Hurlers out as footballers draw again

Elimination from the Allianz National Hurling League at quarter final stage in Ennis was not as major a shock as some pundits have claimed - when did Tipperary ever get anything easy in Cusack Park?

But, from a Tipp perspective the defeat does raise a number of questions and affords the opportunity to reassess where we are at, as the focus turns now to the championship date with Cork, who surprisingly stay in division one having defeated Galway in the relegation play-off - a warning perhaps that The Rebels have much more in them that the league campaign might suggest.

So, a misfiring attack which yielded 17 wides was the principle reason for defeat to Clare, one would suggest - the hosts shot just 7. Some of Tipp's wides were so uncharacteristic - Bubbles, Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan all guilty at times, Jason Forde, Kieran Bergin and Brendan Maher off target too.

Defensively, Tipp performed well enough, even if the two goals were softish - Conor O'Brien getting caught out for the first, while Shanagher swept aside Barry and Barrett for the crucial second with debutant keeper Mooney not exactly decorating himself in glory either.

Tipperary have looked at quite a lot during the course of the league campaign and would have relished a chance to take on Kilkenny again in the semi-final - another high octane game which could have further assisted the development of the side. Instead, conclusions must be drawn early in April and a share of those will be inconclusive.

On the plus side, Ronan Maher and John McGrath have both stepped up to the mark big time this season and have emerged as real leaders. Michael Breen too has been very impressive in the engineroom, while Brendan Maher seems to be returning to his best at midfield. Barry Heffernan has gotten a lot of game time in the league and has not put a foot wrong really - whether he will hold on for the championship remains to be seen.

Tipp were without Patrick Maher on Sunday and his absence was felt - he certainly asks questions of defences when on song, but a number of injuries and absence has seen him underperform so far this season. If we are to have a long season, Bonner needs to be on form.

Jason Forde had a great opener against Dublin but was missing then for most of the rest of the league, coming on in the second half last Sunday to fire over a fine point. He too has progressed and will be expected to be in the starting fifteen for the Cork game.

It was good to see Gearoid Ryan back in the fray and of course Michael Cahill and Paddy Stapleton will come back into contention too in the coming weeks. Don't expect too many surprises in the defence for the Cork game; midfield will surely be Breen and Brendan Maher; with two McGrath's, Callanan, John O'Dwyer, Bonner Maher and Jason Forde perhaps making up the attack, provided all are fit.

Perhaps it is for those on the bench that the league has really benefitted. Quite a few have seen action, but not enough have pushed through to challenge for places in the team. That's disappointing, but the hope is that the action they have seen will be of benefit should they be called upon. And, some will certainly be called upon.

The campaign yielded wins in the first and last rounds against Dublin and Cork; a draw with Galway; but three defeats to Kilkenny, Waterford and Clare. Assessing how well the league has served Tipperary will only be possible at the end of the season - whenever that may be. Hopefully September.

The last draw in AFL

The footballers draw in Sligo meant survival in division 3 with Limerick and Westmeath dropping down to division 4 - Limerick's only point in the league was secured against Tipp in the first round, and that draw possibly cost The Premier County a chance at promotion.

Kildare had been the standout team in the division and their promotion is no surprise. However, the fact that Clare have also gone up will leave Tipp rather envious, given that Liam Kearns men should have defeated them in Tipperary town in round two - they ended up drawing for the second successive game.

Like the hurlers, the footballers have had a lot of players on show throughout the course of the league but ironically, the better results came when a lot of regulars were unavailable. Granted, some of the tougher games came later on in the campaign, but Kearns and co will have seen enough to form fairly definite ideas on players, formats, the strength of the squad, and the kind of approach to take from here.

The Manager has spoken about is desire to have a squad capable of adapting to situations, to styles, to scenarios which may arise during games.

He will have seen enough now to know where that desire stands. Having secured division 3 status, the emphasis now is on the championship and readying themselves for the challenge.

County Championship

A big weekend coming up in the county championship with the first rounds down for decision on Saturday and Sunday next. Will there be surprises? Perhaps some, but it's hard to see eventual champions coming from outside the top three - Sarsfields, Nenagh Eire Og and Drom-Inch. Things will be as interesting at the bottom where relegation is concerned - it's so easy to slip into that battle now.

Plenty of choice but the pick of it would seem to be in Templemore on Sunday for Sars' v Borris-Ileigh; Boherlahan for Drom-Inch v Upperchurch Drombane or Newport for Nenagh v Kildangan.