Without at least three of their leading lights, Peter Creedon was handed a poisoned chalice in his first season as Tipperary Senior Ladies Football team manager.
However, the Premier County put together a formidable first year under his tutelage, with plenty to look forward to again in 2023. And he cannot wait to get going.
Aishling Moloney has returned to the fold and the two-time TG4 All-Ireland intermediate champion is a huge addition on the back of a dreaded cruciate injury.
“Please God she will return something close to the levels she reached,” said Creedon.
“We are looking forward to having Aishling coming back to the group, it will obviously be a boost. Any player coming back from injury will always be a boost because they are coming in with a certain degree of enthusiasm that will carry over to the rest of the players.
“I know Aishling from my time in the school here. It’s a challenge for Aishling as well. She will have to accept that it might take a bit of time to get back to full fitness as well.
“We had a few injuries last year and a player that went to America on a J1 (Anna Rose Kennedy). But it was very enjoyable, a very rewarding year. And we hit a lot of our targets as well, which is always very positive.”
Unfortunately, Orla O’Dwyer and Aisling McCarthy may not return this time around but there is still much to be optimistic about.
For Creedon, he has plenty of experience across the board in Gaelic football, previously managing the Tipperary men’s team, as well as Laois.
The Cork native was involved at underage in the county, too, before he took over the Premier Ladies team 12 months ago.
He succeeded Declan Carr and led Tipperary to a third-placed finish in Division 2A of the Lidl National Football League. Tipperary also ended up third in Group 1 of the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship.
They missed out on the latter stages in both competitions but avoided relegation, giving them the ideal platform with players like Moloney on the way back, plus talented young players ready to burst through the ranks.
“We really enjoyed it. I had a really good group with me in terms of the management team. I have to say the girls were excellent in everything they did in terms of their preparation,” said Creedon.
“A lot of young girls came through and played really, really well and we got to play in great venues. We got to play in MacHale Park, Breffni Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, Semple Stadium, it was a great experience all around.
“It is an exceptionally high standard. If you don’t prepare really well, you are goosed. You have no chance.”
Tipperary didn’t play their Munster rivals Cork in competitive action last year and that meant Creedon didn’t come up against his good friend Shane Ronayne in league or championship.
The Tipperary manager is principal at Coláiste Dún Iascaigh in Cahir, Co Tipperary, while the Rebel supremo is a teacher in the same school.
“We have great banter. Shane would be very experienced at this level and his challenge with Cork would be slightly different to my challenge,” said Creedon.
“We played Cork in a couple of challenge matches but we didn’t play any official game. We had two good games and both of us wanted to win them for the bit of banter afterwards.
“But it would be nice to meet them this year in the Munster championship. We can’t meet them in the League but we might meet in the Munster championship or in the All-Ireland series. It would be something to look forward to.
“Cork were very unlucky against Mayo last year. In many respects they were the better team, they just didn’t take the scores. Cork and Dublin will always be there or thereabouts.
“I suspect he would have got a good look at his girls last year. And from listening to him, he is very happy with the enthusiasm they are showing already from their return to training.
“And sure they have the numbers, the numbers will always carry through. They have a massive base and I don’t think Shane fails to win, no matter where he goes. He will be very disappointed if he doesn’t.”
Meath remain the team to beat in 2023 on the back of two Brendan Martin Cup wins, along with five years of unprecedented success under the stewardship of Eamonn Murray.
But the Meath manager is gone, Paul Garrigan and Eugene Eivers from their backroom team are gone too, and notable star players like Vikki Wall and Orlagh Lally are also unavailable.
And Tipperary have defeated Meath as recently as 2019, in the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate final at Croke Park.
“Meath play a certain way of football that suits the girls that they have. Would we play that way? We might at certain times,” said Creedon.
“But I think they got an awful lot right. They had the right manager at the right time who was humble enough to let other people to do a lot of the work. He was able to coordinate everything and bring the girls with him.
“They had three or four exceptional players too but they worked really hard for each other.
“Two All-Irelands back-to-back, that’s some achievement, isn’t it? And it will be interesting to see where they will go next year. Their journey will be interesting.”
And although Meath will have to regroup, Creedon believes it will help them refocus for 2023. He expects it to be another outstanding year for Ladies football.
“A new management coming in in Meath might give a degree of freshness to things. Girls who mightn’t have got much game time will feel they have an opportunity,” said Creedon.
“If they have the hunger they will still be there or thereabouts. They will be hard to beat. I wouldn’t rule out some of their top girls coming back for the few weeks of championship.
“It’s going to be very even, isn’t it? You will have Cork, you will have Dublin. It will be some championship. Waterford are a good team and they were unlucky to lose out in their group games and by a point or two in both games. We played Kerry in the league and championship last year and they pushed on to the All-Ireland final.
“Momentum, if you can keep all your best players fit and get a bit of momentum, anything is possible.”