Amidst the excitement of Liam Sheedy’s return as Tipperary hurling manager last September, there was a growing belief around the Premier County that the good times would return.
However, it led to many a debate throughout the winter months about whether the Portroe man would keep faith with the older guard, or back the young talent bursting through in the county.
As the opening rounds of the National League unfolded, it became clear he felt the senior cohort still had much more to offer.
And that is how it has transpired. Padraic Maher, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Brendan Maher have all been central as they chase a third Liam MacCarthy Cup success of the decade, nine years after Sheedy guided them to their first crown.
Nonetheless, that’s not to say that Sheedy has disregarded the next generation, many of whom won an All-Ireland U21 title last summer. Indeed, in the semi-final win over Wexford three weeks ago, Sheedy turned to Ger Browne, Willie Connors, Jake Morris and Mark Kehoe to steer the Premier home, and each of them scored a point apiece.
Sheedy’s belief in the younger crop has fostered a positive environment in the camp, and three of this year’s U20 side are currently preparing for two All-Ireland finals in as many weeks.
Morris, Paddy Cadell and Jerome Cahill are the trio involved in both Sheedy and Liam Cahill’s squads, and it’s an exciting time to be a young Tipperary hurler. Indeed, as both teams have worked their way through their respective championships, one is feeding off the other’s momentum.
“I think Liam Sheedy used the [U20 Munster final] win as a bit of a catalyst for the performance against Wexford,” explained Paddy Cadell.
“Sheedy is big on, ‘if you’re a Tipperary hurling fan, you’re a Tipperary hurling fan’.
“We’re quite a close-knit group, the senior team. Even coming on as a young lad, them [older] lads have been great for me, they’ve been giving tips here and there and even watching them alone has been hugely enjoyable, to see how they go about their business. They’re playing so well over the last number of years so it’s great to learn off them.”
JK Brackens club man Cadell grew up watching the Mahers, Callanan, and Co strut their stuff in Croke Park, and it’s surreal for him to be now rubbing shoulders with them.
“It is a ‘pinch me’ moment,” he explained.
“You’re looking at these lads all your life from the All-Irelands in ’09, ’10, ’11 and you’re saying that’s where you want to be involved in a Tipperary set-up. It is a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment but you want to try and be successful and improve as much as you can while these lads are there, so you have to keep your head screwed on and work as hard as you can for the chance that you get.
“We’ve a young group of players that came from the U21s and we’ve always been given the chance to back ourselves and it’s a great experience.”
Such sentiments were echoed by Jerome Cahill, and he knows reputation counts for little when it comes to squad selection.
“Everyone in our panel deserves a chance,” he noted.
“Everyone has been training there since November. If you’re showing the right attitude in training, you’re going to get that chance.
“It was nice to get a few minutes in the Munster final against Limerick, and it was another stepping stone. So I’m just delighted that Liam has put faith in me so far. If I’m asked to do a job again, I’ll be ready to do it.”
While Cahill wasn’t called upon for the semi-final win over the Yellowbellies, he took encouragement from the showings of others who are also quickly making a name for themselves.
“When it was needed, the boys did make the impact,” he said. Willie Connors, Mark Kehoe, Ger Browne, Alan Flynn and Jake of course who’s on the back of an unreal moment against Cork. The subs play such an important part in any game these days. They were massive in getting us over the line that day [against Wexford].”
While Tipperary are gunning for a remarkable U20-senior double, there’s nonetheless one eye on future-proofing.
“There’s always one eye on the future,” noted Cahill. “Even with our 21s last year, we had guys on the extended panel who are playing a big role for our 20s this year. So I think that’s just the way it works in counties like Tipperary and Kilkenny. You always have to have something in the pipeline for what’s down the line.”
Win or lose on Sunday afternoon in Croke Park, Tipperary hurling is still very much on an upward curve.
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