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It would be difficult to argue against the contention that Tipperary have been the story of the All-Ireland senior camogie championship to date, as we approach the final game of the round-robin series.

Facing into this afternoon’s visit to Birr (Saturday July 14th), the Premiers are still in with a shout of reaching the last four.

Such an achievement would represent a massive step forward for a county that has experienced a painfully fallow period at elite level since the golden era that garnered their entire haul of five All-Irelands, accumulated between 1999 and 2004.

As is so often the case though, dedicated work at underage level is beginning to pay dividends once more. Tipperary appeared in three U16 All-Irelands in a row from 2009, annexing the title last year. They pulled off a famous double by adding the minor championship.

John Lillis is the alchemist charged with blending these budding young stars with some of those who have already scaled the heights, and while the best is undoubtedly in the future, wins over Clare and Kilkenny have placed them on the brink of a significant breakthrough.

Joanne Ryan is one of the veterans overseeing the transition on the pitch. An All-Ireland winner in her debut season 11 years ago, she experienced the ultimate success twice more over the coming three campaigns. She remains the last Tipperary captain to raise the O’Duffy Cup aloft.

Although starved of success since, Ryan has kept her own standards up, winning an All-Star in 2006. She remains an inspirational figure and is the designated on-field leader again this year.

The Drom & Inch clubwoman is an amateur jockey in what little spare time she has, but right now, the focus is on helping Tipperary improve.

“We tried out different things in every match (during the league)” says Ryan. “Maybe the results mightn’t have looked well on paper but I’d say the manager was happy enough. Every player got a chance.

“There’s a share of older players and young players so you have to wait until things click and they’re beginning to click.”

The 28-year-old recognises the fact that it is a long-term project but it is one she intends seeing through. She is matter-of-fact about the lack of success that has been Tipp’s lot since 2004.

“You win some and you lose some. It’s all about playing and I love it. You want to get to the top again and that’s what makes you train.

“When I came into the panel, the older players helped and encouraged me and that’s what we do now. It would be great if we had similar results.”

Ryan is enthusiastic about the squad’s youngsters, praising their work ethic and willingness to learn. The Fryday cousins, Sarah and Ereena, Michaela Graham, Caoimhe Maher and Clodagh Quirke are amongst those to note.

But Ryan and Jill Horan remain the driving forces. Ryan herself has proved many times over the past decade and again during the current campaign – her goal after just 30 seconds to set up a surprise thumping win over Clare is a case in point – that class is permanent. And she promises there will be no lack of effort as Tipperary strive for a return to the Promised Land.

“Our target is to perform well, to gel and bond the team and see where that takes us. It’s all about getting the team together. We’ve nothing to lose so we’ll just get stuck in and give it our best.”

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