Declan Browne: Obstacles in Tipperary before we even get to the first hurdle

Over the winter, most football folk in Tipperary would have been excited about the prospects of our 2016 chances on the back of reaching All-Ireland finals in both minor and U21 last year.

Declan Browne: Obstacles in Tipperary before we even get to the first hurdle

On top of that, Clonmel Commercials annexing a Munster Club title, the first by a Tipperary team in the history of the competition, was a huge boost for football in the county.

Peter Creedon made it clear at the start of 2015 he was to step down as manager of the senior team after four reasonably successful campaigns but it took an awful long time to appoint ex-Laois and Limerick manager, Liam Kearns to the post. Valuable training, strength and conditioning time was lost as result which I have no doubt hindered the performances of the team during the league.

Promotion from Division 3 was the goal but, unfortunately two really poor performances against Kildare and Longford put that beyond our reach. Not having the Commercials contingent didn’t help matters. Tipp beat Clare in the early rounds only to see the Banner not just gain promotion but also win the Division Three final.

Tipp drew with Sligo on the final day to stay in the division, a vital and remarkable achievement considering the unavailability of numerous key players. In the 12 seasons I played for Tipp, we never got out of Division 4 with all the good teams we had in those times.

At the start of this year, Kearns and his selectors, Paul Fitzgerald, Shane Stapleton and Tommy Toomey set out specific goals for the coming year based on the panel he had at his disposal. Achieving these goals have become increasingly difficult due to factors beyond their control and must be hugely frustrating for Kearns and his backroom team. The project now looks completely different to the one he signed up for.

Colin O’Riordan heading to Australia to pursue a professional career with the Sydney Swans was a serious blow to football in Tipperary. This was too big a chance for Colin to turn down and I have no doubt he will make it over there. He has all the attributes needed to succeed — physical fitness, dedication, mental strength and passion. I am sure Tadhg Kennelly will play a big part in directing Colin out there. I wish him all the best but just hope we can see him back in the blue and gold sometime in the future.

Seamus Kennedy and Steven O’Brien have decided to concentrate solely on hurling for 2016 which means Kearns has lost three key players - and more importantly three leaders. I don’t have an issue with the lads giving the hurling a shot. I was in those shoes back in 1999 and it is too big a chance to turn down. I played all the Waterford Crystal tourneys and five national league games but unfortunately it didn’t work out for me but at least I gave it my best shot.

I was thrilled Seamus started wing back last Sunday in Thurles, gave a good account of himself and looked very comfortable playing at that level. With his dedication and commitment he won’t be handing back that jersey too easily. Steven, on the other hand, wasn’t part of the hurling panel against Cork which is disappointing not only for himself but more disappointing for the footballers who would love to have him against Waterford tomorrow in the first round of the Munster Championship.

As if things weren’t bad enough for Kearns, confirmation that a few panel members were heading to America for the summer must have been a right kick in the guts. It is hard to blame young lads for wanting to experience life in New York or Boston for three months. I have no problem with players kicking ball in the States for the summer but why sign up to a county squad in the first place if this was on their agenda at the start of the year? Or why would management play them if they knew? This doesn’t happen with the Dublins and Kerrys, probably because they are almost guaranteed to be playing in August. These guys have played throughout the league and would probably be on the championship team so now the management have to replace these players along with O’Riordan. Kennedy and O’Brien. Last year’s captain, Paddy Codd and Barry Grogan didn’t make themselves available this year either so all of a sudden Kearns is down ten-plus players from the previous year.

Tipperary cannot afford to be without these players.

One big plus for Kearns is Bill Maher has committed to the footballers after being omitted from the hurling squad. Bill is one of the best young wing backs I have witnessed so is a huge addition. George Hannigan returning after long term injury will boost things further. When the draw was made for the Munster championship I had a Munster final appearance pencilled in for Tipperary as I genuinely believed we would beat both Waterford and Cork.

With everything that has gone on it now makes tomorrow’s game in Dungarvan a tricky assignment as Tipperary have never got it their own way down there in the past.

parallel, and equally important debate within the county at present is the issue of the dual player at minor level. Both minor teams reached their respective All-Ireland finals in 2015. Indeed it was a massive honour for my own club, Moyle Rovers, to have Danny Owens as captain of the footballers and Stephen Quirke as captain of the hurlers. I still believe the dual player can survive at minor level providing both sides co-operate fully with each other in the best interests of the players involved. The players, along with their families, should ultimately decide whether they want to play both. It was refreshing to read Podge Collins say that players should be given the chance to play both at minor level, this from a man who is playing both at the highest level for Clare after returning from cruciate ligament surgery.

I have no problem with the minor hurling management requesting no dual players be tolerated this year. Every manager is entitled to give themselves the best possible chance to win, whether it is right or wrong. How the county board saw fit to back their decision is beyond me, especially when the dual mandate was passed at the county convention. But surely nixing the dual mandate should apply to players who have soccer commitments too?

Recently three members of the minor hurling squad played soccer for their local clubs, Clonmel Town and Nenagh during the Munster minor hurling championship. This isn’t a dig at these players in any shape or form, I actually admire them for standing up for themselves and playing those games, but shows the utter hypocrisy of the minor hurling management and the county board in their “concern” over dual players, i.e. that it was very hard to serve two masters at this level. Surely the interpretation from this is it’s ok to play soccer but not gaelic football. If Brian McGrath, Mark Kehoe and others were available to the footballers, I have no doubt the results against Cork and Limerick would have been very different. Our own football board, who has done unbelievable work for years and years keeping football alive, are not blameless in this either as they should have been strong enough to reject this decision. I cannot understand how they have not made more of a commotion about this affair.

If the roles were reversed and the minor football management made this call they would be shot down fairly quickly. Football has made huge strides over the last ten years in Tipperary, so it would be an awful pity to see it head back to the doldrums once more. There are a lot more dual players coming up through the underage development squads so we must ensure this episode is not a precedent going forward and that these lads are denied the opportunity to represent Tipperary in both codes.

Tomorrow’s game against Waterford is a repeat of last year’s encounter in Thurles which Tipp won very comfortably and despite all the issues in Tipp, I expect a similar result in Fraher Field. Waterford manager, Tom McGlinchey’s job has been made more difficult by the unavailability of the Stradbally contingent.

A win tomorrow will generate a positive vibe into the football set up in Tipp which is badly needed. The fightback starts here...

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