I have been involved in some proud, emotional days in a Tipperary jersey and I cried when Liam McGrath raised the All-Ireland minor trophy in 2011. But this beats them all.
What a fantastic day for all the Tipp football people who have done so much to keep the game going in the county. By God is it alive today.
The scenes down at pitchside after the game were amazing, with the Tipp fans gathering and waiting to congratulate the players and management. Those moments are what kept me and many fellow players going down through the years, knowing that it meant so much to these people, whether we won or lost.
I was particularly delighted to have my two little girls with me, on their first trip to Croke Park. They were there for history. Sport is not all about winning medals and trophies. When you see grown men and women crying, you appreciate what makes the GAA special.
Hearing the Croke Park announcer ask the Tipp supporters to leave the stadium was priceless — he better rest the voice for three weeks’ time.
After a nervy start from Tipp and a few poor shot selections, they settled into the game with remarkable composure.
Coming up, I genuinely thought we’d a good chance. These players know what it takes to win. They wanted to play in Croke Park. They have craved that big stage and the occasion didn’t faze them one bit.
After Michael Quinlivan scored Tipp’s first goal, there was only one outcome.
Wider appreciation of some of these Tipp players has been slow in coming, but their play yesterday — and against Derry last week — was as enterprising and entertaining as we’ve seen this summer.
The attacking play was exceptional yesterday. They contested the ball ferociously, winning primary possession and delivering quality ball into Quinlivan and Sweeney in the full-forward line. These moves were well-calculated and the Galway defence simply had no answer to what these guys were at.
Factor in Tipp’s formidable aerial threat inside and life was even more difficult for the Galway full-back-line, who seemed to just disintegrate in the second half.
Moving Quinlivan out to the middle of the pitch for periods was a masterstroke by Liam Kearns and company, as he won vital possessions out there and also freed up Sweeney and Austin inside.
Once Tipp got in the ascendancy, Galway simply had no answer and were worryingly devoid of leaders. And I genuinely cannot understand why they allowed Tipperary win their own short kickouts, refusing to push up and attempt to deny clean possession. The likes of Bill Maher and Robbie Kiely — who were both immense again today — like to carry and work the balls through the channels, receive it back and launch attack after attack.
Maybe Galway underestimated these guys and they took full advantage.
Tipp’s sweeper Brian Fox pushed up on Gary O’Donnell for the Galway kickouts making it difficult for Bernard Power in the Galway goal to pick out his men.
I have spoken a lot about the character and guts of this Tipp team and this was particularly evident after Damian Comer’s superb goal just before half-time.
From the Tipp kickout, I could hear Quinlivan telling his teammates to hold onto the ball until half-time and not concede another score. One sucker punch was enough. Tipp were in total control before Comer’s goal so it probably grounded them a bit going in at half-time. The game was far from over, and they knew a big second-half job was needed.
When Shane Walsh kicked the first score of the second half to cut Tipp’s lead back to two, leaders like Acheson and Kiely really stood up to the plate to drive Tipp on to this famous victory.
Kearns and his team deserve special mention again today as they got the match-ups and tactics spot on. I know they place particular emphasis on video analysis and stats and the thoroughness of their homework paid off come the big test.
Where can Tipp eke out the further improvement that will undoubtedly be needed against Mayo or Tyrone? They will have to work on their shooting — they kicked too many wides yesterday and passed up a glut of goal chances. They are now mixing it with the big boys in the last four so will need to capitalise on every chance that comes their way.
But I never thought I’d find myself looking ahead to an All-Ireland semi-final.
That said, we definitely deserve our place there. This is on merit. We have had enough of the patronising ‘Ye played well, hard luck’ experiences over the years. Speaking to the lads after the match, they are determined not to show up anywhere to make up the numbers and confidence is growing with every game.
They don’t want to go out with a whimper like Clare did yesterday, which was really deflating for them after a positive and progressive season. Tipp must believe now that they are in it to win it and why shouldn’t they?
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