Big picture drives Tipp’s Power on to greater glory

Team boss David Power counted 53 people on the Tipp minor footballers’ bus to the All-Ireland final, but no passengers. He spoke to Fintan O’Toole about the Premier’s historic win.

IN the giddy post-match chaos, one image stood out. When the final whistle sounded, David Power sank to his knees, skidded along the greasy surface underneath the Hogan Stand, raised his arms aloft and closed his eyes. In the background, the white lettering on the big screen in Croke Park offered irrefutable evidence of what had just happened. Tipperary 3-9 Dublin 1-14. It’s a moment frozen in time that encapsulates one of the most remarkable days in the 2011 GAA calendar. Someone ordered a framed copy of the picture for the manager recently and it now hangs proudly in the 28-year-old’s home in Kilsheelan, a constant reminder of what was achieved.

“It’s a picture that means a lot,” he reflects. “I’d no idea at the time about it. To be honest I was just running around like a lunatic, it was crazy stuff with everyone for those moments after the game. But to sit back now and look at it is special.”

He’s not even sure if it has sunk in yet. Tipperary had only one All-Ireland minor football title to their name before 2011 and that was a victory in the boardroom in 1934. Since they bridged that 77-year gap in September, it has been a frantic whirlwind of celebrations.

In October, Power and captain Liam McGrath were invited to the London Tipperary Association’s annual dinner dance where they were presented, along with Eoin Kelly, to an appreciative crowd of 250 people in Cricklewood. Trips to Killarney and New York followed.

Closer to home there were times to savour as well. Power was told after the Dublin match that Declan Browne, the megawatt star of Tipperary football, had been in tears at the final whistle and the emotion the Moyle Rovers man displayed when they met that night in the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel confirmed that revelation. There was the Monday homecoming when a few thousand people congregated at the cathedral in Thurles to acclaim them and the riotous celebrations afterwards in Loughmore, the home of captain McGrath.

And then the wonderful time on the Tuesday night after the game in Clonmel and his native village of Kilsheelan, where no one was prouder than his father Michael, a long-serving GAA administrator at county and provincial level. Truthfully, Power has been a little dazed by it all.

“It’s been very humbling to go around and meet all these people. Traditionally it is mainly hurling lads who would be invited to these Tipperary functions abroad. We met Tipperary football people who were incredibly happy. But even the Tipperary lads that mainly follow hurling were coming over to us and saying how proud they were as well. You get a sense of how special it all is.”

When did he start to dream of September glory? Publicly he spoke of focusing on the next game at all times. Privately he suspected after the Munster final win over Cork that they could be on the cusp of something big. He confided in his three right-hand men, Pat Murphy, Fergal McDonald and Tadhg Duggan, and found they were of the same view.

Others dared to start dreaming earlier. After they beat Kerry in the semi-final, a victory underpinned by a fantastical comeback from an 11-point deficit, a few fathers of the players threw some money on Tipperary for the All-Ireland title. The squad’s bus drivers — Seamus Mulcahy, Dinny Whelan and Noel Browne — followed suit. The odds of 66-1 were gleefully accepted.

The manager is keen to stress that this was not the David Power show. The players were hugely honest, supremely talented and bought into everything they were told. The county board and the football board worked tirelessly and footed the bills that enabled them to stay at the River Island Hotel in Castleisland before the Munster final and in Dunboyne Castle before the games in Croke Park. Physical coach Alan O’Connor had the players conditioned perfectly, John Evans was a brilliant source of experience and lifelong Tipperary football man Tommy Fitzgerald from Solohead tied up a million loose ends in the preparations. There were many others who formed the vital support network.

“I remember looking around the bus on the way to Croke Park for the Dublin match and there were 53 people on board,” recalls Power. “The thing is none of them were hangers-on. Everyone had a big role to play. I’m young and I’ve still a lot to learn so I needed the support of all these people. We all worked together with one goal in mind. And that’s why we achieved it.”

People sat up and took notice of what they were doing. Before the final Liam Sheedy, of Tipperary hurling fame, and Liam Hassett, of Kerry football fame, addressed the squad and imparted significant advice. After the final Power spent a hugely enjoyable hour talking to Cork captain Graham Canty at the Munster GAA awards. The volume of texts and cards he received was overwhelming.

One message stands out. A week before the final, a letter arrived in the post from a man who wished the squad well, urging them to achieve something that had eluded him as a Tipperary minor footballer. At the bottom of the page was Nicky English’s signature and Power was left stunned.

What does the future hold? He’s already started plotting their 2012 campaign. Eighteen of this year’s squad are eligible once more for the minor grade and they lifted the Daryl Darcy U17 Munster Cup in November. There are no guarantees though. When you reach the top, you’re there to be knocked down. Kerry and Cork are both getting organised for next year with big names like Mickey Ned O’Sullivan and Ephie Fitzgerald involved. Tipperary must face Kerry in their opening Munster assignment, a fate that has also befallen their U21 and senior counterparts.

Yet Power admires the work that John Evans has done with the seniors. He is optimistic about the hopes of the U21 team.

He is excited about getting back minor training and moulding a new team together. Tipperary football still needs more hard work and patience. But when you look up at the wall in Kilsheelan and absorb everything represented by that image, how can you not be hopeful about the future?

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