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Vincent Hogan: 'Nobody in 1A needs to learn more than Tipp's Liam Sheedy'

 

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Tipperary hurling boss Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tipperary hurling boss Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny captain Cillian Buckley lifts the cup after the 2018 NHL final. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilkenny captain Cillian Buckley lifts the cup after the 2018 NHL final. Photo: Sportsfile

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Tipperary hurling boss Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

On the recent night in Thurles that Tipperary's All-Ireland U-21 winners were presented with their medals, the words of team manager Liam Cahill carried a jolting resonance.

Addressing their Munster title-winning minors, who were also being honoured on the night, Cahill told them: "I welcome the minors into adult hurling and remind them now that the day of mammy and daddy no longer exists!"

The Ballingarry man, again, made no secret of his desire to be Tipp's senior manager in the future. But for Liam Sheedy's dramatic decision to return, Cahill would have been the obvious choice to take over from the departing Michael Ryan. That U-21 victory last August, against a star-studded Cork team, represented a remarkable expression of determination and selfless work ethic.

Cahill's view is that those qualities have, too often, been missing from Tipp's senior squad in recent seasons. It's certainly a sobering thought that, since winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup so spectacularly in 2016, Tipp have triumphed in just three of nine championship games played.

During that time, of course, they've also suffered two league final defeats, both psychologically harmful.

So the perception that Tipp need, above all, to toughen up under Sheedy now is widespread within the county. Cahill's U-21s won a title - ostensibly - they had no right to, something Tipp's seniors may have to do too if Sheedy's return is to be an instant success.

Their bid for a first National League crown since 2008 begins in Thurles tomorrow with the arrival of a Clare team that had ten points to spare over them in the recent Munster League final.

And the concession of four goals that day in Limerick exposed such a vast, unpoliced canyon between Tipp's two defensive lines, it was tempting to wonder if Sheedy's men were fatigued after eight weeks of (reputedly) high-octane training or simply sitting on their homework.

Clare certainly looked a good deal further down the road in terms of the pace and coherence of their hurling, yet joint managers - Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor - will know too that winning a league (as Clare did under Davy Fitz three years back) won't resolve growing impatience within the county to harvest hurling's biggest prizes with this so-called "golden generation".

They were, literally, inches away from making last year's All-Ireland final and it would be a surprise if a first Munster title since '98 isn't now the priority.

That said, few counties recognise better than Clare the nutrient to be taken from victories over Tipp, so tomorrow night's contest should - at the very least - kick-start this league with a game of an authentic pulse.

Kilkenny set sail on Sunday at home to Cork, knowing that last year's title brought them within range of equalling Tipp's record 19 crowns. That in itself is sure to be motivation for Brian Cody's admittedly depleted squad, the manager now chasing an extraordinary 43rd hurling title in his 21st year at the helm.

Kilkenny lost their opening two games to Cork and Clare last year, prompting many to tip them for relegation from 1A. Their response? Six successive victories and a league crown that pretty much nobody saw coming.

That said, Ballyhale's involvement in the All-Ireland club championship means that Cody could yet be without Joey Holden, TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly for the entire league.

Cork don't tend to enjoy winter hurling and, though they have home games against Wexford, Clare and Tipperary coming, a defeat in Nowlan Park on Sunday could conceivably dilute their interest in the competition from the off.

The fact that there is no relegation to 1B this year certainly changes Wexford's perspective as they prepare to host All-Ireland champions Limerick at Innovate Wexford Park. Davy Fitzgerald has spoken of a need to recalibrate Wexford's league exertions after successive seasons in which they seemed to flat-spot at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.

Winning promotion to 1A represented a major step forward for the team in Davy's first year; retaining that status brought abundant kudos in his second.

Surgery

It will be a worry to their supporters that Rory O'Connor required further knee surgery this winter, but the Rathnure 20-year-old is an exceptional talent and, if Fitzgerald can get him firing in a forward line with the likes of Conor McDonald, Lee Chin, Paul Morris and Liam óg McGovern, Wexford will be a handful for any opponent.

Limerick come to this season, naturally, as the team with a target on its forehead.

How they handle that is anybody's guess, albeit management and players have - thus far - delivered a virtual seminar in common sense and self-awareness. That said, seldom can All-Ireland champions have seen so many dangers ahead of them leaving the harbour, so Limerick will - presumably - hope to start in Wexford tomorrow as they intend to continue.

This league, as ever, will mean different things to different people. But maybe nobody in 1A needs to gain more from it than Liam Sheedy.

Irish Independent