It’s almost scary to think how far Tipperary football has come in 10 years. But yesterday’s win over Louth showed there’s been decent progress in 12 months too.
This fixture last year in Division 3, again in Semple Stadium, almost put paid to Tipp’s chances of promotion and booked a Division 2 spot for Louth. Sitting in the stand that day, I sensed the burden of expectation got to Tipp, with all the talk of promotion floating around.
Fast-forward 12 months and it’s a completely different picture. Louth are destined for life back in Division 3 and have really struggled at this level.
But Tipp are sitting pretty and, dare we say it, sniffing the prospect of top table football for the first time ever.
Trips away to Down and Cavan in the next fortnight are not going to be easy but both games are winnable.
Had Tipp seen out the game against Roscommon, they would be top of the pile and in full control of their fate.
That loss was a kick in the backside but even that day the players’ belief must have grown
that they can compete at this level.
In my time, life in Division 4 wasn’t pretty. Our aims were to string a few wins together and see where it took us. People would have laughed at Division 3 ambitions, let alone a realistic chance of mixing it with the Dublins and Kerrys of this world.
There is talk down this neck of the woods that promotion would come too soon. Yesterday Liam Kearns said Tipp are not ready. But I completely disagree.
Promotion may not happen but they have to strive for it. For too long we were buried in the doldrums. And even if the support base is still embarrassingly small, there is a buzz now around the footballers. The same old believers are following them, but with a spring in their step. And it’s the cool crowd to be in.
We have a crop of players who believe in and commit 100% to the system they are playing and who have great trust in the management team, who are getting the very best out of them.
There is a window of opportunity there for this squad over the next three years and I hope they can achieve what I believe they are capable of.
To make another step up, improvements will be needed. We have two of the best forwards in the game at the moment in Sweeney and Quinlivan, and 2011 minor-winning captain Liam McGrath is building on his promise every day out.
Yesterday, some of Tipperary’s score-taking was of a high quality, albeit against a very loose and naïve Louth defence. They simply had no answer to the movement and accuracy of Tipp’s inside line, who tore them to shreds, scoring 1-12 between them.
But Tipp cannot always rely on outscoring their opponents in a shootout.
They must learn to ‘win ugly’ and close out games they have worked so hard to control.
They are playing some great football at the moment, epitomised by their display against Meath, but have a tendency to take the foot off the gas at critical stages in games, costing them dearly against Roscommon. Cork almost took advantage too.
There is still some tightening up to do going backwards. There were a few hairy moments in defence yesterday, especially when Louth ran hard through the middle. But for the most part the defence enjoyed a comfortable day. And John Meagher from Loughmore continued to show what a huge plus he is at full-back this year. Hopefully he stays fit and healthy.
A pleasing aspect of yesterday’s canter was the opportunity it gave the Tipp management to use their full complement of substitutes, something they hadn’t done throughout the league so far.
There might be a settled look to the team now, but the backup talent will need to make an impact too if the push for promotion over the next two weekends is to be successful.
The depth of quality available to Tipp has never been greater, but the County Board and the Football Board can’t take their eyes off the ball. They must keep the footballers coming through from the underage setup.
It is a real pity that the under-21 competition changes to under-20 this year as it denies Tipperary the opportunity to develop their 2015 minor team further. Some of these players have graduated to senior ranks already, like Jack Kennedy and Emmet Moloney, but a lot more will fall through the net. We simply cannot afford to lose players of this quality. And the extra year at top level U21 football would have improved their chances of progressing to the senior set-up.
I understand that all counties are in the same boat but teams like this do not come around too often in Tipp.
For now, however, the faithful are starting to believe the current senior team can take another giant leap.
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