PM O'Sullivan: Tipperary and Colm Bonnar face a moment of truth

A large section of Tipp followers (as opposed to genuine supporters) comprises folks seeking an alibi for a gloat. Might be unpopular in some quarters to say so but Paudie Maher’s tweet recognized this truth
PM O'Sullivan: Tipperary and Colm Bonnar face a moment of truth

Munster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Round 4, TUS Gaelic Grounds, Limerick 8/5/2022. Limerick vs Tipperary. Tipperary's manager Colm Bonnar encourages his team. ©INPHO/James Crombie

Nothing bounces higher than dead rubber ties coming back alive.

Last weekend, Munster steps found unanticipated peps. Next weekend’s hurling became an intrigue. Yes, Clare and Limerick are already sorted for the Munster Final. But the off Broadway drama is where the story turns remarkable.

This Sunday, Waterford’s result with Clare could be a draw or a loss ― and still they might progress. Waterford could hammer Clare out the gate ― and still drop through the trapdoor. If Cork beat Tipperary by a mere point, Cork glide on. There can hardly ever have been too many tangles so beautifully knotted.

But no shortage of nuance, which is amazing. Long and short, not long ago? Tipperary seemed dead, three losses out of three outings. Somehow not, now.

To qualify, they need to beat Cork by seven points or more, while requiring Clare to beat Waterford by eight points or more. This scenario, rated a 20/1 shot by bookmakers, would spin Tipperary out of Munster and into the All Ireland Championship. Somehow still standing, still standing.

I speak about hurling to a lot of Tipp natives, solid and shrewd, on a regular basis. None of them give this upshot any chance of finding white smoke.

Their assessment, no way surprising, counts as interesting solely because the conviction arose not as a May doctrine. These people have been straight up since late 2021 about empty hands in this season’s round robin. Ironically enough, they all agreed on the meeting with Clare as best means of points on board. Here stands one measure of how Brian Lohan has transformed Banner credentials over the last few months.

Tipperary hurling, at the minute, occupies a downbeat spot. The county endures as the proudest of places, and rightly so, forever conscious of its magnificent traditions, of its current status in the game. No county is more zealous of its reputation. The 2010s was the first decade in which their team landed three senior titles since the 1960s. Supporters enjoyed the long reach back.

But good soon slid into downbeat. Mutterings began after Liam Sheedy, having overseen a rather fortunate All-Ireland in 2019, largely stuck with known and trusted personnel over the following two seasons. During that time, I heard many Tipp friends query Sheedy’s managerial approach, query short term inches rather than medium term yards.

Which or whether, he departed last year and a new man arrived. Colm Bonnar, not first choice as replacement, was admirably brave in taking on the job. I know Colm from working with him and Andy Moloney when they managed and trained Ballyhale Shamrocks between 2014 and 2017. The two of them drove 2015’s All-Ireland club success. Bonnar is a terrific trainer and remains warmly regarded in South Kilkenny.

Many observers put the Cashel native on the proverbial hiding to nothing in assuming this new role. Irrelevant and a misreading of the core dynamic. There is no prouder Tipp man, as I well know, and Bonnar would not have thought twice about accepting what he would consider an absolute honour. I admired him still more for his lack of cuteness, his all out Tippness.

Into the bargain, three excellent men were appointed as his selectors, Paul Curran, Tommy Dunne and Johnny Enright. These choices squared Tipperary’s divisional circle, so to speak, a representative each for West, South, North and Mid. The previous regime often got perceived as too North Tipperary orientated.

So, the sharpest possible slice of intrigue. Liam Cahill, the Tipperary County Board’s first choice as Liam Sheedy’s replacement, needs a massive favour from his native hurlers. Cahill needs Bonnar to trip up Cork.

Spool this thought. Tripping up Cork, while no guarantee of Waterford progress, could improve Cahill’s prospects of becoming Tipperary senior manager at some point (and perhaps even as Bonnar’s successor). There can hardly ever have been too many ironies so tightly knotted.

Factor another aspect. The summer’s big winner in the ‘future Tipperary manager’ stakes was Brendan Cummins. He drew many plaudits for his U20 panel’s performances. Darragh Egan has yet to catch fire in Wexford. Liam Cahill, depending on next weekend, could crash and burn in Waterford.

Tipperary hurling and Colm Bonnar will walk out to another moment of truth in Semple Stadium. The current manager faces an unenviable vista. Defeat against Limerick, last day of asking, meant an unwanted record: namely, the first time Tipperary lost five championship games in a row. Who wants a stretch to six?

Another downer might lie await in the shadows. If Tipperary finish bottom in Munster, if Kerry win the Joe McDonagh Cup, the two counties would play a relegation final, deciding who would hurl for the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2023.

This possibility grigs because 2022 became the only year in which The Premier lost to all five of the province’s other counties. Kerry surprised them by three points, 0-17 to 0-14, on January 8 in a Munster Hurling Cup quarter final.

Imagine possible talk at Tipp club matches this autumn: ‘We started off getting beaten by Kerry and we ended up with the effin’ wooden spoon and playing Kerry again.’ There falls every sort of reason, 20/1 shot or not, for doing down Cork. Should these Rebels win on Sunday, and perhaps win well, downbeat gloom starts to bleed beyond Christmas.

For Tipperary, this segue is vital. Pádraic Maher was their talisman defender until injury-enforced retirement early this year. He tweeted on May 8: “Very disappointing support for our boys in Limerick today. They deserve better.” 

A large section of Tipp followers (as opposed to genuine supporters) comprises folks seeking an alibi for a gloat. Might be unpopular in some quarters to say so but Maher’s tweet recognized this truth. Defeating Cork on Sunday would not just draw a line under a disappointing 2022, in all likelihood, but offer hope for 2023.

Colm Bonnar’s bravery deserves to foster, even in the short term, a sense of hope.

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