County Board chairman Michael Bourke pictured presenting the Dan Breen Cup to Thurles Sarsfields captain Pádraic Maher following the 2016 county final.
Next weekend the Tipperary Water County Senior Hurling Championship bursts into life - here we look at all the contenders and wonder if Thurles Sars can win a fourth consecutive county title?
The Blues' dominance of the Tipperary Water County Senior Hurling Championship begs the question: can Pádraic Maher and the Thurles Sarsfields be stopped without recourse to criminal deeds? Indeed, Thurles Sarsfields are on course to go down as one of the greatest Tipperary club sides ever.
This season Sarsfields are chasing a fourth successive county senior hurling title and a seventh in nine years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 & 2016). Previously, just five teams have managed the extraordinary feat of placing four county titles back-to-back: Thurles Sarsfields (1906-09), Boherlahan (1915-18), Thurles Sarsfields (1955-59), Thurles Sarsfields (1961-65) and Toomevara (1998-01).
The Thurles team which won ten county titles in eleven seasons (1955-65 - a winning sequence interrupted only by Toomevara in 1960) will probably go down as Tipperary's greatest-ever club side, but the modern incarnation of the Blues are on course to match the feats of some other dominant outfits like the famed Boherlahan team which won ten titles in fourteen seasons (1915-1928).
The finest team of the modern era was, of course, the Toomevara outfit which won eleven titles in seventeen seasons (1992-94, 1998-2001, 2003-04, 2006 & 2008). And, right now Thurles Sarsfields are on course to replicate the Greyhounds' achievements. Although the Blues suffered thirty years without a title (1974-2004) since making the breakthrough again in 2005 Sarsfields have won seven titles. So, to match Toomevara the Sarsfields need to win the next four on the trot.
And, Thurles Sarsfields have been installed as hot favourites to land the club's 36th county senior hurling championship in 2017 - right now the bookies have priced the defending champions at 4/7 with Drom & Inch featuring as second favourites (4/1) and Loughmore-Castleiney (7/1) are priced third in the market. The 2016 county senior hurling finalists Kiladangan are 16/1 which seems a little generous given the fact that Dan Hackett's men have won three of the last four North titles.
LAST TEN COUNTY SENIOR HURLING FINALS
2016 Thurles Sarsfields 0-27 Kiladangan 1-15
2015 Thurles Sarsfields 1-18 Nenagh Éire Óg 3-11
2014 Thurles Sarsfields 2-22 Loughmore-Castleiney 3-11
2013 Loughmore-Castleiney 1-17 Nenagh Éire Óg 1-16
2012 Thurles Sarsfields 1-21 Drom 7 Inch 2-15
2011 Drom & Inch 1-19 Clonoulty-Rossmore 2-14
2010 Thurles Sarsfields 1-16 Clonoulty-Rossmore 1-7
2009 Thurles Sarsfields 0-14 Drom & Inch 0-5
2008 Toomevara 2-14 Thurles Sarsfields 0-17
2007 Loughmore-Castleiney 0-22 Drom & Inch 0-13
Defending champions Thurles Sarsfields will launch their senior hurling championship campaign in Leahy Park, Cashel on Saturday evening (7pm) against Carrick Swans who earned promotion to Roinn I thanks to a solid 2016 campaign. The remaining group three game between Nenagh Éire Óg and Kilruane MacDonagh’s takes place on Sunday at St Michael's Park in Toomevara (3.30pm) - given their form in recent years Thurles Sarsfields and Kilruane MacDonagh's must be favourites to progress to the knock-out stage of the competition.
Kilruane opted to make an eye-catching appointment this year in coach Shane McGrath - the Ballinahinch man and decorated inter-county player will work under manager Liam O'Shea who guided Kilruane to the county semi-finals as recently as 2015. While Killenaule brought Kilruane's 2016 campaign to an abrupt halt the MacDonagh's also qualified for the North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final and there is no doubting that Liam O'Shea and Shane McGrath have talent to work with.
There will be plenty of interest to see how the popular Shane McGrath does with Kilruane. McGrath coached the Ballinahinch-Templederry under-21B side to a divisional title in 2016 and is sure to bring a wealth of knowledge to the role having played under renowned coaches like Eamon O'Shea during his career.
Carrick Swan will be managed by Derek Hogan and coached by Niall O'Donnell - the South men caught the eye when seeing off the challenge of Moycarkey-Borris last year and will be eager to make their mark on Roinn I.
Having lost out by a point in the 2013 county final, 2014 quarter-final and the 2015 county final Nenagh Éire Óg faltered badly in 2016 when losing out to Kiladangan and Mullinahone during the group stage of the championship. Éire Óg have appointed Donach O’Donnell as manager for the 2017 season. O'Donnell coached Toomevara in 2015, Clonoulty-Rossmore in 2016 and, of course, also coached Limerick to a famous Munster senior hurling title in 2013. O'Donnell also won an All-Ireland colleges title in 2012 with a Nenagh CBS team which featured several of the current Éire Óg panel.
Meanwhile Thurles Sarsfields have re-appointed manager Tom Maher and coach Paddy McCormack while Mullinahone's Eoin Kelly has also been added to the coaching ticket. Considering the disappointing end to Thurles' 2016 Munster club campaign (semi-final defeat to Ballyea in Ennis) there may be a sense of unfinished business in the Blues' camp. And, that, of course, signals bad news for any pretenders to the Sarsfields throne in Tipperary.
ROINN I GROUP ONE
Group one promises to be an absolute humdinger of a battle for the top two spots. On Saturday Kiladangan face Borris-Ileigh in Nenagh (7pm) while on Sunday (3.30pm) in Boherlahan Loughmore-Castleiney take on Upperchurch-Drombane.
Kiladangan and Loughmore-Castleiney would be regarded as pre-season favourites to top this group, but watch out for a Borris-Ileigh side who are maturely nicely and an Upperchurch-Drombane team who are sure to have a sting in them.
Declan Laffan and Pat McGrath have been re-appointed as the guiding force behind Loughmore-Castleiney. Loughmore, of course, are the defending Mid champions and are smarting from their reasonably controversial exit from the 2016 county championship at the hands of Drom & Inch. Loughmore-Castleiney have oodles of talent and won the county title outright as recently as 2013.
Upperchurch-Drombane have appointed Séamus Gleeson as coach for the forthcoming season under manager John Ryan - the Kiladangan man replaces Thurles' Garry Mernagh. Gleeson previously managed a Kiladangan side who played a thrilling brand of hurling. Upperchurch have plenty of ability and a good hard edge to them which Gleeson can work with.
Portumna's Johnny Kelly, who previously guided Kiladangan to the 2013 county semi-final as coach under Séamus Gleeson, has been appointed coach with Borris-Ileigh and will work alongside John McGrath and Philip Maher. Borris-Ileigh will benefit greatly from the full-time presence of Paddy Stapleton at training and considering the fact that a bunch of young players are now bedded into the side 2017 could be a significant year for the club.
Kiladangan were beaten well by Thurles Sarsfields in the 2016 county final, but there is no doubt that the North champions' current group of players are making solid progress under manager Dan Hackett who remains at the helm. Hackett's men will be favoured to win a third consecutive North title in 2017, but you can be sure that Kiladangan will also have ambitions of making their mark on the county stage. Portumna's Seán Treacy has moved on as coach, but has been replaced by fellow Galway man Gavin Keary (Loughrea).
ROINN I GROUP TWO
Portroe and Drom & Inch launch their group two campaigns on Saturday at 6.30pm when they collide in Dolla while on Sunday the same venue (6.30pm) hosts the battle between Clonoulty-Rossmore and Ballina.
Drom & Inch and Clonoulty-Rossmore will be hot favourites to progress from group two, but the respective spirit of both the Portroe and Ballina teams should not be discounted.
Brendan McKeogh has moved on as manager-coach with Ballina has been replaced by former Offaly player and former Faithful under-21 manager Aidan Hanrahan.
2016 manager Anthony Freeman returns to the fore in Portroe, but as a member of a re-jigged management team which also features Paudie Hickey and John Sheedy (also a selector with the Tipperary minor team). Former Clare hurler and proud Feakle man Tommy Guilfoyle will take responsibility for the coaching duties. Guilfoyle made a positive impact on Knockavilla Kickhams in recent years and it will be interesting to see how the Clare man fares in this company.
Pádraig Butler has taken over in Drom as manager, Paul Collins and Jimmy Maher (Freshford, Kilkenny) will take responsibility for the coaching of the side while Mick O'Sullivan and Kieran Young will work as selectors. There is no doubting the ability of the Drom & Inch players who must be a solid bet to do damage come the business end of the season.
Philip Quirke is back as manager of Clonoulty-Rossmore for the 2017 season, but this time will work alongside coach Seán Prendergast (Lismore, Waterford). Prendergast previously coached Drom & Inch (2016) and Doon (2015) and should enjoy his time with the West champions who will hope to improve on their 2016 showing in the county semi-finals.
ROINN I GROUP FOUR
On Friday at 7pm in Templemore Burgess and Killenaule face off in the opening round of group four while on Sunday in Boherlahan (2pm) Éire Óg Annacarty and Mullinahone meet one another.
Killenaule and Mullinahone are favoured to progress here, but Burgess and Éire Óg Annacarty are very well capable of upsetting the odds. Paul Curran returns as manager of Mullinahone for the second consecutive year and Darragh Duggan also returns as coach of the South champions. Duggan, originally from Holycross-Ballycahill, is a coach of real substance and Mullinahone could be one to watch out for.
Manager Timmy Hogan returns at the Burgess helm for a second year while Ballinahinch's Dermot Gleeson has been appointed as coach while manager Ollie Kelly and coach Paul Sexton are back for another year with Éire Óg Annacarty. Watch out too for an Éire Óg Annacarty team who were disappointing in 2016 and will be driven forward by Conor O'Brien this term.
Thurles man Paddy Moore returns as coach with Killenaule for a third consecutive year alongside manager Kenneth Browne while Pat O'Connor and Michael Gleeson act as selectors. Killenaule were denied a South title by Mullinahone in 2016, but Browne's side are more than capable and are sure to have their sights trained on the knock-out stages of the 2017 county championship.
Thirteen teams will contest Roinn II (for the Séamus Ó Riain Cup) - group one gets underway on Saturday when Newport return to the senior hurling championship for the first time in twelve years when they face Ballingarry in Dundrum (7pm) while Toomevara take on Roscrea in Moneygall on Sunday (7pm).
Newport will become the 35th club team to play in the revamped county senior hurling championship which was inaugurated in 2014 and featured a two-tier group-phased system. Newport claimed the 2016 county intermediate hurling title under Dinny Ryan as manager and Martin Maher as coach. Borris-Ileigh's Martin Maher returns as coach for 2017 while Mark Harrington has graduated from the role of selector to manager.
It's as you were in Roscrea with Ger Fitzpatrick as manager and Michael Scully as coach. Roscrea made great strides in 2016, especially during an encouraging divisional campaign, and will hope to carry that momentum into 2017.
Toomevara have plumbed for club stalwarts Denis Kelly and Tommy Dunne. Dunne will take responsibility for the coaching of the side - the 2001 hurler of the year requires no introduction to supporters of the blue and gold. Denis Kelly managed JK Bracken's in 2015-16 and also worked alongside Tommy and Ken Dunne with the Greyhounds' under-21A side which landed a divisional title in 2016. Toomevara are eager to extricate themselves from Roinn II and if Kelly's side play with the raw passion Denis was known for as a player then Toome could take stopping.
ROINN II GROUP TWO
Just three teams feature in group two, three and four - on Sunday in Toomevara (2pm) Silvermines take on Templederry in group two while Moycarkey-Borris bide their time before making their competition debut in round two.
The Templederry Kenyons took some notable scalps and qualified for a first-ever North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final (2015) under coach Brian Horgan, but the Knockavilla Kickhams man has since moved on and has been replaced by Eoin Brislane. The Toomevara man has been building quite an impressive coaching CV in recent years with the Tipperary Camogie team and the University of Limerick Fitzgibbon Cup team where he worked under Clare’s Brian Lohan. Indeed, in 2016 he managed both the Toomevara under-16 and minor teams and made a significant impact on both. Therefore Brislane could be the man to make a key difference to a Templederry side who will benefit greatly from the presence of inter-county retiree Gearóid Ryan at training.
Na Piarsaigh's John Fitzgerald has been appointed as manager-coach with Silvermines. The Limerick man has traded one shade of blue for another in North Tipperary - Fitzgerald coached Nenagh Éire Óg during the 2013-16 period and enjoyed a notable success in 2014 when the Blues won the Frank McGrath Cup; Fitzgerald also coached Éire Óg to the 2013 and 2015 county finals. Indeed, he will be hoping to work the oracle with a Silvermines side who qualified for the 2013 North final, but who have miss-fired a little since than.
ROINN II GROUP THREE
On Saturday in group three Borrisokane and JK Bracken's meet in Cloughjordan (7pm) while Clonakenny watch from the wings. Vincent McKenna, who helped to propel Clonakenny to a county intermediate hurling title in 2015, returns to the helm of his home club Borrisokane. McKenna has dedicated his life to the fortunes of Borris and you can expect Borrisokane to fight for their lives while Birr’s Oisín O’Neill has been confirmed as McKenna's replacement in Clonakenny.
John Lillis will coach JK Bracken's this season and it will be interesting to see how the Mid side do without Shane Bourke.
ROINN II GROUP FOUR
Then, on Sunday in group four, Lorrha-Dorrha take on Holycross-Ballycahill in Templederry (7pm) while Knockavilla Kickhams must wait until the second round of games.
Michael Ferncombe will guide the fortunes of Holycross-Ballycahill in 2017. Considering the work that has gone into the Holycross club at underage level it is likely that Ferncombe's team are going to burst into life at some point. Ferncombe is a man in demand on the coaching circuit considering the fact that he made a telling difference to the Tipperary intermediate hurling team which won back-to-back All-Ireland titles in recent years under manager Michael Ryan (Fethard). Holycross have the talent to play in Roinn I and Ferncombe is well capable of drawing solid performances out of his players.
Paudie Slattery has taken over as manager with a Knockavilla Kickhams team who could really benefit from the coaching of Brian Horgan who did some exceptional work in transforming the Templederry Kenyons into a senior outfit of real note. Indeed, Horgan was misfortunate not to land the Kenyons' first-ever North title in 2015. Brian Horgan is also strongly associated with Michael Ryan’s Tipperary senior hurlers, but he is capable of making a huge impact on Knockavilla.
Tom Madden has taken over as manager with Lorrha-Dorrha and he will be joined by Ken Hogan as coach. Hogan, the former Tipperary senior and under-21 manager, will be hoping that to steer his beloved Lorrha back into Roinn I.
2017 SENIOR CLUB STRUCTURE
The structure of the 2017 Tipperary Water County Senior Hurling Championship is as follows: the competition is divided into two tiers, Roinn I and Roinn II.
In Roinn I the sixteen participating teams are divided into four seeded groups with each side playing each group member. Following three rounds of games each group winner qualifies for the county quarter-finals while each group runner-up battles it out with the divisional champions in the preliminary quarter-finals. The last-placed teams in each group play-off in two games with the individual game losers demoted to Roinn II for 2018.
Thirteen teams in all will compete in Roinn II in 2017. There is, however, a significant change to the format of Roinn II for the coming season. The teams, similarly to Roinn I, will be divided into four groups with the group winners and runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals of the Séamus Ó Riain Cup. The winner of that round of games qualifies for the semi-finals of the Séamus Ó Riain Cup while both finalists are promoted to Roinn I for 2018.
The only way for Roinn II teams to compete for the Dan Breen Cup in 2017 is by winning their respective divisional championship and thereby qualify for a preliminary quarter-final against a second-placed team from a Roinn I group with a place in the outright quarter-finals up for grabs.
Tipperary Water County
Senior Hurling Championship
Friday, April 28th
Burgess v Killenaule
in Templemore @ 7pm
Saturday, April 29th
Portroe v Drom & Inch
in Dolla @ 6.30pm
Kiladangan v Borris-Ileigh
in Nenagh @ 7pm
Thurles Sarsfields v Carrick Swans
in Leahy Park, Cashel @ 7pm
Sunday, April 30th
Éire Óg Annacarty v Mullinahone
in Boherlahan @ 2pm
Loughmore-Castleiney v Upperchurch-Drombane
in Boherlahan @ 3.30pm
Nenagh Éire Óg v Kilruane MacDonagh’s
in Toomevara @ 3.30pm
Clonoulty-Rossmore v Ballina
in Dolla @ 6.30pm
Tipperary Water County Senior
Hurling Séamus Ó Riain Cup
Saturday, April 29th
Newport v Ballingarry
in Dundrum @ 7pm
Borrisokane v JK Bracken’s
in Cloughjordan @ 7pm
Sunday, April 30th
Silvermines v Templederry
in Toomevara @ 2pm
Toomevara v Roscrea
in Moneygall @ 7pm
Lorrha-Dorrha v Holycross-Ballycahill
in Templederry @ 7pm
The Tipperary Water County Intermediate Hurling Championship also gets underway this weekend with the group six clash between Galtee Rovers and Kilsheelan-Kilcash on Friday in Cahir at 7pm - this is a three-team group with Moyle Rovers entering the fray in the second round.
On Saturday New Inn hosts Boherlahan-Dualla and St Mary's Clonmel (7pm) - group three features just three teams with Moyne-Templetuohy waiting in the wings.
Two games in group one feature on Sunday - Ballinahinch v Thurles Sarsfields in Kilcommon and Golden-Kilfeacle v Gortnahoe-Glengoole in Cashel (both at 12 noon). Moneygall and Drom & Inch clash in Templemore at 12 noon in group two - once more this group features just three teams with Roscrea making their 2017 bow in the second round against Drom & Inch.
Group four will see Carrick Davins and Cashel King Cormacs clash in Clonmel at 12 noon while Seán Treacy’s and Shannon Rovers tussle in Newport at 6.30pm. And, finally, in group five Lattin-Cullen Gaels take on Cappawhite in Seán Treacy Park at 12 noon while Kiladangan face Arravale Rovers in Newport at 5pm.
Tipperary Water County Intermediate Hurling Championship
Friday, April 28th
Galtee Rovers v Kilsheelan-Kilcash
in Cahir @ 7pm
Saturday, April 29th
Boherlahan-Dualla v St Mary's Clonmel
in New Inn @ 7pm
Sunday, April 30th
Ballinahinch v Thurles Sarsfields
in Kilcommon @ 12 noon
Golden-Kilfeacle v Gortnahoe-Glengoole
in Cashel @ 12 noon
Moneygall v Drom & Inch
in Templemore @ 12 noon
Carrick Davins v Cashel King Cormacs
in Clonmel @ 12 noon
Lattin-Cullen Gaels v Cappawhite
in Seán Treacy Park @ 12 noon
Kiladangan v Arravale Rovers
in Newport @ 5pm
Seán Treacy’s v Shannon Rovers
in Newport @ 6.30pm
Pádraic Maher captained Thurles Sarsfields to win the county senior hurling title for the third consecutive year in 2016 - this season Sars are chasing a fourth successive title and a seventh in nine years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and, of course, 2016).