By Peter McNamara
EirGrid All-Ireland U21 Football Championship final
Tipperary v Tyrone
6pm today, Parnell Park (Live on TG4 and GAAGO)
The tipping point - no pun intended - occurred during the Munster underage championships of 2007.
The Premier County’s representatives at U14, U15 and U16 made little impact on those respective competitions and like-minded folk said "enough was enough".
Chief among those was Joe Hannigan, since elected as chairman of the football board, a sub-committee of the Tipperary County Board.
As Tipp prepare for the EirGrid All-Ireland U21 Football Championship final against Tyrone this evening in Parnell Park, Hannigan reflected on the extensive work that has been carried out in the county since those disappointments in ’07.
Hannigan picks up the story.
“Everybody, obviously, that is involved might have their own angle on the story,” Hannigan said. “This is mine, though."
Act one: Time for change.
“We recognised in 2007, when we went to the underage provincial tournaments that those involved with the teams could have been of a better standard.
“Afterwards, we took this up at a football board meeting and later met the Bord na nÓg at that time.
“Michael Lonergan was the chairman of that then and he asked us to take on the running of football entirely so we did.
“David Power and Pat Moroney identified people that were capable of coaching to a high level in each of our four divisions, North, Tipp, West and South Tipp.
“So, before we go to county level now, we have, say, our North Tipp U14 team and so on.
“The quality coaches that were appointed to each division made a huge difference, obviously, as
they were so driven.
“The four divisional teams would then compete within the county.By extension then, these quality coaches went on to be county selectors as each division had upped the ante.
“Then, when it came to county trials, you now had a situation where there were about 80 talented and well-coached players present.
“Those players were brought in for six weeks on the trot and got extremely high-quality coaching for six weeks. And players, that may not have had exposure to that level of football training beforehand, improved.
“When that group was whittled down to 30 then you had a very serious pick of players. The knock-on effect around the county was huge then because when they went back to their clubs they lifted all around them.”
Act two: Cue the Friends of Tipperary Football.
“As this ground-work was beginning to be successful, the Friends of Tipperary Football, which I was involved in as well with a group of hard-working, amazing people, began to invest in the whole thing.
“If, say, our U14 team were going to play in Westmeath or wherever the Friends of Tipperary Football would fund the buses or the grub, sometimes both!
“You see, the Friends of Tipperary Football would step in to help the Bord na nÓg. Since then, and much more recently, Thurles Fresh Milk, who deserves special mention for what they are doing for the football community here, came on board.
“They have funded both of the football and hurling academies here taking a fair burden off everybody.
“Thurles Fresh Milk are contributing up to €15,000 to the academies which is incredible. Dinny Maher, the game’s promotion manager, is also driving everything on with the Development Squads so there are a few elements to the whole thing.
“There is such a great bond among the Friends of Tipperary Football too because of the fact the numbers involved are not huge which is actually beneficial.
“The chairman of that supporters’ club is Michael Power and there is also Michael Power the treasurer, two great men.
“Last year, they generated over €25,000 from fundraising which was brilliant. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be financially strong enough to provide a week away in the sun training or anything like that but we are making progress,” Hannigan explained.
Act three: Making the background work count.
“We first began to see the benefits of the initial work that was being done in 2008. As the players were exposed to these new standards the U14 side won the Munster championship for the first time, as did the U15 team and the U16 group got to the provincial final.
“The remarkable thing about that is the 2008 U15 team were the 2011 side that won the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship.
“You have a scenario where Steven O’Brien who will be playing today in the U21 final never lost a game at his age group in Munster.
“How far we have come is remarkable really and everybody has done great work including the likes of John Evans, also producing a really good Roscommon team now.
“We have set targets too though to keep kicking-on. We have nothing but desire and determination to keep Tipp football moving forward,” he said.