Tipperary forwards Noel McGrath (13) and Seamus Callanan are central to Tipperary's summer hopes. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Premier Power

8 players that Tipperary need to become the county's new hurling leaders

A core of Premier County stars are in their mid-20s and hitting their peak years.

WHEN TIPPERARY STORMED to All-Ireland senior hurling championship glory in 2010, their starting 15 was laced with leaders.

Brendan Cummins was in goal and the central defensive positions were occupied by Paul Curran and Conor O’Mahony.

Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher formed the midfield pairing and in attack, John O’Brien, Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett were the cool, experienced heads alongside Gearóid Ryan, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Noel McGrath.

How times have changed.

When Tipp take to the field against Cork in Sunday’s Munster SHC opener at Semple Stadium, just five players from that starting team are in line to feature, namely the three Mahers (Pádraic, Brendan and Patrick), Noel McGrath and Michael Cahill.

Tipp carried a panel of 30 to Croke Park on that September Sunday but just three players listed among the subs on that occasion – goalkeeper Darren Gleeson, Seamus Callanan, and Conor O’Brien – are current panel members.

It’s a significant rate of flux but those aforementioned survivors are now Tipp’s leaders. Gleeson should start in goal, Pádraic Maher at wing-back, Brendan Maher in midfield, Patrick Maher, McGrath and Callanan up front.

At the time of writing, it’s unclear if Cahill will feature as a starter following an injury-plagued season and O’Brien is tipped to play at number 4 if the Thurles Sarsfields man is not included.

Brendan Maher lifts the cup Brendan Maher was Tipp's All-Ireland minor winning captain in 2007. He's the current senior team skipper. Andrew Paton / INPHO Andrew Paton / INPHO / INPHO

Following Tipp’s championship exit last year, a number of players opted to retire.

The 2015 midfield partnership of Shane McGrath and James Woodlock is gone, so too O’Mahony and Corbett.

It’s now time for the new breed of leaders to step up to the plate and prove that they’re capable of carrying that mantle.

A county that’s suffered too much disappointment since that glorious success of six years ago expects and the Mahers, McGrath, Callanan and James Barry are the men that can deliver.

John O'Dwyer John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer in action for Tipperary in the 2010 All-Ireland U21 final. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Their careers have been intertwined since their underage days.

In 2006, Cahill, Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Gearóid Ryan, and Callanan were all used at Croke Park on All-Ireland minor final day.

A year later, when Tipp retained the Irish Press Cup, Pádraic Maher, Cahill, Brendan Maher, McGrath, and Patrick Maher lined out.

In 2010, when Tipp steamed to All-Ireland U21 glory six days after winning the senior crown, Pádraic Maher, Cahill, Barry, Brendan Maher, McGrath, Patrick Maher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer were all on the starting 15.

Padraic Maher raises the U21 trophy Pádraic Maher was Tipp's 2010 All-Ireland U21 winning captain. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Success has followed success but at senior level, not to the extent that had been hoped for.

And for a talented generation of blue and gold stars, time is running out as they aim to leave a lasting legacy.

Here, we run the rule over 8 players hitting their peak years – but still with much to prove.

1. James Barry

Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 25

Position: Full back
Championship debut – 2014 v Limerick
Number of Appearances – 10

An ‘accidental’ full-back of sorts since 2010, Barry is a commanding figure on the edge of the Tipperary square. Also capable of operating in the half-back line, the Upperchurch-Drombane man has adapted to his new county role well over the past two seasons.

2. Pádraic Maher

Ken Sutton / INPHO Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 27

Position: Wing back
Championship debut – 2009 v Cork
Number of Appearances – 32

Maher is a dominant figure in the Tipperary half-back line, and will feature in this pivotal line alongside younger brother Ronan, who looks set to fill the central position. Excellent in the air and capable of providing quality, diagonal ball to John McGrath on the opposite flank. 

3. Brendan Maher

Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 27

Position: Midfield
Championship debut – 2009 v Cork
Number of Appearances – 31

Captain Maher operated at centre-forward for Eamon O’Shea last year but has reverted to a midfield role this year, where he admits he’s more comfortable. Expected to partner Michael Breen in the Premier County engine room.

4. Patrick Maher

Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 26

Position: Centre forward
Championship debut – 2010 v Wexford
Number of Appearances – 26

The forward known as the ‘Bonner’ is a cult hero among Tipperary supporters. A direct ball-winner, Maher has added a scoring touch to his game in recent times and if he’s on song, his selfless work allows fellow forwards to profit.

5. Noel McGrath

Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 25

Position: Midfield/half-forward/inside forward
Championship debut – 2009 v Cork
Number of Appearances – 30

A gifted stick-man, McGrath is thankfully back to full health following a battle with testicular cancer last year. The Loughmore-Castleiney man will feel that he has some lost time to make up for and he’s a creative hub for the Tipp team.

6. Seamus Callanan

Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 27

Position: Full forward
Championship debut – 2008 v Cork
Number of Appearances – 33

Hurler of the Year nominee in each of the last two seasons, Callanan is Tipperary’s main marksman and he’s provided regular trouble for Cork since making his championship debut against the Rebels in 2008. Missed the vast majority of this year’s League campaign through injury but will hope to recapture top form during the summer.

7. Michael Cahill

Michael Cahill is tackled by Mikey Kearney Ken Sutton / INPHO Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 27

Position: Corner back
Championship debut – 2010 v Cork
Number of Appearances – 24

It’s been a difficult couple of years for Cahill, who has suffered a number of injury setbacks. But when fully fit, the Thurles Sarsfields defender should still remain one of the first names on manager Michael Ryan’s teamsheet.

8. John O’Dwyer

Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Age: 24

Position: Wing-forward/corner forward
Championship debut: 2013 v Limerick
Number of Appearances – 12

The man who almost won the All-Ireland for Tipp in 2014, but his late, late free was judged wide by HawkEye. O’Dwyer is one of the most gifted forwards in the game, capable of wreaking havoc when given time and space in which to operate. 

So, can Tipp finally deliver on their rich potential, or will this group of players be remembered as under-achievers? Leave your feedback in the comments section below. 

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