Job done. That will be the view of Liam Kearns and his team. It’s amazing the difference a week makes. With 20 seconds to go at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh, Tipperary were two points down against Kieran McGeeney’s team and facing the prospect of another year in Division 3. Michael Quinlivan’s late goal gained promotion and propelled Tipp into the league final on Saturday where they took on a Louth team that had already beaten them in Thurles two weeks earlier.
Have no doubt, the big prize for Tipp is to be playing Division 2 football next year but to see Brian Fox climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect the Division 3 trophy was the icing on the cake. To follow up last year’s championship performances with a national league title a few months later shows that those results last year weren’t a flash in the pan. During my inter-county career, consistency was always elusive. We had great teams but could never seem to follow up one good year with another so this current crop is really showing what they are capable of achieving.
Tipperary were full value for their win and could have won by more but for some very poor attempts at goal. They will also be very disappointed with slow starts to both halves and the way they left Louth back into the game. There is a tendency to fall asleep for periods which will need to be ironed out before they play Cork or Waterford in eight weeks’ time.
There is tightening to be done at the back too. Tipp have coughed up a lot of scores in the league so the concession of another points will not have pleased Kearns. Louth’s game-plan seemed to be to attack Tipp down the middle and they got plenty of reward from doing so with excellent midfielder Tommy Durnin kicking three great points.
But getting the right supply of ball into Quinlivan and Sweeney was always going to be the difference between the teams. This pair are right on top of their games and will be a handful for any defence going forward.
Heading into Saturday’s game, Sweeney was ten points behind Laois’ Donie Kingston in the Division’s scoring charts so to score 2-5 and top that list is a massive achievement for him.
Even with a sweeper protecting their defence, Louth just could not cope with the quality of the two lads. The smart runs they were making completely negated the effect of the sweeper and gave Tipp a serious foothold up front. With Louth behind for most of the game, I cannot understand why they persisted with the extra man in defence especially when it wasn’t effective.
Evan Comerford’s kick-outs justifiably commanded high praise from all quarters last year but he seemed to be struggling a bit during the league this year. Clearly opposing managers had been doing their video analysis and got their homework done on the Tipp strategy.
But Comerford was back to his brilliant best on Saturday. Long or short he was on the money and gave Tipp the impetus to drive forward.
In the early game in Croke Park on Saturday, Wexford had the opportunity to reverse the result of their previous meeting with Westmeath in the league. To say they were poor is an understatement and Seamus McEneaney has a lot of work to do to get the wheels in motion again. If Ben Brosnan and Ciaran Lyng are held like they were on Saturday then Wexford will be in big trouble come championship.
They looked like a team that were happy with their promotion and if silverware came with it then well and good. Westmeath will be absolutely thrilled with their campaign. Things were looking bleak for them after three successive relegations but Tom Cribben has them heading in the right direction. In John Heslin they have a real match-winner, comfortable off both feet and excellent in the air. Similar to Michael Quinlivan for Tipp, Westmeath deploy Heslin out around the middle at various stages during a game to win primary possession with his aerial prowess.
The paltry crowd of around 5,000 in Croke Park for this double header in glorious sunshine underlines my thoughts that promotion is more important than silverware at this time of the year in the supporters’ eyes. However, with championship on the horizon, all four managers will be relatively happy with where their team is at, with plenty to work on and ponder over the coming weeks.