Tipp belatedly drawing home golden harvest

The legend of Tipperary’s historic All-Ireland minor football success has multiplied with time.

Tipp belatedly drawing home golden harvest

The evidence? Just look at what their defeated opponents have done since.

The 2011 Dublin minors, “the team that keeps on giving” as one fan dubbed them, has produced Ciaran Kilkenny, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello, John Small and Eric Lowndes. Brian Fenton couldn’t even make the panel.

That’s 23 All-Ireland medals, nine more at U21, seven All-Stars, two All-Ireland final man-of-the-match awards, and one Player of the Year gong.

The Tipperary team which produced the remarkable 3-9 to 1-14 shock has reaped a rich dividend too, just spread across an array of sporting fields.

Colin O’Riordan is flying the flag in Australia, having signed a two-year contract extension with the Sydney Swans. Scorer of the winning goal Colman Kennedy and Greg Henry both moved to America in 2014 to pursue a soccer scholarship, although they’re expected home this summer.

The football harvest hasn’t been automatic.

When Tipperary last met Waterford in their 2016 championship opener, only four members of the 2011 minors saw game-time – Evan Comerford, Bill Maher, Michael Quinlivan and Ian Fahey.

Four more who played the year previous in a 22-point crushing of the Déise were unavailable, with three of those, O’Riordan, Seamus Kennedy and Steven O’Brien, cherry-picked by other sports.

Hurling is number one in Tipp, of course, and eight of the minor football champions have been with the senior panel. John McGrath and Kennedy, who still puts in starring big-ball performances with Clonmel Commercials, have won the All-Ireland, while O’Brien was also on the panel that year.

Maher captained Tipperary to the 2012 All-Ireland minor hurling title and had a cameo appearance in a championship win over Limerick three years later. Full-back John Meagher, centre-back Dylan Fitzelle and captain Liam McGrath have all played in the hurling league, while the multi-talented O’Riordan was also called-up by Eamon O’Shea.

What’s encouraging for Liam Kearns, though, is how many of those dual prospects have eventually ended up back in the football camp. Meagher and O’Brien have returned this year and were regulars throughout a league campaign which fell just short of promotion to Division 1. McGrath is finally realising his potential in attack, while Maher is now an established figure at wing-back.

Tonight, nine of the 2011 panel are expected to be togged out.

“It’s taken a while. Because we’re a dual county and hurling would be number one in Tipperary, and there’s no point in saying otherwise, it has taken a bit longer to get those lads through playing senior football,” says 2011 minor manager and current Tipperary U20 boss David Power.

“There’s three or four who went for senior hurling and for one reason or another, bar John McGrath and Seamus Kennedy, the other lads haven’t made the hurling grade.

“It’s great to see Steven O’Brien back but I feel you won’t see the best of Steven O’Brien until next year. It’s not like a tap, you can’t switch it on and off. Hurling and football are two different games so it’ll probably take the likes of Steven O’Brien 12 months to get back into inter-county football again, especially when he’s had no club football with Ballina.

“His only other football has been with DCU, and that’s only over a four- or six-week period.

“When John Meagher is fully fit, and injuries have been an issue with him, he’s a serious full-back.

“Colman Kennedy will be back from America this summer for good, and I think so is Greg Henry. I’d imagine Colman will be a fine addition to Clonmel Commercials later in the club championship this year, he’s natural at it, and Greg Henry with Killenaule will be another addition,” says Power.

“I suppose, bit by bit, you are getting the 2011 team back but we need them all really to be able to compete at the highest level.”

Admittedly from a previous vintage of underage success, Sean Carey, too, has returned to football, via hurling and Australia, nine years on from scoring the winning point in Tipperary’s Division 3 League victory over Down – the first signal of what was to come.

Minor successes have proved difficult to replicate in recent years, having been knocked out by Clare (twice) and Limerick (once) since the 2015 All-Ireland minor final appearance.

But with the 2011 minors heading into their physical peak years as they start to reach 25 years of age, their influence mixed with experience of the 2010 Munster U21 champions and the first of 2015’s offerings gives Tipperary football hope for the year ahead.

“The exciting thing about it is you’re bringing the ’11 team and you’ve the likes of Conor Sweeney, Robbie Kiely, Brian Fox and these fellas. It’s not just about the ’11 team.

“There’s some very good footballers there in their own right and there’s other younger fellas, Jimmy Feehan and Liam Casey are after winning two Sigerson Cups.

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