Why the fighting spirit is ingrained in culture of Tipperary footballers

They’re an obstinate bunch, Tipperary football folk. Small in number but big in pretty much everything else — it took three pleas from the PA announcer in Croke Park to convince them to leave the stadium long after the players had retired to their dressing room.

Why the fighting spirit is ingrained in culture of Tipperary footballers

Nobody was going to spoil the party. Their refusal to follow orders was so much in keeping with the recent history of football in the county.

Twelve years ago, Tipperary’s players stood alongside Andy Shortall and his selectors who quit following the county board’s decision not to intervene when the Mid Tipperary board staged a club hurling game involving two footballers three days before their qualifier against Fermanagh. The panel refused to line out and a walkover was given. It was hoped Shortall would return but Seamus McCarthy was appointed his successor and a Tommy Murphy Cup was annexed the following year.

Tipperary football, you see, has more than enough reason to be paranoid about activities within their own boundaries. When former hurler Conor Gleeson claimed last year that Colin O’Riordan was good enough to play senior hurling for Tipperary, some in the football fraternity took exception. 2011 All-Ireland-winning minor manager David Power described the comments as “disgraceful” at a time when the U21 footballers were preparing for an All-Ireland final against Tyrone. U21 manager Tommy Toomey intimated there may have been “an agenda” behind Gleeson’s words.

Before last month’s Munster final, current senior selector Toomey took the opportunity to hit back at minor hurling manager Liam Cahill’s decision this year to give the dual players the ultimatum of picking hurling or football. “You’d have to look at those actions… that was a big step for Tipperary. That hadn’t happened in a while but it did. You can’t go back.”

But there has been opposition to their development outside the county too. In 2014, Tipperary along with Clare, Limerick, and Waterford withdrew themselves from the McGrath Cup as well as the interprovincial team in protest at the Munster Council’s decision to seed Cork and Kerry in separate semi-finals. “It would be a shame if Croke Park allowed the small-mindedness of certain people to keep Cork and Kerry at the top and put down the rest in the process,” said Toomey.

Their threat to pull out of the 2015 Munster SFC if the draw wasn’t reversed was enough to compel the provincial authorities to change their tune.

On the pitch, they’ve had to learn the hard way too. Tipperary’s immediate response in the wake of what was alleged to have happened on the Parnell Park pitch in last year’s All-Ireland U21 final may have been perceived as sour grapes or a team too innocent in their ways to contend with the necessary evils required to prevail on such occasions. But then Tipperary’s decision to refuse Tyrone management to enter their dressing room was an act of defiance. Insult would not be added to injury.

So much of what Tipperary did on Sunday was reminiscent of Wexford’s surge to an All-Ireland semi-final in 2008, an achievement which challenged hurling’s authority in the following years. As Liam Dunne said last year, “I’m not going to blame Jason Ryan — he did a fabulous job with Wexford football — but his tenure in football definitely stuck a knife into hurling big time in the way he went about it. But he went about it smartly, and fair play to him.”

Hurling will never lose out to football like that in Tipperary but then there can be a happier medium reached than the uneasy peace that currently exists. The athletic development Toomey subscribes to at underage level would seem a lot more holistic than telling players to pick one sport over the other, which could be viewed as a kneejerk reaction to Ger Loughnane’s asinine assertion that Tipperary had footballers trying to play hurling in last year’s All-Ireland minor final.

The presence of Steven O’Brien with the hurlers in the Dr Morris Park complex the same nights the footballers train is a sore point but as Brian Fox said last month, “You are thinking about games, you are not thinking about players not there.” What we didn’t realise when O’Brien, Colin O’Riordan and others left the panel was Tipperary football has long learned to do without and, more often than not, cope.

Make no mistake, the moment football is seen to affect hurling, there’ll be trouble. Liam Kearns’ predecessor Creedon, who merits credit in the making of several players, appeared to suggest the win will cause a headache for officials in the county. He posted on Twitter on Sunday: “Take a bow lads you did us all proud today brilliant stuff and the poor old county board will be upset too.” But maybe the way Tipperary play their football will conquer all. It wasn’t just they beat Galway on Sunday; they did so adopting a brand that resonated with so many football fans that have become disenchanted with the way the game has gone. Whether that style will stand up to scrutiny in an All-Ireland semi-final is another thing but there’s an irresistibility attached to this Tipperary side.

Going back years, it’s engrained in their culture.

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Pointed divergence in Kelly and Kilkenny’s paths

Barry Kelly’s appointment to referee the Tipperary-Galway All-Ireland semi-final means for the second successive season the Westmeath man has not taken charge of a championship match involving Kilkenny.

For a match official of his quality, it would seem more than coincidental that he has not been given such a duty since he was the man in the middle for the Cats’ 2014 All-Ireland final draw with Tipperary. Following the replay, Brian Cody made a number of critical remarks about Kelly’s performance in the first game, earning the Kilkenny boss a rap on the knuckles by the Central Competitions Control Committee.

While Kelly has refereed a number of Kilkenny league games since then, by next Sunday seven championship matches (excluding the 2014 final replay) will have passed in which he has not been assigned to a Kilkenny SHC game. The semi-final against Waterford marks the second time in that period James Owens has been appointed to one of their matches. Brian Gavin also has two while Diarmuid Kirwan, James McGrath and Fergal Horgan all have refereed one.

Although his namesake Alan Kelly is also missing from that gathering, Kelly’s absence is most noted. All conspiracy stories would be put to bed were he to meet with them again but until such time they will grow stronger and elaborate.

The problem with lots of garbage time

A learned colleague of ours has proposed only two minutes of additional time should be allocated when the margin between teams is such that there is no chance of the trailing side making up the difference.

It’s a novel idea and maybe one worth investigating if the exasperation heard in Croke Park on Sunday when the announcements were made in the Kerry-Clare and Tipperary-Galway All-Ireland quarter-finals are anything to go by.

On the whole, the decision to allow 20 seconds per substitute is a most welcome introduction to making time-keeping more transparent.

There have been games, albeit in the minority, where supporters rub their hands with glee or bite their nails at the prospect of five or six minutes’ more action.

But let there be no doubt that Gaelic football and hurling, although to a lesser extent, now have garbage time where the outcome has already been decided and all that is left to do is call a halt to proceedings.

Ironically, such an instance was one of the reasons offered by Croke Park against the introduction of the clock/hooter. For the most part, the extra minutes don’t make for the most edifying finale.

However, as teams are whittled down to the best these coming weeks and the margins should become tighter, we may just be thankful for the opportunity to see more football.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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