Piarsaigh showdown with Toomevara sure to be tip-top tussle

OVER the last 12 or so years in senior club hurling, there hasn’t been a more impressive performer inside its own county than Toomevara.

Conversely, in the same period, there hasn't been a less impressive performer in Munster.

Including the current season, Toomevara have collected nine Tipperary county titles since 1992 (their first in 32 years), a run that includes a four-in-a-row and a separate three-in-a-row. That, by itself, in such a strong hurling county, is a fantastic achievement. Less fantastic, however, their record in Munster; in that same period, a single crown, achieved at the second time of asking, 1993. Tommy Dunne was a member of every one of those Toomevara teams; a pragmatist, as honest off the field as on, he will not be soft-soaped by any suggestion that they've been a hard-luck side in Munster.

"If that were the case we'd have won it already, but it's not," he says, bluntly. "Some years we were closer than others, some years we weren't near good enough. We came up against a very good St Joseph's team one year, late '90s, a terrific team (lost by five points to the eventual All-Ireland champions, but it could have been more), other years a puck of a ball denied us. That's the way it goes, but considering the number of Tipp titles we've won, it is disappointing we haven't won more at provincial level. Having said that, they're hard titles to win, very hard, but we'll keep trying anyway."

Their latest effort (due respects to Kilmoyley of Kerry, their first-round demolition victims), begins tomorrow, a semi-final tilt with newly-crowned Cork champions Na Piarsaigh. That Cork final, played last Sunday, was televised live on TG4, and Tommy took the opportunity to scrutinise the opposition. "I thought they were impressive, particularly in the second half, but they looked to be the better team from the start."

Unfortunately for Na Piarsaigh, the word from Cork is that Setanta and Aisake Ó hAilpín, central figures in their attack, will not be available for the semi-final showdown with Toomevara, both headed to Australia.

"Any team would be weakened by the loss of players of that calibre, and I'm sure they'd prefer to have them, but at the same time they'll just get on with it, like any other top-class side. They didn't have Setanta early on in the Cork championship and it didn't hurt them. Every game must be taken on its own merits, every team has to deal with injuries, the loss of key players at vital times. It's not fierce unusual for a team to without some of its best players, and I'm sure Na Piarsaigh will deal with it."

Toomevara are as strong as ever, veteran defender George Frend the only absentee from last year's line-up, when they fell to eventual All-Ireland champions Newtownshandrum at the same stage, a three-point defeat to the then Cork kingpins. A major factor in that result was the pitch. Thurles is practically home ground for Toomevara, they've played there so often over the years. It was Newtownshandrum's first time there, but they revelled in it.

Problem for Toomevara, Na Piarsaigh will also relish Thurles. "Yeah, that's always the problem with us playing in Thurles, it doesn't give us any advantage, really. Most hurling teams love to play there, and Cork teams particularly seem to enjoy it. But I'm not complaining, it's a pleasure to play there any time of the year, and it's a really good venue from a supporter's point of view as well. At this time of the year it's as good a surface as there is in the country."

Na Piarsaigh are gearing up for combat after an emotional week; the high of winning a third county title last Sunday was counterbalanced by the funeral of club stalwart Tom Gardiner on Tuesday.

Selector Joe O'Leary acknowledges the toll but says they are determined and focused.

"We have some worries, Richard O'Byrne has the flu but we hope he'll make it." If not, Seán Guiheen and Robert Healy are options. Up front there are some big shoes to fill.

"Setanta's gone, and Aisake was flying out to Australia last night.

"Ger Shaw is an obvious replacement, he came on in the county final and did very well, while Cian O'Mahony and Davy Walsh from Thomastown are other options for us in the forwards."

O'Leary is well aware of the threat posed by Toomevara: "Look at their team four Dunnes, Eoin Brislane, Paddy O'Brien, and the others have all played minor or U21 for Tipperary.

"We've prepared well this week, we'll have a session in Blarney today. Obviously the two Ó hAilpíns are a loss, but we had a couple of players come through last Sunday, and hopefully a few more will come through tomorrow."

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