County board persuaded us to play the second half
I was back with Michael McCarthy at the other end of the field. The two of us even spoke. We could see it was wide. When the umpires gave it, there was a minute maybe of Philly Ryan and the lads giving out. But we had to get back into it.
Obviously, at half-time we knew what was after happening. I was captain. We decided we weren’t going back out. We were all in it together. But it’s difficult. Politics. We were kind of forced out by our county board. The knocks on the door came. We’d get fined. This and that. Our own officials said we had to go out.
Against our better judgement, we said we’d go out and try to rectify the damage. Adrenaline kind of set it and we said we’d show these guys. We were fooling ourselves. We were never going to claw it back. Our heads were up our backsides at that stage. We were focused too much on what had happened.
It was a travesty when you see what’s going on now; that Armagh can get a replay from Laois for an extra sub. That happened to us in ‘02 as well when Cork played an extra sub in a Munster final replay. Nothing came of that either.
For a goal like that to cost you in a championship match in the knockout system was hard to take. We never really got the full story. Did we fight for a replay? Did Kerry offer it? It was more a case of keeping it hush until it went away. That’s the most galling part. Surely it was worth fighting for? I don’t think Kerry were forthcoming, but maybe I’m wrong. The decent thing to do was a replay. And we would have taken it.
Did we do the right thing going back out? We probably did in the ethos of the game. But it was live on TV. A chance to make our point. If we were more streetwise, we’d have sat in there for another 10 minutes and let RTÉ worry about their schedule.
I’d have to get used to this
My debut. A horrible day in Clonmel. We had them on the rack, level with seven or eight minutes to go. Then there was a slip. It was my own clubmate, Liam Cronin, who had an absolute stormer — he was close on MOTM. Ball came in, he was out in front of Dara Ó Cinnéide but slipped. Straight into Dara, who buried it. And they pulled away from us.
Those little memories stick in your mind. Knockout. Gone for the year again. That’s my abiding memory of those years. Training for eight months. Draw Kerry. Gone in the first round. You’d be always watching the draw around Christmas, to see could ourselves, Clare, Limerick, Waterford meet up, get a run of games. But we always seemed to get Kerry.
We had teams over that period that were capable of mixing with the best. We felt we had a chance of beating them. We had Brian Lambert, Brian Lacey, Derry Foley, Brian Burke. They had no fear of the Kerry boys. We never got the chance really to fulfill our potential. But any of those genuinely believed they could take on Kerry and beat them. That made it easier to train.
We had a serious manager as well. We had Seamus McCarthy in 1996, who I owe a lot to. Then Colm Browne came from Laois in ‘98 and ‘99. He was way ahead of his time. He brought it to a new level.
You always like to pit yourself against the best. Growing up, I had great admiration and grá for Kerry football. I’d watch videos of the golden years. But I always felt we could play them at their own game. No sweepers, defensive systems. Just see could you break them. We didn’t, but we came close at times. But marking Seamus Moynihan, or Mike McCarthy or Marc Ó Sé. I enjoyed that. It mightn’t work out but you were pitting yourself against the best.
The gear was on under my clothes
I was injured. I was due to go for a groin operation in June. But I agreed with Tom McGlinchey that I’d tog. I couldn’t do any more damage. If the game was close, I’d give it 15 or 20 minutes. I was in my normal clothes but i had the gear on under. The boys had the boots in the dugout. After half-time Sean Maher brought it back to a goal or maybe two points down. Tom and myself looked at each other. Nobody could see me in the dugout but I was rooting around for the boots. I think Kerry banged in two or three goals while I was putting them on and I was soon back in my street clothes. It was kind of madness really. I was only fooling myself. They hammered us in the end. For the last 25 minutes they railroaded us. But for a minute, we thought we were going to win.
The gulf was becoming too wide
We were going okay in the first half. The ball was coming in ok. But then it completely stopped. I’d never admit defeat but the gap in those days, from ‘03 to ‘06 was big. They dished out nice lessons.
We still had good teams, we beat Carlow and played well against Donegal in Croke Park. We could recover from these huge defeats. At least you had the qualifiers then. The gulf between the fourth division and first had become too wide. I was marking Éamonn Fitzmaurice that day. They put him in full-back, though it wasn’t his position, someone was injured. He was very talkative. Directing traffic. Always talking.
The one that got away
I think Kerry respect most teams. They believe in their own ability but I never detected arrogance on the field. But they had no choice but to respect us, because if they didn’t, they’d have got caught.
That was the game we had them. The closest game they got all year. The last four or five minutes, they pulled away. But you’re dealing with class, Maurice Fitz, Dara Ó Cinnéide, all these guys I idolised watching on telly. Huge, huge players.
But that was the one that got away. We had them on the rack. The pressure was on Páidí as well. I got a goal into the town end and it really lifted us. We believed it. You could feel the tension among them, They really gritted their teeth. Fuck, this isn’t going to plan. Our confidence grew. You could see that all over the pitch. Most players were winning their battles. But it shows their class. They dug deep and kicked into gear and kicked their scores. Maurice Fitz took a shot for goal, and the ricochet went to Denis O’Dwyer all on his own. And he buried it. It’s amazing how you remember those little things. They never leave you. What if? There all seemed to be a ‘what if’ in those early years.
I hate saying it, but the scoreline flattered us
A few of those scorelines didn’t do us justice — ‘96 definitely wasn’t a hammering, ‘97 wasn’t a five-point game, ‘99 wasn’t a six-point game.
The ‘98 Munster final in Thurles was the opposite. It was surreal for us. My first Munster final. Getting to a final was massive for Tipp. But class came out. There was only four points in it in the end, but it felt like 14. That margin didn’t reflect their dominance. I hate saying that.
We got a fortunate goal. Some say it wasn’t over the line. That kept us in the game. They were comfortable. They had another gear to go to.
My only day out in Killarney
This was the only time I played them in Killarney. But Killarney has been good to Tipp. The pitch is similar to Semple. It’s wide and a very good surface. I’ve always loved playing there.
The minor final of 1995 will always be special. Tipp teams weren’t supposed to win Munster finals back then. The ‘84 minors won it in Killarney. The senior hurlers ended the famine in Killarney. Obviously, you’d prefer to play Kerry elsewhere, but it’s a happy hunting ground for Tipp.
Looking back on the games against them, I’m delighted to have the memories. And I’m glad it was at a time before sweepers and systems. It wasn’t about trying to contain them. I can’t imagine us putting two men on Maurice Fitz. Dara and the rest would punish you anyway.
We had faith and confidence in our own ability. We tried to go toe-to-toe with them. I retired knowing I did my best against the best. It just wasn’t quite enough. But some of the players now don’t get that chance to showcase their ability. It’s all about containment — 70% or 80% of players aren’t being properly utilised. They’re just doing a job.