Has the qualifier system run its course? Does the All-Ireland football championship need a revamp?
The answer to those summer perennials look a little different with the benefit of a rear view mirror.
I, for one, would have said yes — obviously before both Tipperary and Clare breathed fresh life into the format with their stunning results last weekend.
Regardless of the quarter-final results tomorrow at Croke Park, the progress made by both is immeasurable and gives hope to every other county that if the correct structures are in place, then anything can happen.
After the Munster final defeat I wrote on these pages that the last-12 match was an even bigger game for Tipp and it has turned out this way.
Playing in Croke Park on quarter-final day is massive in the development of football in the county.
The three-week break from the Munster final gave Liam Kearns the opportunity to rally the troops, reaffirm the positives from both the Cork and Kerry games.
Hence, travelling to the “neutral” Breffni Park for Tipp’s match against Derry last Saturday, I was fully convinced Tipp would win. It was probably the most exciting game of the year so far, both teams having a go with a big prize on offer.
Obviously there are a few things Tipp will need to have ironed out during the week but the manner in which they recovered after Derry’s goal is something never associated with Tipp football teams up to this year.
A lot of important games are won and lost in injury time so for Tipp to score three points past the 70-minute threshold showed me this team still believed they would win the game.
In big games you need your best players to stand up. In the Munster final, nothing went right for Conor Sweeney, and Michael Quinlivan was ill the night before the game, so Tipp’s attack was blunted.
Against Derry, the pair were back to their best, hitting scores for fun and leading the Derry defence a merry dance.
Galway will have their homework done but when on song Sweeney and Quinlivan are a handful for any defence. I sat down and watched the game again when I got home from Cavan and I cannot see the Galway defenders being as generous with space as the Derry defence was when the game was in the melting pot.
For me the big plus for Kearns this year is Bill Maher’s decision to link up with the squad. He was phenomenal again against Derry, driving forward at every opportunity, asking the right sort of questions of the opposition defence. He ran himself to a standstill, epitomising what this team is all about, kicking over a vital point from play when Derry were clawing their way back into the game.
He was also the standout player for Tipp in the Munster final against Kerry. You cannot but admire this guy’s engine. Maher is well accustomed to the big occasions, having won minor All-Irelands in both codes and playing senior championship for the hurlers. If the rest of the team follow his lead, Tipp will have every opportunity of reaching the last four.
However, he will need to be a small bit more aware of his defensive duties as he conceded a couple of points to his opponent.
Galway have serious momentum built up and are full of confidence after their replay win over Roscommon. I travelled on a few All Star trips with Kevin Walsh and a nicer man you couldn’t meet, so I was thrilled for him when they won. He is a tactically astute operator and like Kearns is getting the most out of his players. Walsh had a serious amount of refusals from players to join his squad at the start of the year, similar to Tipp, so one wonders how they are all feeling now?
The last time these sides met two years ago in Tullamore, Galway rattled in five goals to claim a quarter-final spot. Tipp rallied late in the game with goals of their own but will be fully aware of the threats posed by Comer, Cummins, and Sice. These guys are serious operators and it has been well signposted that they will revel in the the open spaces of Croke Park.
My biggest worry for Tipperary tomorrow is the lack of use of substitutes in the last few games. In the wide open spaces of Croke Park, it may take using the six subs to win the game; a tactic which we haven’t employed in matches of late.
I hope the Tipp management don’t delay in recognising when players have emptied the tank and put fresh legs on. In my time, being substituted meant you had played poorly. Today it’s different. Now its all part of the plan, get in there, do your job and then hand over the reins to the next guy.
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