‘This is really a stepping stone’ – first night out in second coming for Tipp hurling boss

THE OFFICIAL RECORD will show 8,217 in attendance in Thurles last night.

With 2018 drawing to a close in an untypical premature fashion for the Tipperary hurlers, a competitive game at home early in a new year was a natural draw for the local support. There had been plenty to consider and little hurling to watch since their championship exit last June.

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The pre-season circuit in Munster had brought Tipperary twice to the Gaelic Grounds and once to Nenagh before they pitched up in their home patch last night. Semple Stadium was the scene as the first shots were fired in the top tier of the 2019 league, an eight-point success over Clare the outcome to digest.

The result was only part of the tale. The home crowd huddled in the stands on a wild January night were also lured by the managerial presence on the sideline, a curiosity about the second Liam Sheedy project compelling them to attend.

When Sheedy began his first stint as Tipperary manager back in February 2008, Offaly were the opponents. 3,294 punters witnessed that encounter.

“The first step on a long, long road,” was his summation of that game 11 years ago. The message has not changed much in the intervening period, the manager preaching again about the need for perspective at the start of a journey.

“We brought that good energy tonight,” reflected Sheedy afterwards underneath the Kinnane Stand.

“Overall it was a good performance, we got out of the blocks well, hit some lovely scores. I’m very happy with the game, I thought we got a really good challenge.

“We had tired bodies there near the end, it was a very, very tough night. We are only ten weeks together. We’re after putting in hard work. This is really a stepping stone to what’s coming down the line.”

Sheedy was right to allude to the wretched conditions. Showers and a howling wind were clear impediments to the sweet passages of hurling that these Clare and Tipperary players can produce.

Tipperary sought to utilise the elements early on and they constructed a seven-point interval advantage. That scoreboard buffer, allied to the advantage accrued from Tony Kelly’s questionable second-half dismissal, helped put them in the driving seat.

“The scoreboard was probably false in the finish when you get a player like Tony Kelly unfortunately (sent-off),” acknowledged Sheedy, when it was put to him that Clare had been robbed of such a leading light.

“Clare going down to 14 had a huge bearing on the second half because Clare were coming at us at that stage. We took our two goals very well and the two goals were the difference in the end ultimately.”

Tipperary’s Padraic Maher and Clare’s Peter Duggan after the game.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Applying qualifications to the victory due to the weather and a red card are merited but it was still a game that Tipperary controlled. The supplier of those two goals was a familiar figure to Sheedy.

From that opener against Offaly in 2008 to this 2019 clash with Clare, there was a solitary player linking the two Tipperary sides. Back then Seamus Callanan was whipped off the bench to shoot 0-3 in a second-half cameo, last night he was a natural fulcrum in the attack as he amassed 2-7.

There was a ruthlessness to his conversion of those second-half openings into goals. He got hauled down for a penalty in either half, his first impressively batted away by Donal Tuohy and his second banged high over the bar late on after the instructions were roared in from the dugout.

Seamus Callanan was fouled by Jason McCarthy for the first Tipperary penalty.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Callanan is a 30-year-old with considerable inter-county experience, a player endorsed this week by Sheedy when his new position as team captain was announced. He hurled last night like a man intent on offering leadership, one lung-bursting run deep into his defence after the break as he chased a Clare player was illustrative of the type of work ethic that Sheedy will demand.

“Seamus has been an outstanding leader, he’s had a tough enough journey last year with his back injury,” said Sheedy.

“He’s a guy that really does lead the line. We do need leadership up front and Seamus provides that. I think we’re very fortunate there’s a really good leadership group. That’s the most important thing.”

It was after that seminal 2010 All-Ireland triumph against Kilkenny that Sheedy finished up with Tipperary. Callanan, Padraic and Patrick Maher, and Noel McGrath – the vice captain who snapped over a trio of opening half points – were the only survivors still in action last night.

It is a new Tipperary squad, freshened by the inclusion of those graduates off last August’s U21 glory. Robert Byrne battled throughout and arrowed across a neat pass for Callanan’s first goal, Jake Morris displayed an array of classy touches close to goal. Another three youngsters saw game time late on off the bench.

The win arrested a losing streak against Clare, Tipperary senior sides suffering three defeats against their Banner counterparts over the last 12 months.

“We let ourselves down somewhat two weeks ago in Limerick, they beat us comprehensively,” recalled Sheedy.

“They showed way more hunger, they showed way more drive. We were anxious in our own field in Thurles to make sure that we came with a performance.”

A line drawn then under the first outing of the second coming. Limerick will be presented as the assignment next Saturday night, a trip to the home of the Liam MacCarthy Cup holders a reminder of the shift in the current hurling landscape.

“This is the 1A you’re looking at,” reflected Tipperary’s boss. “It’s really high powered, it’s really tough. We’re going into playing the All-Ireland champions and it’s another learning process to try one or two new players because we’ve got to build a panel.”

With that he turned and headed back to the dressing-room to consider what lies ahead. Outside the Tipperary support had headed for indoor warmth after a satisfactory opening night.

A return to action and a new campaign now in operation.

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