The small ball reigns supreme here but all the footballers can do is keep on rocking.
And a third championship victory was achieved last Saturday, to leave Peter Creedon’s men just 70 minutes away from an historic All-Ireland quarter-final.
They face stiff opposition in the form of Down next Saturday – but the fact they’re still alive is a remarkable feat in itself. And with the Mourne County licking their wounds following yesterday’s heavy Ulster final defeat against Donegal, Tipp could claim their biggest scalp in years.
“We’d be pinching ourselves if you told us that we’d win three qualifier games,” Creedon admitted.
But they have and three championship victories in the same season is a feat not achieved by Tipperary since 1998 when they beat Waterford, Limerick and Clare to reach a Munster final.
2,563 spectators were at Semple Stadium to watch last Saturday’s victory. It’s a crying shame the majority of those present made the long trip south. Locals were outnumbered by the Saffron hordes but at a time when Tipperary’s hurlers are still involved in the four major grades, asking fans to fork out €20 for a SFC qualifier is too much.
Those that did dig deep were treated to a scrappy affair. Antrim registered seven first half wides but Tipp outdid them in the second period, notching 11. Creedon’s attackers struggled to break through the massed Antrim ranks, with 13 men often behind the ball.
Antrim boss Liam ‘Baker’ Bradley reckoned if they could hold Tipp to 10 points, they’d win. But eight at the other end was never going to be enough.”
Bradley had been rocked during the week by the withdrawal of captain Aodhán Gallagher for personal reasons but admitted afterwards he was still confident of beating Tipp. Instead, the Derry native was left swatting away questions about his future.
“It’s not the time or the place for that,” he said.
“I’m very, very disappointed. We’ve been working hard with the lads. It’s not about managers – managers come and go. I’ve no doubt that whether I’m there or not next year, Antrim will still be a force.
“One thing that has happened these last four years, we’ve given them a bit of credibility and we’re able to put it up to most teams now.
“We’re disappointed to get beaten today but it’s just a blip and I’ve no doubt that when the championship comes around next year, Antrim will be a very hard team to beat again.”
Antrim could have snatched it in the final minute but midfielder Michael McCann sent a shot skidding inches wide.
The second half had been level three times before sub Brian Mulvihill rewarded a remarkable Peter Acheson catch with the lead score five minutes from time. And when Michael Quinlivan, that gifted 2011 All-Ireland minor medallist, was hauled down by Justin Crozier with two minutes remaining, Alan Maloney popped over his sixth point of a productive afternoon from the resulting free. Tipp finally had breathing space again, having led by four points twice in the first half.
At half-time, they were 0-6 to 0-4 clear but it could have been more as Philip Austin missed a glorious chance in first half stoppage time. A goal then, Creedon reasoned, would have ended the contest. “Antrim would have had to come out then and that would have suited us,” the Cork native said.
Nevertheless, Tipp were ultimately rewarded for their industry on a sweltering afternoon, with Baker revealing: “I just got stats on the game there – Tipperary turned us over 30 times and during the course of the 73 or 74 minute, we only turned them over 24. We had the lion’s share of the possession but any possession we had, we certainly weren’t clinical enough.”
Creedon added: “I think the guys showed great guts in the last quarter of an hour. Antrim were tough to play against. We hadn’t encountered anything like that defensive structure before.
“Brian (Mulvihill) got one point on the breakaway but look, the last ten minutes of intercounty games now, it’s about players playing with heart, guts and determination. I think that’s what they did again today.”
Against a packed Antrim defence, it was Tipp who showed most of the initiative. And the message from Creedon was a pointed one. “The long diagonal ball worked a few times. In the second half at times, we were soloing into the tackle but Antrim were steering us in that direction. It’s difficult, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t think you’ll ever win a game playing that way,” he insisted. “We kicked ten points, which is low for us. Antrim hadn’t scored more than eleven points in any of their championship games.”
Scorers for Tipperary: A Maloney 0-6 (3f), G Hannigan, D Leahy, M Quinlivan (f) & B Mulvihill 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: J Loughrey & T McCann (1 45) 0-2 each, S McDonagh, M McCann, K Brady & M Magill 0-1 each.
Subs for Tipperary: B Mulvihill for Ryan (h-t), C Sweeney for Austin (64).
Subs for Antrim: M Armstrong for R Johnson (h-t), M Magill for Niblock (55), R Murray for C Murray (60), O Gallagher for T McCann (69).
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois).