Rebels first up in champions' title defence
STILL reeling after suddenly losing manager Liam Sheedy yesterday morning, All-Ireland champions Tipperary were hit with a further aftershock last night when they drew arch-rivals Cork in next year's Munster SHC preliminary round.
Taking over any reigning All-Ireland champions is a poisoned chalice, but Sheedy's successor faces a real championship baptism of fire after Tipperary were drawn to face the Rebels in their Munster opener for the fourth year in a row.
However, it could also give the new Premier boss and his players an extra incentive as it was a resounding defeat by Cork this year, and the heavy criticism that followed, that stung Tipperary into regrouping for their back-door odyssey that saw them end Kilkenny's five-in-a-row dream in a famous All-Ireland final victory.
The winners of Munster's mouth-watering hurling opener will face Clare in the semi-finals, while new Limerick boss Donal O'Grady faces defending champions Waterford in the other half.
Leinster's hurling draw has kept Galway and Kilkenny apart until another potential Leinster final, but elsewhere it was the football draws that threw up some real potential showstoppers -- and nowhere more than in Leinster.
New All-Ireland football champions Cork open their Munster campaign with a quarter-final against Clare. The winners play Waterford, which indicates that it could be another Cork/Kerry final, unless Tipperary or Limerick can cause a shock on the other side.
Louth's unlucky footballers have received some consolation for this year's controversial Leinster final defeat by getting into the much easier side of the draw.
The other side contains three of Leinster's traditional big guns -- Meath, Dublin and Kildare -- and one of them will be gone by the time the semi-finals come around. Beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists Kildare face their old manager Mick O'Dwyer in the preliminary round, where they'll be hoping to avoid a repeat of the shock result that Wicklow pulled off against them in 2008.
And the winners are drawn to meet the Royals who, despite winning Leinster this year, are one of the few teams in the country who have still to appoint a new manager, though outgoing boss Eamonn O'Brien is still among their nominees.
After a rollercoaster year of restructuring that still saw them reach the All-Ireland semi-finals through the back door, Dublin got a bye to the quarter-finals, where they'll meet the winners of Laois versus Longford.
But they are also in the tough top half of the draw and, if they get through, could face Kildare or Meath in a cracking-looking Leinster semi-final.
Beaten Leinster finalists Louth got a bye to the quarter-finals, where they meet Carlow; the winners will then meet either Wexford, Offaly or Westmeath.
Up in Ulster, where there are a plethora of new managers, the big talking point is the quarter-final and local derby between Armagh and beaten All-Ireland finalists Down in the top half of the draw that includes Derry and Fermanagh.
New Monaghan boss Eamonn McEneaney faces a nightmare quarter-final opener as the Farneys have drawn reigning Ulster champions Tyrone.
And they're in the bottom half of the draw with Cavan, in which Donegal and Antrim have been unlucky enough to get drawn in the only preliminary-round game.
In Connacht, unless New York or Leitrim can beat them, one of the semi-finals will be a repeat of this year's final between champions Roscommon and Sligo, while Mayo and Galway are in the other half of the draw with London.