Tipperary's Jason Forde ready to pick up where he left off
Top-scorer in the league, he awaits the return of Seamus Callanan to the attack for Limerick
Jason Forde in Allianz Hurling League final action against Kilkenny. He scored 7-72 in the league, including 2-12 in the final loss to Kilkenny. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
He scored 7-72 in the league, including 2-12 in the final loss to Kilkenny, and still Jason Forde is not entirely sure of his position in the Tipperary team. Forde is almost certain to start Sunday’s opening round of the Munster hurling championship against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds – the only question being where?
His position throughout the league was full forward, where he was also Tipperary’s go-to free-taker, and that tally of 7-72 – the highest of the top division – could actually have been more. Forde missed the fourth round game against Kilkenny after helping UL win the Fitzgibbon Cup (scoring 1-10 in that final, by the way).
Only now that Séamus Callanan is fit again, having missed Tipperary’s entire league campaign after undergoing surgery on a back injury, the full forward position is up for grabs again. Given Callanan’s record and experience it’s more likely to be his.
Callanan has already proven his fitness, scoring 0-8 for Drom & Inch on his first return to club action last month, and the three-time All Star and three-time nominee for hurler of the year will typically be first-choice for the number 14 shirt. With John Bubbles O’Dwyer and Noel McGrath also coming back into the mix, having missed various stages of the league, it’s one of those healthy dilemmas for manager Michael Ryan.
There is a theory that Callanan and Forde may not be entirely suited to play together in that forward line: only when this was put to Forde he was understandably dismissive of it.
“I wouldn’t put too much weight on that, to be honest,” he said. “I suppose we haven’t played [together] a whole pile. Over the last couple of years I’ve been more coming off the bench, so I don’t where that theory has come from. Séamie [Callanan] is a top, top player, has done a lot for us over the last few years, but I see no problem us playing together.
“He’s put in serious effort in fairness, a top guy, a big leader, and even for me he’s been great, chatting away, little bits of advice here and there, great to bounce things off. But he’s pushing himself very hard to get himself right.”
At 29, Callanan definitely has the experience over Forde who is still only 24: still, given his strike rate during the league, he may well expect to remain Tipperary’s go-to free-taker.
“Well that will be Mick’s [Ryan] choice again. We’ve got John [McGrath] with the college, Bubbles as well so, so whoever Mick thinks. And it kind of came about by accident. We knew Séamie was injured, was going to be out from early on, with a pretty serious injury.
“I was asked to take the frees in one of the challenge games at the start of the year, some of the other lads weren’t there, Noel and John McGrath, Bubbles, and it just went on from there. But no expectation. It can settle you down early in the game, to take a score, and I think we’ve a couple of lads now who can take them, so.
I was healthy for all the league and the college and getting the run in the team as well is massive for confidence.
“I was lucky enough that I have stayed injury free. Over the last couple of years, I had problems with the hamstring, stuff like that, kept me out for a couple of weeks at a time, and then you’re trying to get back in, with the club too, and that can affect your season. I was healthy for all the league and the college and getting the run in the team as well is massive for confidence.”
Of Callanan’s 2-47 in 2016, Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning season, 2-16 came from play. Last summer he scored 3-11 against Dublin in the qualifiers, on a day when Tipperary won 6-26 to 1-9.
Forde’s progression last summer wasn’t helped when he missed the Munster quarter-final against Cork, due to the suspension picked up in the league quarter-final for his minor altercation with Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald: “Looking back, the way that it panned out, you obviously wish you didn’t get into that altercation. Davy Fitzgerald, in fairness, came out and said there wasn’t much in it. Most people would be in agreement that there wasn’t much in it but I suppose the GAA have a job to do as well and they made a decision. I just had to take it from there really.”
Now finished with UL (“I’m looking for a job for September”), the Silvermines man still took plenty of positives from Tipperary’s league campaign. Limerick took them to extra-time in the league semi-final, the important thing being to pick up where they off there.
“That league semi final was a cracking game, absolutely nothing in it, and I know a lot of their lads from college, top class guys, and we’re going to be in for massive, massive test down there.”