eaching the All-Ireland semi-final last year created an unbelievable buzz around theses parts, putting Tipperary football on the map.
The style of football played and carefree attitude attracted genuine praise from all quarters. But with this new-found attention comes its own pressures and the spotlight was more intense than usual at the start of this year’s Allianz League. Hopes were very high within the county that Tipp would push on and gain promotion to Division Two.
The loss of my own club mate and captain Peter Acheson, who emigrated to Dubai after the loss to Mayo last year, was going to be a massive void to fill but Liam Kearns has dealt with these situations before with Colin O’Riordan and Stephen O’Brien, so will have budgeted for this setback. Acheson was an absolute colossus for Tipp last year and was very unlucky to miss out on an All-Star. On the plus side the return of Paddy Codd, Kevin Fahey and Liam Casey along with the introduction of a few U21’s like Jack Kennedy, Willie Connors and Emmet Moloney has softened the blow.
In such exciting times for Tipperary football, it was an honour for me to be appointed manager of the county’s U21 footballers this year and to work with a great bunch of young players. I have a special grá for this age group so it’s a real pity to see it being replaced in 2018 by an U20 competition. Unfortunately for the Tipp minor team that reached the All-Ireland final in 2015 they will miss out on their final U21 year.
Personally, I would have seen promotion to Division Two of the league as a bigger priority for Liam Kearns and his troops than the championship. These young players would benefit greatly from playing higher quality games week in, week out and thankfully they have achieved this, thanks to Michael Quinlivan’s injury time goal against Armagh last Sunday.
Going to Armagh, having to win, was daunting to say the least but it shows the character and confidence this group has gained from last year’s exploits to grind out a win. Quinlivan really showed his pure class again and why he was chosen on the All-Star team last year. After taking a break over the winter he seems to be getting back to his best form which every Tipp supporter will be pleased to see.
Kieran McGeeney will be livid, coughing up a goal six minutes into injury time and throwing away their chance of promotion. I must say I felt his pain as I suffered similar fate as manager of the Tipperary U21 footballers against Limerick in the championship a few weeks back. Five minutes of injury time put up on the board but Limerick kicked their equaliser in the 7th additional minute, forcing extra-time. A referee’s job is hard enough besides having to keep an eye on the clock so maybe it is time for the hooter system to come into action.
In what was an inconsistent and patchy league campaign, to be heading to Croke Park this evening is a real bonus for Tipp - and also a chance to reverse the result against Louth from two weeks ago in Thurles. With promotion guaranteed if they had beaten Louth, Tipp completely lost their way in the second half and allowed Louth dictate proceedings. Conor Sweeney’s penalty miss just before half-time had a major bearing on the outcome but in fairness to Louth, they capitalised on this and were full value for their four-point win in the end. Colin Kelly has done an amazing job with Louth, securing back-to-back promotions and must fancy their chances beating Tipperary this evening.
he manner in which they recovered from their bad defeat to Armagh to beat Tipp was impressive so Liam Kearns will know exactly what to expect. The wide open spaces of Croke Park should suit both teams as they like to play fast attacking football so hopefully we will see both have a real go. Silverware hasn’t been easy to come by in either county so it’s a massive opportunity to set themselves up nicely for championship. Similar to last year if Tipp can get the right supply of ball into Quinlivan and Sweeney, it will be enough for them to sneak a win this evening.
On another matter, I’d like to wish Colm Cooper the very best in his retirement. In an era that produced great forwards such as Canavan, McDonnell, Joyce, Brogan etc, Cooper was the best of the lot, a genius. At the start of his career in the days when there was no blanket defences or sweepers he was simply unmarkable. He always seemed to have more time on the ball than anyone else but what really made him stand out above the rest was his ability to read the game and be two steps ahead all the time. I had the pleasure and honour of lining out with him in the full forward line for Munster on a couple of occasions. Even though he was a team-mate you could see the high esteem he was held in by his fellow players on those occasions, a true testament to the man.
I doubt very much we will see his likes again.