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More questions than answers as Tipperary roll into the Munster championship

Tipperary have talent to die for, but can Liam Sheedy harness that into a much needed Munster title?

There’s a certain degree of pressure on Liam Sheedy, in his second stint in charge in the Premier County, as they look to capitalize one last time on a golden era of personnel in terms of talent and God-given ability, before age and retirement rears its head. The fact that a Tipperary team boasting some of the finest players to pick up a hurley in the past decade or two may go down with just a single All-Ireland title to its name is a distressing thought, and put road to a notion that it was ultimately an era of underachievement and disappointment.

The return of Sheedy – the man who helped negotiate their 2010 title success before setting off into the sunset, and the glitz and glamour of the RTE studios – bellowed a return to great things to a team which has fallen short in each of the last two seasons, having blitzed the 2016 year in imperious fashion under Michael Ryan, ultimately defeating Kilkenny in the finale.

But thus far in the second coming of Sheedy, their league form coming out of the spring has tempered expectations a great deal. But rather than regulating the amount of pressure on his shoulders, it may have strengthened the gaze of judging Tipperary eyeballs upon Sheedy and his supremely talented, but underperforming unit – if Tipperary can’t deliver another All-Ireland now, will they ever? Age isn’t looking kindly on their side, while the influx of youth and fresh legs hasn’t been as effective as it has for some rival counties in the province.

Indeed, Tipperary’s reliance on a core of players that has trudged through this past decade of dreadful lows and ecstatic highs, bookmarked with incredible wins in 2010 and 2016, isn’t a strong indictment of what is following through in the underage ranks. The fact that a man who hasn’t patrolled an inter-county sideline since Croke Park in 2010 had been heralded as the saving grace for this panel, as talented as both are, isn’t a great indictment of the county’s ability to grow, develop and build on the imperishable platform that had been shaped since 2010.

And so to 2019, and catapulting from a sub-par league campaign that included defeats to Limerick, Wexford and Kilkenny, we’ll soon learn if Tipperary are vaulting from a dodgy pogo-stick towards an inevitable fall, or from something a bit more springy.

We exited the league with more questions than answers about this Tipperary team, questions which may linger long into the Munster campaign. What is their best full back line? Where will Brendan Maher slot in? Where is Pádraic Maher going to play? Who is the midfield partnership? What combination of forwards will start, and who’s going to be on the free taking duties?

That’s a worrying amount of question marks for a county team with golden ambitions. Unless they’ve been able to unearth the magic formula in a month of club disruption, or perhaps can use the county break as an opportunity to reflect on their arsenal and how best to deploy them, Tipperary’s provincial campaign will be as topsy-turvy as their league, a lesson they evidently wouldn’t have learned from last year’s inaugural round-robin structure.

But having said all that, write off Sheedy and Tipperary at your extreme peril. To unearth the old cliché, if they can be at their best on the day there’s really very little to stop the tornado of attacking talent that they boast in the likes of Noel and John McGrath, John O’Dwyer, Jason Forde, and newly-crowned captain Seamus Callanan. Premier talent for a premier county, that has been let down by questionable tactics, an inability to find such players, and a porous, revolving back line that hasn’t looked overly sturdy since 2016.

Tipperary are the living bracing for battle against the dead. Will Seamus Callanan and John McGrath be whirling aimlessly on their dragons? Will the Tipperary charges be the Dothraki, storming without a plan towards the front line? Or will they do just enough and win anyway, because sometimes natural talent, skill and deft of hand is just enough to get you by and win you the war.

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