A NEW HURLING league season commences this weekend, the pre-season business completed as the major action starts for 2022.
A bunch of new managers step out into the county spotlight.
What awaits them as they take on major responsibilities for the new campaign?
Henry Shefflin – Galway
The most eye-catching inter-county appointment this season. Whenever one of the most celebrated players in the game moved into management, his progress was bound to be tracked closely. Henry Shefflin’s hurling acumen was displayed with the pair of All-Ireland titles he guided his home club Ballyhale Shamrocks to. His first county role entails a switch out west that is as dramatic as it is intriguing.
How he fares with Galway will be fascinating. Before the Leinster round-robin, which will throw up a blockbuster game against his native Kilkenny, the league schedule starts out against Offaly, a familiar face in opposition in Michael Fennelly. Expectations have spiked in Galway after Shefflin’s arrival but they produced a disappointing run in 2021.
Their talisman has retired in Joe Canning, another stalwart is also gone in Aidan Harte. Serious injuries have hit Shane Cooney and Jason Flynn, the St Thomas crew will be returning after All-Ireland club heartbreak. The Galway rebuild will command attention, supporters will be hoping the winners from the 2017-20 minor teams will start to push on at senior level.
Daithi Burke is Galway’s new hurling captain.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Colm Bonnar – Tipperary
Liam Sheedy has been such a dominant figure in Tipperary hurling terms, with his two successful spells as manager, along with the tenures of bosses closely associated to him in Eamonn O’Shea and Michael Ryan. The installation of Colm Bonnar as the Premier boss feels like a new era for the county. That sense was reaffirmed by the shock of Padraic Maher’s injury-enforced retirement this week, along with the exit last summer of another iconic figure from their modern teams in Brendan Maher.
It will be interesting to see how Bonnar manages the transition. He doesn’t lack managerial experience given his roles with Wexford, Ballyhale Shamrocks, Carlow and Waterford IT college teams. This is a position that will receive greater scrutiny though, a fact he will be keenly aware of. Tipperary heroes Paul Curran, Tommy Dunne and Johnny Enright are alongside him calling the shots.
The first half of last year’s Munster final was the most impressive display any team has produced against Limerick in the last two years. The second half slippage and the subsequent loss to Waterford demonstrate the issues that need to be solved. There’s plenty talent from the 2018 and 2019 underage triumphs, those are the figures Bonnar will be hoping to promote to bigger roles.
A dejected John McGrath after Tipperary’s loss last year to Waterford.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Darragh Egan – Wexford
The Davy Fitzgerald era drew the focus to Wexford with exhilirating highs like 2019 when they lifted Leinster and came up agonisingly short at the hands of ultimate champions Tipperary in a breathless semi-final. The two seasons did not produce a similar flow of positive championship results. That is the backdrop as Darragh Egan steps into the breach.
With a younger age profile than most managers, he is an imaginative selection. Coaching work with Tipperary teams and his club Kiladangan created a promising reputation. He has thought outside the box in his recruitment, bringing Billy Walsh from boxing and Gordon D’Arcy from rugby to offer a different approach and help him along in his first senior county management job.
Paudie Foley’s return to the fold is a boost for a Wexford team that must adapt to a new manager and demonstrate there is still scope for improvement. Was 2019 the pinnacle or can they merge new talent with an exisiting core to return to those heights?
Paudie Foley’s return is a boost to the Wexford cause.
Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO
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Joe Fortune – Westmeath
After being immersed in Dublin hurling circles, Joe Fortune took the reins on Westmeath for a two-year term, succeeding Shane O’Brien. It’s his first position in the senior ranks but the Dublin U21 (Leinster 2016) and Ballyboden St-Enda’s (county 2018) involvements both yielded silverware.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
The Wexford native takes charge of a side that will be focused on building on last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup win. They step up to Leinster action with a glamour opening tie against Kilkenny on 16 April in Mullingar but before that the league will be the focus in Division 2A.
Stephen Molumphy – Kerry
After a sparkling career in Waterford colours as a player, and time as selector more recently alongside Liam Cahill, it is now Kerry hurling that Stephen Molumphy is concentrating on. He has taken over as boss, succeeding Fintan O’Connor who was in charge for the last five years and reached the last two Joe McDonagh Cup finals.
Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO
Getting over the line in that competition will be a clear objective. They start out in the league against Westmeath today, eager to harness the early season good vibes emanating after their landmark pre-season win over Tipperary and the progress of the Kilmoyley club to the All-Ireland final stage in Croke Park.