Tipp target era of dominance

SHANE MCGRATH insists Tipperary are better equipped to retain their All-Ireland hurling crown than the team that captured the title in 2001.

Tipp failed to build on their success of almost a decade ago and endured a nine-year wait before finally breaking through last September. But on the back of last year’s senior and U21 double, and with a glut of new players coming through, another famine is difficult to envisage.

McGrath insisted: “I don’t think we’re too conscious of 2001 — that was a different team to what we are. They were top class but we’re a fairly good team as well and we have that confidence going forward. It wasn’t a fluke that we got to the All-Ireland final in 2010 and we’ll be there or thereabouts again this year if we get things right and we train hard enough. I’m not really thinking about 2001 — that’s long in the past.”

Brendan Cummins, Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly and John O’Brien had to wait almost a decade before capturing a second All-Ireland medal, having also featured on the 2001 team.

New manager Declan Ryan won his third All-Ireland medal in three different decades while current coach Tommy Dunne lifted the McCarthy Cup as captain.

Ballinahinch clubman McGrath added: “We have a lot of lads mature enough, and the guys from 2001, to realise that you can’t live in the past. We’re going to train as hard, if not harder, to retain the title. It’s going to be very difficult because if you look at Kilkenny over the last few years, everyone’s biggest game was when they played Kilkenny. But they rose to the challenges and above them.

“We have to aspire to be like them or the Cork teams of 2004 and 2005.”

McGrath, 26, insisted that the 2010 panellists have closed the door on last year’s historic victory, which denied the Cats an historic five-in-a-row.

And he also revealed: “I haven’t really sat down and watched it from start to finish. You’d see it here and there at functions and it was a great spectacle. The speech that Eoin (Kelly) gave summed up everything and how we all felt.

“There’s no better man than Eoin to sum it up and I saw a couple of shows over Christmas and the hairs stood on the back of my neck.

Long-serving Kilkenny defender Michael Kavanagh has given manager Brian Cody a massive boost by declaring his availability for another season.

Kavanagh, who has played in 10 All-Ireland senior finals was in action last weekend for the Cats against O’Loughlin Gaels in a lively challenge match.

O’Loughlin Gaels are preparing for their re-fixed AIB Leinster senior club hurling final against Wexford’s Oulart the Ballagh on Sunday week, January 30, while Kilkenny have a Walsh Cup fixture against NUIG next Saturday.

Kavanagh, 31, is the longest serving member of the Kilkenny panel and the player to have pre-dated Cody’s reign as manager, having been drafted in by Kevin Fennelly in 1998.

Kavanagh has captured seven All-Ireland SHC medals, 12 Leinster titles, five National Hurling League crowns and four All Star awards.

Cody, meanwhile, has been working hard on his panel and it is understood a number of players have been let go, including goalkeeper Richie O’Neill, Damien Fogarty, Sean Cummins, Michael Grace and Canice Hickey.

A number of new players could be given the chance to impress during the Walsh Cup and early stages of the NHL, with Noreside sources revealing that Erin’s Own defender Conor Fogarty, younger brother of Damien, will be given the chance to impress.

Richie Doyle, centre-back on the Kilkenny minors teams of 2008 and 2009, and who played U21 for the county last year, is another player rated as a massive prospect.

O’Loughlin Gaels trio Mark Bergin, Maurice Nolan and Andy Kearns have been drafted into Cody’s extended training panel, along with Paul Murphy (Danesfort), Matt Ruth (James Stephens) and Lester Ryan (Clara).

Waterford are facing a full-back crisis ahead of their League campaign after Liam Lawlor seriously damaged his knee in training last week. The Fourmilewater man, who impressed in his debut season last year, is expected to undergo surgery.

That will sideline him until April at least and with Declan Prendergast recently having had an operation on his hip, manager Davy Fitzgerald is running short of options.

Aidan Kearney, another contender for the position, is recovering from a long-term leg injury while Mark O’Brien is also ruled out.

Fitzgerald may have no other choice but to push Ken McGrath back into the role he filled in a number of games in the 2008 championship.

The 32-year-old Mount Sion man will return to training in the next week after signalling his intention to commit to the cause for a 16th season.

McGrath has been plagued by knee injuries but is determined to nail down a starting spot this season after playing a bit-part role in Waterford’s 2010 season.

The Déise open their pre-season campaign when they host Cork IT in their Waterford Crystal Cup semi-final at Walsh Park on Sunday.

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