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New faces - Tipp hand out auditions with football defender shining and goalkeeper spot up for grabs

Manager Michael Ryan is searching for squad options this spring.

Tipperary have picked up victories over Waterford and Wexford in recent weeks.
Tipperary have picked up victories over Waterford and Wexford in recent weeks.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

WHEN LATTIN-CULLEN player Mark Russell was nudged into action in the 60th minute on Saturday night in Semple Stadium, it brought to 29 the number of players that Tipperary boss Michael Ryan has exposed to game time in the 2018 league to date.

It’s only three games in but the volume of players used reflects the changing environment the Tipperary hurling manager is operating in.

A compressed league schedule which overlaps with the demands of the Fitzgibbon Cup – four members of Ryan’s squad will feature in next Saturday’s final for UL thus rendering them unavailable for next Sunday’s trip to Nowlan Park – along with the shift in the Munster championship format in 2018 means the importance of a panel is more pronounced than ever.

Outside of the 26 players that formed the squad for last August’s exit against Galway, Ryan has handed out auditions to a bunch of new Tipperary hurlers.

Paul Maher, Alan Flynn, Conor Kenny, Ger Browne and Paudie Feehan have all started games with Paul Shanahan, Cian Darcy and Russell all sprung from the bench.

Cathal Barrett has returned to the squad while Joe O’Dwyer, who was injured for that Galway All-Ireland semi-final, is also back in harness.

Jack Browne and Cathal Barrett Cathal Barrett in action for Tipperary's opening league game against Clare. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The winter saw Darren Gleeson and John O’Keeffe retire with Steven O’Brien rejoining the Tipperary football ranks. The treatment table is currently the home of Seamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer, Dan McCormack and Joe O’Dwyer.

Michael Cahill had been pencilled in for his seasonal bow on Saturday night but cried off before throw-in and is another set for a short spell on the sidelines. Niall O’Meara only returned to the bench last Saturday night after battling a chest injury.

It all adds up to a state of flux for the Tipperary squad yet the response to the opening day loss to Clare has been a pair of victories under Saturday night floodlights against Waterford and Wexford.

The displays of Tipperary’s wing-backs were notable on Saturday. Barry Heffernan was a 20-year-old in May 2016 when he had to step back from playing hurling as a Munster championship campaign loomed.

A succession of concussion incidents were a setback for the Nenagh Éire Óg player at a time when a breakthrough looked imminent. He was part of the panel for that September’s Liam MacCarthy Cup success but will now be targeting a more regular role after a spring where has also impressed for Fitzgibbon Cup finalists UL.

Barry Heffernan celebrates Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Paudie Feehan has bolted from the pack after not sampling life with the Tipperary hurlers in the underage ranks. The Killenaule youngster was full-back for the Tipperary minor footballers in 2016, wing-back for the U21 side last year and is a younger brother of county senior footballer Jimmy, who won a Sigerson Cup medal last Saturday with UCD.

“We got a good shift from Barry,” remarked Michael Ryan after Saturday night’s win over Wexford.

“It is exactly in those last twenty minutes that you might just over reach and that wouldn’t do him any good.

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“He didn’t have a great start on Lee Chin, he is a formidable hurler and a class act. I thought Barry had a great battle with him in the first half and I thought Barry edged it coming up towards the end of the half. You can’t buy that experience.

“Paudie Feehan is another young fella on the other wing, he had a really busy first half.  He is a competitor first and foremost, once you have got that in your armoury, you are not too young.

Paudie Feehan and Damien Reck Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“He is a real breath of fresh air, he comes and just wants to hurl, as they all do. Paudie was a bit of a surprise that he has made so much progress so quickly, normally it is a one or a two year apprenticeship but Paudie seems to have gotten out of the traps early but look, it is still early days.

“There is a lot of fighting to go on inside in our camp to get the right to take a jersey and there are lots of games to be played.

“They will all get opportunities, that is the intent, certainly over the next two game days and we’ll see what comes after that.”

Tipperary’s six-point victory on Saturday night came after a game where they needed netminder Daragh Mooney to bail them out with a couple of stunning second-half saves.

The goalkeeping position is an intriguing selection area for them this year after Gleeson’s retirement with Mooney and Paul Maher both starting in games in recent weeks while Brian Hogan has been on the bench.

“They are great saves, but that’s their job,” stated Ryan.

Daragh Mooney and Conor McDonald Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“It won’t be lost on Daragh that he had to wait until game three to get a game and that’s how we’ll continue.

“He certainly made a claim for the jersey, I hope he’s not making his run too early and he gets his timing right. But that’s the nature of that squad down there in that dressing room – they are there to compete.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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