THEY came closer than anyone to derailing Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row attempt last season, but Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy disputes the notion it’s a fait accompli that his squad will go one better this year in their pursuit of the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
During Sheedy’s tenure, Tipperary have made rapid progress. Yet Sheedy forecasts difficulties this year in a tough Munster championship.
Cork are their quarter-final opponents and Sheedy admits it is significant Denis Walsh’s charges will have had a smooth preparation this season unhindered by off-the-field difficulties.
“It’s a very tough draw and it’s as tough as it gets. The reality is we’ve only won once down there in 85 years. Last year we were hanging on in the finish. Cork were coming strong and that was after a broken campaign.
“I think it’s really hotting up, you can’t focus on 2009. When you weigh it up there’s one winner and that winner was Kilkenny. There’s little reward for coming second in this game, it’s all about trying to get over the line.”
Before the white heat of championship, Tipperary’s focus is trained on the National League which kicks off with a glamour tie against Kilkenny under Semple Stadium’s floodlights on Saturday night. The practice of playing matches under lights has become a regular trend in football but Sheedy is reserving judgement about the viability of hurling under lights.
“We’ve only played one so it’s really hard to judge. It’s just a little bit different. The ball is much smaller than a football so it’s hard and I wouldn’t be conclusive. Then you have the fact that goalies have the helmets for the first time, so a few challenges lie ahead.”
The league was kind to Tipperary last season as they enjoyed an extended run and introduced subsequent All Stars Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath into the intercounty arena. Sheedy is hoping for a repeat this time but concedes that the league table could be distorted by the ongoing Limerick row.
“If you’re expecting a player to perform in championship, he’s really got to show you something in the National League. Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath, and others found their feet in the League last year and carried that form into the championship. You give a guy a game in a league match and you’ll realise if this player has the potential to step up.
“There’s high-quality opposition there. Limerick probably won’t be at full strength as they’ve got things to sort out. Cork were pretty similar last year but that’s just the way it is. You’ve just got to play the opposition and it’s all about getting Tipperary to play to their potential.”
One of the new players tipped to make a breakthrough bid was young attacker John O’Neill but a torn cruciate ligament has ruled him out for at least six months. The luckless James Woodlock is continuing his recovery from a horrific leg injury but otherwise Tipperary have a full bill of health and Sheedy is heartened that Eoin Kelly’s problems with his back has eased.
“Eoin looks to be good. We have a few encouraging signs but I’m very disappointed for James and Johnno.”
The new experimental rules make their debut this weekend and Sheedy has expressed reservations about the new hand pass rule.
“The handpass is a hard one because with any rule change it’s a question of can you find the consistency. The referees always have the hardest job and in that split second is it a proper hand motion or is it not.
“It can be an important score at a stage in a match. I think it’s very hard to get the handpass consistently right and that’s the one I’d probably have a worry about.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved