Ciarán Ryan is one of our new writers. The Tipperary native (and devotee) works as a journalist for radio and for print and he's an all-round nice guy. In his first post for The Almost Daily Sports Blog, Ciarán previews this Sunday's Munster Hurling Championship clash between his native Tipp and their bitter rivals Cork.
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The smell of fresh grass, three bars of chocolate for a pound, pipe bands, farmer tans, straw hats, glorious summer days that came out of nowhere, plastic caps, and a vendor squealing “who is for the last of the ices?”; it could only be the allure and beauty of that most holy of Irish sporting events – a Munster championship game between Cork and Tipp.
While times have changed – fancy baseball caps and coffees have replaced their eighties equivalents, you’d hardly get a club milk for under a Euro, and the opening of that back door twelve years ago has taken some of the jizz out of it, this is still very much a glamour tie in GAA circles. Even more so now, considering all the shenanigans that have gone on Lee-side this year, that unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or indeed “The Rock” O’Sullivan, you know all about.
For me, as a noble son of Tiobraid Árann , these games represent torture and exuberance in equal measures. My first ever championship game, at the age of five, was the classic drawn Munster Final of ’87. I recall listening to another draw in ’91 while on holidays with my family in Spiddal, and finishing our game of pitch and putt early to get the coverage. Again, it was the airwaves that were my only solace last year, when marooned in Zambia with only a dial up internet connection for company, the might tones of Tipp Fm legend Paddy Finucane boomed across the room as Tipp claimed a historic scalp in Cork. I had to be careful, mind you, not to move, as any slight jump in celebration forced that internet connection down. On the other side of the fence, I’ve suffered the heartbreak; numerous defeats in this decade (curbed by the ’07 qualifier win for Tipp) rank amongst them.
On to this year, and Sunday’s clash. Tipperary will have to deal with the unusual position of being hot favourites, but Cork’s recent form in challenge matches shows that they are still a veritable threat. A couple of retirements mean Cork have a depleted stock this year, and particular interest will be paid to the new additions in the middle of their full-back and full-forward lines, Eoin Cadagon and Aisake O’hAilpin respectively. Another oddity will be Tipp’s entrance as the neutral’s favoured team, given much of the disdain shown by hurling folk around the country to the antics of the Rebels this year.
Tipperary welcome back talisman Eoin Kelly and All-Star centre-back Conor O’Mahony , the only two changes from the team that lost the League Final to Kilkenny four weeks ago. The return of Kelly, in particular, is an interesting one. Many from within the county hadn't expected the Mullinahone forward to even play this year after suffering a fairly significant back injury. If he is able to bring an iota of his previous form into this game, it will be a huge boost for Tipp.
Cork will be looking to their elder statesmen, who might just have a few kicks left in them. For them to win, the likes of the O’Connors, Tom Kenny, Sean Óg, and John Gardiner need to be at the top of their game. Timmy McCarthy has traditionally gone well against Tipp, and may have an impact in the forwards. Ronan Curran, at centre-back, needs to rediscover some of the form that made him the best in his position in the country just a few years ago.
It may be Tipp’s young players, on the other hand, that tip the balance in their favour. Eighteen-year-old wonderkid Noel McGrath has stepped up to the mark with his displays in the forwards, and Paudie Maher of the famed Thurles Sarsfields club exudes confidence in the backline. Considering his performances last year, we better not forget that Seamus Callinan is still Under-21 also.
Strangely for me, both head and heart are saying the same thing – a Tipp win, but just about. Don’t expect there to be much more than three or four points in this. Either way, expect sunburn, melted chocolate, and some eejit sitting in front of you with a straw hat. Hey, it’s Munster Championship day folks, not a fashion parade.