SPECULATION has increased that All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary will start next month's National League with a brand new sponsor on their shirt.
The Premier footballers have lined out without any sponsorship on the county jersey for the past two weekends. And speculation increased further when there was still no sponsor in sight when the hurlers made their seasonal debut under new manager Declan Ryan in the Waterford Crystal Cup last weekend.
Once again their shirts were simply emblazoned with the words 'Tiobraid Arann' and Tipperary chairman Barry O'Brien refused to comment on the county's sponsorship situation after that loss to Waterford IT.
A week earlier, county secretary Tim Floyd had said "nothing is definite as we are still in talks with Enfer". Enfer, an animal health biotechnology company, are the existing sponsor.
They have backed the county for the past nine years and were believed to have one more year left on their deal. But the fact that Tipperary are being so tight-lipped on the issue indicates that negotiations are at a delicate stage. And there is increasing speculation that car manufacturers Skoda Motors have been lined up as replacements if Enfer do not continue.
The matter is increasingly urgent as the National Leagues start next month and Tipperary's hurlers open with a particularly high-profile game -- a rematch of last year's All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, under floodlights, in Thurles on February 12.
If Tipperary's nine-year deal with Enfer ends, Skoda are well placed to step into the void because they are already experienced in sports sponsorship both at home and abroad.
They sponsor the International Cycling Federation and last year inked a deal with Irish cycling which runs up to the end of the 2012 Olympic Games.