Munster’s hurling landscape has shifted, seismically so. Tipperary U21 boss TJ Connolly agrees, reluctantly
At minor level, Limerick and Waterford, through extensive underage investment, have moved themselves to the top of the ladder. At U21, it’s a similar story — Clare and Limerick sharing the last three provincial crowns.
The traditional powers of Cork and Tipperary have been dumped to the kerb in the forceful rise of the once, so-called lesser forces, at underage level.
“There is a gap there,” asserts Connolly. Clare edged out the Premier County in the last two Munster U21 finals, 2012 a close run affair, the four-point difference last year unreflective of the Banner’s dominance.
“There may have only been four points in it at the finish, but they were that bit better than us on the night,” Connolly, a selector on the 2013 management ticket, admits.
“Our goal at the start of the year was to come to terms with this gap and how we bridge it. We hope what we have done in the last five months will correct that gap and maybe even allow us to go a step ahead.
“If you are breeding underage success it will eventually come through to senior level. Clare are the perfect example. We haven’t won a Munster U21 crown since 2010. We contested two finals since, but we didn’t win either. We said at the start of the year we would have all the boxes ticked going down to Ennis. We are in that position now and so there will be no excuses.”
Connolly was at the Gaelic Grounds last month for Clare’s comprehensive dismissal of Limerick. Corner-forward Bobby Duggan caught the eye with eight points over the hour, impressive supporting roles played by Tony Kelly, Aaron Cunningham, Colm Galvin and Seadna Morey. Quite the cast. “You could go and watch Clare on several occasions and try and counter them tactically, but they tend to mix it up in every game. We are in no doubt as to the household names Clare have even though they are still very young men. They are great players and had a great year last year, winning two All-Irelands. I can’t see Saturday’s result at Wexford Park having any bearing on this game. I have no doubt the Clare management will have the players involved suitably refreshed.” Having served as Ken Hogan’s understudy for four years, Connolly was keen to ensure continuity when the bainisteoir’s position arose last winter. “While we have gone down a different road in terms of preparation compared with previous years, it was important for the players that there was a sense of familiarity on the sideline. They have worked remarkably hard since last March. They are hungry and won’t be satisfied with only one Championship outing this summer.”
TIPPERARY: P Maher (Moyne Templetuohy); C Barrett (Holycross Ballycahill), M Breen (Ballina), T Fox (Éire Óg Anacarty); R Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), J Meagher, (Loughmore Castleiney), T Hamill Moyne (Templetuohy); S Kennedy (St Marys), B Maher (Kilsheelan Kilcash); C O’Riordan (JK Brackens), L McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney), D McCormack (Borris-Ileigh); S Cahill (Thurles Sarsfields), J Forde (Silvermines), S Maher (Clonoulty Rossmore).
CLARE: K Hogan (Clooney-Quin); J Colleran (St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield), J Browne (Ballyea), S Morey (Sixmilebridge); G O’Connell (Ballyea), A O’Neill (St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield), C Cleary (Kilmaley); C Galvin (Cratloe), T Kelly (Ballyea); J Shanahan (Sixmilebridge), S McGrath (Feakle), P Duggan (Clooney-Quin); B Duggan (Clarecastle), D Reidy (Éire Óg), A Cunningham (Wolfe Tones).