As championship hurling approaches, Michael Ryan’s Tipperary represent great value to regain control of the Liam McCarthy Cup.
The days of automatically assuming the traditional trio of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary will be the ones to beat are over, with the emergence of young, physical and extremely skilled outfits such as Wexford, Clare and Limerick. Add to this the already established units such as Galway and Waterford and we’re in for a mouthwatering 2018 campaign.
The impending championship could be one of the hardest in years to predict, but one team looks set to be fastest out of the traps; Tipperary.
A well-oiled machine at this stage under the stewardship of Michael Ryan, Tipperary’s form had been a little inconsistent during the league despite reaching the final.
However, Michael Ryan has made one huge addition in the winter months. He and Cathal Barrett have patched things up and Barrett, even if in an unfamiliar role, is thriving once again in the blue and yellow jersey.
Tipp were one point losers to Galway in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and, had Barrett played, we may well have been looking forward to an historic three in a row attempt from the Premier men this year.
Conor Whelan terrorised an already makeshift full-back line that day and Cathal Barrett would have been the perfect candidate to curtail Whelan’s dominance. Barrett’s reemergence, coupled with the magnificent form shown by Jason Forde and Padraic Maher, puts Tipperary in pole position to land the big prize come August.
Talk has been rife in the past two weeks that Kilkenny have returned to hurling’s top table after their National Hurling League victory, but this writer is not as convinced as others.
Tipp started that game without the likes of Darren Gleeson, Dan McCormack, Bonner Maher, Noel McGrath, Bubbles Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and Cathal Barrett. Four of the players mentioned would walk into any team in Ireland.
Additionally, it is fair to say that the league meant a lot more to teams like Kilkenny, Clare and Limerick than it did to Tipperary given the various stages of development those teams are at.
The fact that Michael Ryan was happy enough to leave Cathal Barrett and ‘Bubbles’ on the bench for the league final, and continue experimenting with Michael Breen in the full forward line shows that there was an element of shadow boxing to Tipperary’s league campaign.
When the pitches harden up and the sliotar travels twice as fast, the Premier County will be a completely different outfit to what we have seen so far this year.
Currently lying at 3/1 with bookmakers, Tipperary represent fantastic value.
Selection: Tipperary @ 3/1.