There’s plenty of leadership on the field but on the sideline Liam Kearns has been able to generate an incredible bond much like he did with Limerick. His public utterances give some indication into how he has built a siege mentality while at the same time instilling the camp with a formidable sense of belief. Telling them they could create their own tradition as he did before the Galway game was such an authorising command to give. Kearns’ knowledge of the game always came through loud and clear in his Irish Examiner column, but his willingness to facilitate and delegate are also significant assets. In the likes of selectors Shane Stapleton, Paul Fitzgerald, and Tommy Toomey as well as strength and conditioning coach Dave Moriarty, he has shown an abiding willingness to trust in those around him.
It’s already been an incredibly long season for Michael Quinlivan and the Clonmel Commercials contingent but then the rest of the Tipperary group didn’t return to collective training until the start of January. “We didn’t have any work done pre-Christmas and I think it’s probably stood to the team because there’s a freshness going into August,” revealed backroom man Brian Lacey.
The vastness of Toomey’s DVD collection of Tipperary football would defy belief but the breadth of his, Lacey and Michael Byrnes’ work on analysing opponents is impressive too. As Toomey told Tipp FM’s Extra-Time show the evening after beating Galway: “The Galway goalkeeper and their full inside back line never played in Croke Park. Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney between them had more games played at championship level than these lads and they weren’t tested the whole year.” Quinlivan also spoke about how their full-back line were on the small side and he and Sweeney could exploit the height deficit. Analysing the Galway kick-out, Tipperary also worked out Bernard Power’s hand signals.
Watching Jimmy Feehan on Sunday, supporters should appreciate the lengths he has gone to or, to be more accurate, not gone to for the benefit of his team. The Killenaule man has put off going to New Zealand as part of his studies and will do so again should Tipperary win this weekend. His dedication couldn’t be further removed from those who headed to the US after the league. What’s more, there’s also a prominent unemployed player who has put off emigration so he can help guide his county’s cause.
Before the Munster final, Brian Fox rejected the claim Tipperary had been annihilated by the loss of players both before the league and then the championship. “We weren’t decimated. Ten of the team that started against Cork did so against Cork two years ago.” Fox, though, did accept the profile of those who left was high. So major, in fact, that prior to their Waterford opener nobody was speaking about those who stayed on.
We make the distinction from defiance to explain Tipperary’s finishes against Cork and Derry where weaker teams, or even Tipperary in previous years, would have wilted in the face of Paul Kerrigan’s equaliser in June or Eoghan Brown’s goal and Danny Heavron’s point last month. Mayo must understand if the game is on the line in the final five minutes they will need everything to win.
From the “What do you think of that, Joe Brolly?” shouted in the warm-down after the Derry game to interviews with Alan Moloney and Peter Acheson, it was evident the panel took serious offence to Brolly and Colm O’Rourke’s laughs during live coverage of the Munster final. Even if Brolly explained their joking had nothing to do with Tipp’s performance against Kerry, this group don’t take too kindly to slights.
Again, Toomey recently gave great insight into how the management injects confidence in their players. “There’s no zero target in making mistakes. Players are going to make mistakes. We said to the forwards we’re going to lose 18 to 20 balls inside the Galway 45 so it gives a fella a kind of a licence to go out and play and gamble a bit.” Is it any wonder Tipperary play with such a joie de vivre when they are emboldened so much?
Asked if the growth of Tipperary football at underage was a worry for Kerry, Darran O’Sullivan admitted there were grounds for concern, but then noted hurling would always hold them back. O’Sullivan’s words appeared prophetic when Steven O’Brien and Seamus Kennedy sided with the hurlers, but the footballers have shown they can stand for themselves.
Mayo showed against Tyrone they can chop and change to reflect the opposition shortcomings but Tipp showed they are just as comfortable going long with the likes of Robbie Kiely feeding Quinlivan and Sweeney as Quinlivan is dropping to midfield and joining Philip Austin, Feehan, Acheson and Bill Maher in creating a running game. Factor in Evan Comerford’s kick-outs to go short, middle and long and it’s obvious Tipperary don’t just have ways to win but means too.