Tipperary attacker Seamus Callanan who is ruled out through injury.
The league kicks off on Sunday with a visit to Cusack Park, Ennis for Tipperary who have a number of injuries to worry about.
Tipperary senior hurling Manager Michael Ryan admits that The Premier County are “in a bit of a quandry” over the National Hurling League, which begins on Sunday next with a testing trip to Cusack Park, Ennis.
The Upperchurch Drombane man, while trying to factor in so many unknown elements for the unfolding season, feels a little unsettled by it all and yet remains certain of two things – (1) Tipperary must qualify for the NHL quarter final; and (2) Tipp must ensure that they have given enough players game-time so that they are capable of engaging in championship fare come summer.
“The season will be a big unknown for us. It's as simple as that. There are so many unknown factors and grey areas out there that it is very difficult to predict what way things will be. One thing we do know is that we will be welcomed very warmly in Cusack Park, Ennis on Sunday as we always are, until the ball is thrown in and then it gets decidedly frostier in keeping with the magnificent rivalry we have with the Clare lads,” Mick told The Tipperary Star this week ahead of the opener.
The quandry associated with the league relates to the desire to look at players and determine if they are ready for championship, and yet put out as strong a team as possible on as many occasions as possible, without tiring out those who currently hold the jerseys. After all, points must be gathered too if progression to the league quarter final is to be on the cards, but ultimately, May 20th and the three consecutive Sunday's which follow is where the focus must be.
Tipp Manager Michael Ryan will be running the rule over his charges on Sunday in Cusack Park, Ennis.
“We feel that we need to have maybe up to 26 players who will play championship this season – usually it would be 21 or 22. But, because of the way we see things going this year, we need to have extra players ready to do a job. And, they can only do that if they are getting game-time in the league. I would suggest that each county will want to get the maximum number of players as much time on the pitch as possible, and we are no different,” he says.
With new goalkeeping coach Ken Dunne settling in very well to the set-up and bringing a lot of vital experience, on and off the field, to the squad, Tipperary started back three weeks earlier than usual, to reflect the earlier start to their campaign. They have played a number of challenge games including one amongst themselves on the astro pitch in UL last weekend - “We got no outing on the grass last week due to the weather, but we'll have to find grass somewhere this week, because that's what we'll be playing on come Sunday,” he says.
Tipperary have a number of injuries at the present time, with Seamie Callanan being the most high profile – he was operated on on Monday for a back problem, while Niall O'Meara, Mark Keogh, Dara Quinn, Barry Heffernan and Billy McCarthy are also recovering from injury. Michael Cahill is exam tied at the present time, to add to the list of absentees.
“We are very happy with the work done at this stage and we feel that we have a good strong panel to pick from at the present time, despite the fact that a number of lads are not available for Sunday. As soon as we knew what the schedule for 2018 was, we set our focus for the end of January rather than February. We organised ourselves and our commencement date was December 8th for collective training. We adhered to that because these stipulations are there for a reason in terms of player welfare. You need to get heavy work done, but it needs to be done right. We have just five daylight games played so far,” he says.
Going to Cusack Park is always a major challenge and Sunday will be no different with the Bannermen also anxious to make a positive start to the season. Clare have had a number of retirements during the closed season, while Tipp have had two – goalkeeper Darren Gleeson and defender John O'Keeffe.
There will be much interest in the county to see who will get the nod for the number one jersey, while former All-Star Cathal Barrett could also make his first competitive return to the team having been dropped from the panel for indiscipline during the summer.
“There will be similarities between the league and championship in terms of the manner in which games are coming thick and fast. But ground conditions will be very diffierent and I'm not sure what policy other counties will be adopting in terms of club games. We will have club action on five weekends in April, and I'm not sure if we will be on a level playing field with the other counties as a result. I'll be very interested to see how our peers run their championships and when they play their club games,” Mick said.
Throw in at Cusack Park is 2:00pm and the squad will be hoping to have strong support for what will be a crucial game.