The forgotten county?
Séamus Callanan grimaces at the suggestion of Tipperary as an All-Ireland afterthought before turning his frown upside down with a wry smile.
“Yeah, sure look, that’s not a bad position to be in either,” he noted of Tipp the underdogs.
That tag was never likely to sit well with a three-time All-Ireland winner but there's some merit to the suggestion. Three years after lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup, the bookmakers place Tipp as 16/1 long shots for the All-Ireland having fallen at the quarter-final stage in each of the last two seasons.
They're currently in a period of transition under new manager Colm Bonnar who has looked at 30 different players throughout five Allianz League games, ultimately failing to qualify for the knock-out stage.
Callanan was one of the 30 though a broken finger in training after his first start of the season, against Dublin in late February, has set him back and he’s unlikely to feature until at least halfway through the Munster championship group campaign.
All the big full-forward can do is hope the experimentation pays off.
"I think we have found a lot of . . . well, we didn't find them, we knew they were there," said Callanan of the new blood while speaking at the announcement that oneills.com are the new title sponsors of the U-20 hurling championship.
“But there’s been a lot of really good performances from lads that have got a lot of game time throughout the league.
"You'd have to be happy with the form of the players there, the likes of the Mark Kehoes. It was great to see Noel McGrath get a full game at the weekend there as well and get some minutes into the body. I think there are a lot of positives.
"Obviously for our first round championship game down in Walsh Park against Waterford, that's going to be difficult, they're a quality team and we saw that when they played us in the league a few weeks ago. So we have a lot of work to put in over the next few weeks to be right but there's really good lads there and everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel. There isn't any lack of effort anyway, we'll be as ready as we can be."
Callanan himself, captain of that 2019 team and Hurler of the Year, won't make the April 17th clash with Waterford. The game against Clare a week later looks like it may come too soon for him also after breaking a finger and undergoing surgery. The procedure involved corrective wiring being inserted.
“Unfortunately I’d say the first few rounds are probably out for me,” said Callanan. “I won’t know much more until I meet the specialist again next Monday. I can’t see it being a case of them being able to take out the wires early but at the moment it’s not looking good for the first two games. Look, let’s see, I’ll keep my body ready anyway and hopefully be fit to contribute at some stage.”
A back injury cost the 33-year-old some game time in last year’s league.
"To be fair my back has been holding up well," said the Drom and Inch man. "Colm gave me an extra bit of time over the winter to concentrate on really having that right, so that came back really well. I just needed a bit of game time throughout the league which unfortunately I haven't been able to get.
“But look, all I can do is concentrate on what I can control really now. It’s sport, it’s a contact sport, injuries happen. I suppose in the broader scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse.”
A decent chunk of the 30 Tipp players that Bonnar looked at across February and March have All-Ireland under-21 or under-20 medals, from 2018 and/or 2019.
The night that Callanan started his only league game of the season, against Dublin in Thurles, five of their seven defenders – goalkeeper Barry Hogan (2018), Eoghan Connolly (2018 and 2019), Brian McGrath (2018), Robert Byrne (2018) and Craig Morgan (2019) – were underage graduates.
Not reaching a league semi-final wasn’t a giant shock and, in some ways, may even be helpful as Bonnar continues to tweak and to encourage away from the public glare.
“I wouldn’t say it’s suiting us or anything like that but it’s the situation we’re in and we have to deal with that,” said Callanan. “We’ve a number of weeks now to just concentrate on ourselves and work hard as a group and then obviously have your week before championship where you just tailor things.
“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of internal matches and things like that going on. We are where we are and I suppose we learned a lot from the league. Some players showed great form, so I think it was very useful and we just need to concentrate on ourselves over the next few weeks.”