Declan Browne wants tests against best for Tipperary

There’s no sugar-coating from Declan Browne: today’s third round qualifier is the most important fixture concerning Tipperary football in a very long time.

Declan Browne wants tests against best for Tipperary

Given his standing as the greatest footballer to ever wear the blue and gold, few are as well placed to make such a weighted assertion.

The 2002 Munster final aside, Browne reckons this afternoon’s visit of Tyrone represents Tipperary’s most crucial 70 minutes of football in the past 20-years.

His premise is that while Cork, Kerry and Dublin have been conquered at minor and U21 level, a notable scalp they have yet to take at senior level.

Adding to its significance was the decision of senior manager Peter Creedon to further focus the spotlight hanging over Tipperary in the wake of the county’s run to the All-Ireland U21 decider when stating their ambition to reach a first All-Ireland quarter-final, not forgetting football board chairman Joe Hannigan’s “we want to bring Sam Maguire back to Tipperary in 2020”.

Take even Creedon’s words following last Saturday’s facile 23-point win over Louth: “Is it worth anything to us really? If I am being honest, we would have been hoping for a really tough draw here today.”

Michael Quinlivan too was singing from the same ambitious script underneath the tunnel in Thurles: “We don’t want to be going backwards, we want to be going forwards and making a quarter-final.” In times past, Tipperary would have marvelled at such an emphatic victory. Now they express disappointment at being left disadvantaged ahead of the next round.

“They’ve put themselves on the radar,” says two-time All Star Browne, “And if you are going to talk big, you have to back it up on the field.

“If you want to make quarter-finals, if you want to reach the Holy Grail, then it is teams like Tyrone that you need to start beating.”

Indeed, such has been the change in mindset in Tipperary that the draw against Tyrone was widely welcomed.

“They are relishing Tyrone coming to Thurles.

“Wasn’t it encouraging to see when the draw was made that the immediate reaction of the football public wasn’t ‘oh, that’s an easy draw for Tyrone’, but rather a general consensus that Tipperary could take this? That attitude shows how much progress is being made in the county.

“If we got this draw ten years ago, we’d have been beaten the second Tyrone was pulled out of the bowl. Sure, we’d have been glad to pit ourselves against them and see what was the gap like between the counties, but we wouldn’t have given ourselves a chance.”

The outstanding difference between the current crop and the men Browne soldiered alongside for over a decade? Belief.

Of the starting team from last Saturday, Evan Comerford, Jimmy Feehan, Seamus Kennedy, Colin O’Riordan, Liam Casey, Michael Quinlivan and Kevin O’Halloran hold Munster medals at either minor or U21 level.

“There’s no longer a confidence issue with Tipperary football teams. These lads don’t care who they are playing. They’ve taken out Dublin twice now at underage. That is massive in terms of instilling confidence.

“When we were playing, you’d hope to win every so often. Tipperary won a Munster minor in 1984 and we didn’t win another until we came along in 1995. We came from nowhere to win it and it wasn’t built upon. The structures are such now that they expect to win every year. I was chatting to a lot of the lads after the Kerry defeat and there was huge regret over the 13 wides kicked.

“In our day, you’d be lucky to get 13 shots on goal against Kerry, never mind 13 wides. Again, that shows the present mind-set of the Tipperary footballer and how much it has changed from say seven, eight years ago.” Given their determination to reach a quarter-final next month and their progression to the fourth round in both 2012 and ’14, will this present campaign be cast as regression if Tyrone depart Semple Stadium with their championship ambitions still intact?

“Certainly not, and the first thing I would say is that if Tipperary come away with the spoils here, it will be viewed not as a big shock, but rather a big scalp.

“I honestly believe the pressure is on Tyrone here. They aren’t the force they used to be and I imagine it wouldn’t sit well if they were knocked out of the championship this early by Tipperary.

“For Tipperary, there is a small bit of pressure. If they don’t get the win, all is not lost, however. This is a young team still very much in development and we must remember that.”

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