New-look Tipp offer grounds for hope
Tpperary 2-17 Offaly 1-15
It may have been a humble beginning, but life under Michael Ryan begun with a win as a new-look Tipperary side proved too strong for Offaly in Templemore.
The derby never really sprung to life and goals from Patrick 'Bonner' Maher - a fortuitous effort - and Adrian Ryan had the Premier men in control approaching the break before an excellent solo effort from Offaly's James Mulrooney left his side trailing 2-10 to 1-8 at half-time.
Both sides used every opportunity to experiment in the second 35 minutes and it proved a tighter affair but despite great endeavour from Eamonn Kelly's Faithful side, Tipperary had too much nous, with many new guns impressing.
Following the high-profile retirements of Lar Corbett, Shane McGrath, James Woodlock and Paul Curran, there were many fresh faces on show for the Premier with Michael Breen and John Meagher catching the eye at the heart of the defence.
Up front, the aerial ability of Conor Kenny, who got four points from play, proved a thorn in Offaly's side throughout, while Ryan and Dan McCormack showed glimpses that they may thrive in Championship battle this summer.
Tipp go down the challenge game route throughout January having not entered the Munster Hurling League this year and Ryan, who served as a selector under both Liam Sheedy and Eamon O'Shea, faces a challenge to unearth more senior stars.
Despite looking set to take the hurling world by storm in 2010 when winning senior and U-21 All-Ireland titles, further senior silverware hasn't followed and Ryan's term in the hot-seat will be measured on additions to the trophy cabinet.
Mullinahone's Sean Curran, younger brother of Paul, fired over a trio of placed balls and Kenny pointed as Tipp dominated the early exchanges but a brace from Paddy Murphy and a Stephen Quirke effort cut the gap to 0-4 to 0-3.
Disaster struck for Offaly in the 13th minute when a speculative effort from Maher was mis-controlled by Offaly keeper Conor Slevin and dribbled over the line. Tipp smelled weakness and seized control.
Kenny hit his second before Ryan capitalised on confusion in the Offaly defence from a long delivery to excellently bat to the net before following up with a point. A fine score from Dan McCormack made it 2-7 to 0-4.
Offaly, minus Shane Dooley, could have wilted but they fired back through a Colin Egan point and the in-form Mulrooney, who hit 1-2 in three minutes. His goal was inspired as he rounded Conor O'Brien before firing past Darren Gleeson; he quickly followed up with a beautiful sideline cut.
However, McCormack and Maher were on target before the break to leave Tipp with a healthy five-point advantage which Kelly's side failed to make inroads into.
Jason Forde, one of five half-time substitutions, and Kenny stretched the gap before Shane Kinsella had a goal chance excellently saved by Tipp netminder Darragh Mooney, while James Dempsey acrobatically denied Ryan at the other end.
Mulrooney kept Offaly ticking over through frees but the game hit a lull, with the quality dropping considerably in testing conditions. It kicked back into life in the final quarter, however, with Kenny and James Gorman trading points.
It was nip and tuck for the closing minutes with Kenny, sub Daire Quinn and Mulrooney all on target but five points was as close as Offaly could get as Tipperary got their year off to a positive start.
Bigger tasks lie ahead for both sides with the Premier side eyeing Liam MacCarthy while Offaly welcome All-Ireland champions Kilkenny to St Brendan's Park, Birr next Sunday.
SCORERS - Tipperary - C Kenny 0-5 (1f), A Ryan, P Maher 1-1 each, S Curran 0-4 (2fs, 2 '65s'), D McCormack 0-3, D Quinn, K Morris (f), J Forde 0-1 each. Offaly - J Mulrooney 1-7 (0-5fs, 0-1 s/l), P Murphy 0-3, S Ryan, S Kinsella, C Egan, S Quirke, J Gorman 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY - D Gleeson; Joe O'Dwyer, M Breen, C O'Brien; W Ryan, J Meagher, Padraic Maher; J Gallagher, B Maher; D McCormack, Patrick Maher, S Curran; L McGrath, C Kenny, A Ryan. Subs: D Fitzell for Gallagher (30), J Forde for Patrick Maher, D Quinn for B Maher, D Mooney for Gleeson, K Morris for McGrath and M Cahill for Joe O'Dwyer (all ht), L Ryan for Ryan (45), John O'Dwyer for D McCormack (50), B Maher for Forde (60 inj).
OFFALY - C Slevin; D Mooney, C McDonald, N Wynne; D Shortt, C Doughan, R Hughes; S Ryan, S Kinsella; P Murphy, C Egan, S Quirke, S Cleary, P Camon, J Mulrooney. Subs: J Sampson for Ryan (23 inj), J Dempsey for Slevin (ht), B Murphy for Hughes (42), J Gorman for Egan (45), B Mulrooney for McDonald and B Leonard for Shortt (49), F Hannon for Quirke (63), S Connolly for Wynne (65).
REF - A Stapleton (Laois)
Senior Hurling Challenge