The question posed? How many of the 21 Tipperary footballers who featured in last year’s Munster championship annihilation of Waterford will be present in Fraher Field on Sunday for this latest meeting?
His response is symptomatic of the mass exodus of players from the panel over the past months, but it also serves to paint a clear picture of how turbulent a time it has been for the new management in attempting to get their strongest team inside the whitewash.
Colin O’Riordan was first off the carousel, last year’s Munster U21 winning captain putting pen to paper with Sydney Swans in October. Midfielder Steven O’Brien and half-back Seamus Kennedy then opted to throw their lot in with the county’s hurling set-up, their decision to trade the big ball for the small one playing a role in the decisions of Paddy Codd and Barry Grogan to be unavailable.
Even with the loss of these five players, Kearns’ new-look Tipperary side were successful in maintaining their Division 3 status. They even stood an outside chance of promotion on the final weekend had results fallen their way. Not all positions had been filled come the end of spring, but at least management were some distance down the road in finding their strongest 15.
But further disruption as around the corner. Earlier this month, three members of last year’s U21 team, Liam Casey, Jason Lonergan and Kevin Fahey, informed the manager they would be spending the summer stateside. Both Lonergan and Fahey has been promoted to the starting team when returning from club duty with Clonmel Commercials while Casey won a Sigerson medal with UCD in February.
The departure of Lonergan and Casey brings to 11 the number of players who will be missing in action this weekend. “11 out of 21, for any county, is a seriously high number,” remarked Kearns.
“Colin [O’Riordan] and Steven [O’Brien] was your midfield pairing last year so that’s your midfield wiped. Paddy Codd was your full-back, Seamus [Kennedy] was an important member of the defence, as was Ger Mulhaire in attack. It has been extremely hard to try and fill those gaps because of injuries and then we lost three players to America and that was a big blow. We are travelling to Waterford without a huge amount of players. We must now move on and play the hand we have been dealt.”
Expected to start in Dungarvan are U21 trio, Josh Keane, Jimmy Feehan and Colm O’Shaughnessy. Kearns says he now needs every player capable of playing at this level available to him.
“It is vitally important that if we are to be competitive, that all the players on the panel are available to us. One injury or two could set us back even more.
“We’ve gathered our resources since the latest loss of players and we are happy that we have pulled it together, we have played a couple of challenge games in the last few weeks which have gone reasonably well.”
All missing persons considered, it is hard to envisage Tipperary handing out a second 22-point hammering. “Waterford have had some notable scalps in Fraher Field. They are a different animal in Fraher. It is a tough place to go to get results. I’d say they are pretty sore after last year and I would say they are taking a lot of solace from the fact that we are missing so many players. We are expecting a win. That is what we are going down there to do. At the end of the day, we are in Division 3. We weren’t far off Division 2. They are in Division 4 so we expect to win.”