellas."
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.