TONY LEEN: The day Tipperary pulled up to the big table for good

We’ve come a long way when the question you’re asking each other this morning is whether Tipperary could take down a Tyrone or a Mayo in an All-Ireland football semi-final.

Crease your forehead some more. We’re just getting started and there’s three weeks of it ahead. Tipperary have now seen off Cork, Derry and Galway, and for evidence that they’re getting the hang of putting manners on traditional betters, there was no coughing up a big lead this time at Croke Park.

They went 11 points clear running Galway into a terrible heap, and finished winning by nine - having converted only three of seven clear goal chances.

1935 was mentioned frequently afterwards - the last time Tipp made a football semi-final, but their manager Liam Kearns told his players afterwards they’d be better served shaping a new tradition for the code in the Premier.

The thoughts of Tipp’s only football All Star can be found on page seven, but he won’t be on that lonely pedestal for long more. These are the increments of sustainable progress, and Tipperary - after minor and U21 successes - are ticking the right boxes now. It would be criminal if they slipped some rungs in the forthcoming years.

Either side of half-time in yesterday All-Ireland quarter-final, a Galway goal from Damien Comer and a one-on-one miss from Tipp’s talisman Michael Quinlivan fed the conventional notion that once an underdog, always a sucker.

While the thought was forming, Conor Sweeney was side-footing Tipp’s second goal to put them 2-9 to 1-6 in front. Five minutes later, the Ballyporeen forward was alert and brave in beating Galway keeper Bernard Power to the punch for goal No 3.

The story of the championship was wrapping itself up in a big bow.

Advancing the nine-point destruction of Kevin Walsh’s side to defend a flawed championship format might stretch a point, but Liam Kearns and his management group have stirred football with their summer acrobatics.

Suddenly we see the wisdom in Dave Moriarty as physical trainer, and former Munster winger Ian Dowling as physio - yesterday was the third successive championship game Tipp started with the same 15 players. Now we see the burgeoning talent of Colm O’Shaughnessy and Bill Maher, of man-of-the-match yesterday, Robbie Kiely, and the midfield pairing of Acheson and Hannigan. U21 Josh Keane was playing his third massive match in eight days, and while Philip Austin didn’t score, he offered an immense incentive to everyone to keep going with his work-rate.

Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney are well advertised at this stage, and it’s a close run thing which was the most penetrating inside line at Croke Park yesterday - them or the Kerry pair, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue. The former claimed 3-6 between them.

Minor All-Ireland success and U21 final appearances will signpost the stir, but yesterday’s events were seismic in their scale. From the moment Michael Quinlivan palmed their equalising first goal, Tipp lunged voraciously at Galway and their defence - a much-vaunted rearguard was served up on toast once Tipp had dragged it into a shapeless mess. When Kearns demands a little more respect for his players, he is starting in the backyard. The small band of Premier faithful which encircled the players after yesterday’s heroics will be dwarfed by the hurling following the county will receive in a fortnight.

But nobody outside its confines will doubt now that Tipperary belong with football’s upper crust.

“Nobody gave us any credit for beating Cork,” Kearns preached. “It was all about Cork and how could Cork lose to Tipperary. What a disgrace. We got a bit more for the Derry game but (after that) we were boxed off as part of the championship romance, ourselves and Clare. I told the lads the script was written and we were supposed to drift away off after our day in the sun. But we weren’t going to go with the script.”

What the capitulation will do to Kevin Walsh’s sanity, no one knows. From an early three-point lead, they managed to reel Tipp in with Comer’s goal before half-time, but the second half was meltdown material.

In the 52nd minute Robbie Kiely split the upright with the outside of his boot - the cheek - to put Tipperary 3-12 to 1-7 in front, and two minutes later Peter Acheson had another goal effort deflected over the bar. It could have got ugly.

“To be fair to these guys, they’ve done a lot of stuff this year,” Walsh protested. “We’ll assess over the next number of weeks but it’s been a positive year – first time winning the Nestor cup in eight years and having to do it the hard way, going to Castlebar and beating Roscommon the second time. That probably took a lot out of the lads.”

Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Kerry might like to have worked up a sweat yesterday, but their 2-16 to 0-11 quarter-final win over Clare was as rudimentary as it reads. They were already on the road home as Tipp were joining their Munster neighbours in the final four. The Finuge man’s legacy as manager is assured already by 2014, but if he can get his players up for the battle that awaits them in four weeks, it will be the ultimate three-card trick.

He hasn’t consulted Brian Cody on the art of managing long hibernations and modest opponents, but he might consider it. Colm Cooper will return to the training pitch next weekend in Killarney, but it would be a remarkable feat if he can get himself firing an attack and orchestrating the demise of Dublin or Donegal.

Anthony Maher got more game time, ditto James O’Donoghue, but Kerry departed knowing what they know - their ageing midfield is an issue, and the goalkeeping situation hasn’t been satisfactorily settled either. But they will always rack up scores.

Admitted Clare manager Colm Collins: “We didn’t play well, in fact we played poorly. We turned over ball, we didn’t convert chances and were sloppy in a lot of ways. Some players looked a little dead on their feet, for whatever reason. There is no hiding from it, the better team won.”

Undoubtedly, Tipperary have become the story of the summer. Perhaps yesterday was the performance of the championship too. Respect grows, questions dwindle.

But one remains. They couldn’t, could they?

“Let’s be honest, Tyrone v Mayo is a heavyweight clash, the winners of that will be overwhelming favourites to beat us,” said Kearns.

“It’s only a personal opinion but I feel Tyrone are very dangerous – and that’s no disrespect to Mayo, I’ve no doubt Mayo will give them loads of it. I’m just delighted we have three weeks to let this sink in and prepare ourselves. I could do with three months maybe.”

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