THEY have endured shattering disappointments in the U21 football grade, but last night in Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Tipperary swept aside that hurt to finally inscribe their name on the Munster roll of honour.
It was far from an-eye catching encounter but that will not perturb Tipperary and their supporters in the crowd of 2,650 who celebrated in riotous fashion at this historic success.
Twelve months ago Tipperary suffered the trauma of being pipped late on by Cork at the same stage but last night they displayed the football nous, grit and character to edge past Kerry.
Substitute Shane Egan was their hero on the scoreboard with the Galtee Rovers man make a dazzling contribution after being introduced at half-time. In a match where scores were a scarce commodity, he showed superb poise to flight over two brilliant points in the closing ten minutes. That nudged Tipperary into a 1-7 to 1-5 lead, and a combination of erratic Kerry finishing and resilient defending ensured a 59th minute Barry John Walsh free was the solitary scoring response by the Kingdom.
Captain Ciarán McDonald, Donal Lynch and John Coghlan, who had appeared in each of Tipperary’s last three Munster U21 final losses, starred in an excellent defensive display by Tipperary. They shut down a Kerry attack that had chalked up totals of 0-19 and 1-18 in their previous two encounters and it remarkable that Kerry only managed to strike three points from play over the hour here.
Apart from Egan’s contribution, the consistent industry and energy of Sean Carey at wing-forward and Alan Moloney at midfield were shining facets for Tipperary, but the real star was Peter Acheson. The Moyle Rovers man was in magnificent form at midfield, deservedly garnering the man-of-the-match accolade afterwards and it was fitting that the game concluded with a stunning catch by Acheson from a Kerry kick-out.
Tipperary’s opted to play with the strong wind blowing down towards the Horan End at their backs. Manager John Evans configured his defence at the start as well with Kerry’s attacking strengths in mind with their two most proficient defenders, Coghlan and McDonald, kept back near goal to mind Kerry’s chief marksmen Paul Geaney and Barry John Walsh. Tipperary were clearly aware of the potential damage that duo could cause and their fears were realised as early as the 7th minute. Walsh filled the role of strong ball winner and provider, and Geaney was the composed finisher in rolling the ball to the net underneath Tipperary goalkeeper Kieran Kenrick.
Tipperary’s early play was ponderous going forward and their attacks frequently stalled around the 45-yard line. That was also due to the way Kerry set out their team with the ploy of pulling Daithí Casey back to operate as a third midfielder, paying a healthy dividend again as Casey’s industry and ball-playing skills made a big impact. The solid defensive spine of Kieran O’Connor and Brian Shanahan, allied to the assistance provided by Casey and midfielder Edmond Walsh, meant Kerry restricted the Premier side to just a single point in the opening quarter.
Kerry raided forward for a pair of valuable points as well in quick succession in the 14th and 15th minutes from Edmond Walsh and Paul Geaney that left them 1-2 to 0-1 ahead after the first quarter.
Tipperary’s play was greatly enhanced nearing the interval and they ended an 18 minutes scoring drought with a Conor Sweeney free in the 21st minute. Then they struck a significant blow with their first score from open play in the 25th minute. A perceptive crossfield pass by Acheson released Lynch who weaved through the Kerry backline and passed to Bernard O’Brien who slammed a fierce shot to the net. The goal nourished Tipperary’s hopes and they closed the half in a rousing manner with Alan Moloney landing a brace of good long-distance points.
The 1-4 to 1-2 half-time lead for Tipperary looked to be a flimsy advantage though. Kerry emerged for the second-half with renewed vigour and by the 38th minute they had erased the deficit on the scoreboard when Barry John Keane hit a free and substitute Patrick Curtin rifled over from play.
A Keane free in the 42nd minute pushed them ahead but their shooting was desperately poor, they struck eight bad wides in the second-half, and when Carey tied the teams with free in the 47th minute, the sense was that Tipperary had a real chance. Ultimately they were not to be denied with a strong finish sealing a momentous night for Tipperary football.
Scorers for Tipperary: B O’Brien 1-0, A Moloney (0-1f), S Carey (0-1f), S Egan 0-2 each, C Sweeney 0-1 (0-1f).
Kerry: P Geaney 1-1, BJ Keane 0-2 (0-2f), P Curtin, E Walsh, BJ Walsh (0-1f) 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: K Kenrick; J Coghlan, C McDonald, D Lynch; R Kiely, D O’Dwyer, P O’Dwyer; A Moloney, P Acheson; S Carey, B O’Brien, G Ryan; C Sweeney, B O’Meara, M O’Dwyer.
Subs: S Egan for O’Meara (half-time), T Hanly for O’Brien (49).
KERRY: T Mac an tSaoir; P Crowley, K O’Connor, B McGuire; P O’Connor, B Shanahan, J Lyne; J Buckley, E Walsh; P O’Donoghue, BJ Keane, M Geaney; D Casey, BJ Walsh, P Geaney.
Subs: P Curtin for O’Donoghue (38), G O’Keeffe for M Geaney (56).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)