Creedon presence continues to prompt Premier

Last Saturday evening in Thurles was one of those rare occasions when Tipperary’s senior footballers carried the tag of favourites into a championship game.

And as this low-key All-Ireland SFC round 1 qualifier unfolded, the reasons why quickly became apparent.

Offaly’s second-half display was simply dreadful and it’s difficult to comprehend just how poor the county’s football team has become.

Tipperary, in contrast, have been making steady progress in recent seasons and the turnaround in fortunes since Peter Creedon took over from John Evans is quite amazing.

On these pages on Saturday morning, Tipperary’s long-serving goalkeeper Paul Fitzgerald spoke about how crucial Creedon is to this team’s long-term development. And even in a relatively short space of time, the Cork native’s work is clear for all to see.

His first game in charge was am Allianz Football League Division 3 victory over Offaly in April — a win that condemned the Faithful County to relegation.

It proved to be Gerry Cooney’s final game in charge of Offaly, with Tom Coffey stepping in on an interim basis to fill the void.

Coffey, to be fair, had a galvanising effect and morale within the camp improved but it was still not enough to prevent a 13-point mauling at the hands of a powerful Kildare outfit in the Leinster championship.

In Munster, on May 27, Tipp were busy giving a fine account of themselves against Kerry in a provincial quarter-final — losing out by just six points when the margin could have been much tighter.

Creedon had managed to stem the defensive haemorrhage that blighted Tipp’s League campaign and saw them relegated too from Division 3.

Ken Casey, one of the few positives for Offaly, wriggled free to kick four of his five points from play on Saturday but Tipp’s backs were in no mood to cough up cheap scores.

Not even the pre-match inclusion of Niall McNamee, who scored two points, was enough to send panic spreading through a solid Tipp rearguard. They stood firm and over the 70 minutes conceded a miserly seven points from play, one of those a late consolation score from Casey.

At the other end, five of Tipperary’s six starting forwards were on the mark from play, with prodigious young Clonmel Commercials attacker Michael Quinlivan leading the charge.

Quinlivan bagged 0-4, including three points from play, but the most pleasing aspect of his performance from Creedon’s perspective was his ability to keep his head up and stay focused after missing a first half penalty.

Quinlivan, 19, saw his effort blocked by Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall in first half stoppage time but a minute into the second half, the 2011 All-Ireland minor medallist kicked the opening score of the second half.

A youthful Tipp attack had buzzed to good effect all through the game and three young guns combined for the only goal of the game, a crucial one tucked away by Peter Acheson in the 17th minute. Quinlivan, in acres of space, touched on Alan Maloney’s long ball from midfield before the inrushing Acheson applied the finishing touch.

Maloney, who was excellent against Kerry, was very good again here and finished with three points while fellow corner forward Richie Ryan added two.

Captain Philip Austin — the oldest member of the attack — led by example too and finished with a brace of scores, split between both halves.

Tipp were 1-5 to 0-6 in front at half-time and it was a run of four unanswered points, kick-started by Maloney in the 43rd minute, that pushed the hosts 1-10 to 0-7 clear with less than ten minutes remaining.

And the significance of this win cannot be underestimated from a Tipp perspective as the quest to establish the Premier County as a serious senior force continues.

Prior to last Saturday, Tipp had won just three of their previous 12 qualifiers — a run stretching back to 2001. And this five-point success over hapless Offaly was Tipp’s first championship win of any kind since 2010 – when Laois were sent packing in the qualifiers.

1,310 spectators were present to see it happen and a favourable draw for the second round could see Tipp extend their championship season by at least another game.

The brand of football employed by Creedon mixes the long with the short and the players believe in what he’s doing. He’s worked with many of them in the minor and U21 ranks and behind Creedon’s soft-spoken exterior lies a steely desire to bring Tipp forward.

He’s currently on board in an interim role but surely there’s a long-term future at the helm for the school principal at St Ailbe’s in Tipperary town.

Scorers for Tipperary: M Quinlivan 0-4 (1f), A Maloney 0-3, P Acheson 1-0, P Austin, R Ryan 0-2 each, B Mulvihill 0-1.

Scorers for Offaly: K Casey 0-5 (1f), N Dunne 0-3 (2fs), N McNamee 0-2.

Subs for Tipperary: B Mulvihill for Coghlan (43), S Scully for Leahy (62), L Egan for Hannigan (66), B O’Brien for Quinlivan (67), P Whelan for Maloney (68).

Subs for Offaly: N Smith for A McNamee (ht), D Hanlon for Brazil (51), G Guilfoyle for Rigney (51), D Currams for Cunningham (64), D Kelly for Dunne (68).

Referee: C Lane (Cork).

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