Outnumbered they might have been but Tipperary supporters were not outshouted at last month’s All-Ireland semi-final.
For a team that have lost just one Championship game this summer, the numbers following Liam Sheedy’s men could be a lot better but Darragh Egan can vouch for the noise created by those of them in Croke Park on July 28.
“The volume of the crowd was surprising. The best way I can answer it is my own four-year-old had to leave for the last 10 minutes because of the noise. He is well used to going to hurling matches but he couldn’t stand the noise of the crowd.
“We could feel that behind us and when you are in an intense situation like that, you don’t hear a whole pile but that was the intensity of the Tipp support against Wexford and that came to fruition 72 hours later at the supporters’ evening at Semple Stadium.
“It was brilliant to have all those people there. I am a schoolteacher, I know exactly what it means to all these kids. If they see Jake Morris banging in a goal on a Tuesday night and Seamie (Callanan) banging in a goal the following Sunday, they want to go see them and get hurleys and jerseys signed. It’s great for the kids to have that sense of pride in Tipperary.”
Egan was five and starting in school around the time Tipperary won the All-Ireland final in 1991 and 15 when they did so again. He would have always associated the start of the school year with All-Ireland hurling finals but knows that’s not the case for his Kiladangan NS pupils where he is principal.
From a school-teacher point of view, it’s obviously nice to go in and chat to the kids the following morning and ask them what they thought of the match. But there is a national fixture thing at play here as well.
"I am still very involved in my club and I know club lads can’t wait for the All-Ireland but they equally cannot wait to get going in the club championship two weeks later. We can’t have our bread buttered on both sides. We need to look at fixtures from a national point of view and the All-Ireland in August is probably good for the hundreds of thousands of club players.”
Involved with the Tipperary U16s in 2017 and ’18, the next step seemed to be minors this year for Egan before Liam Sheedy made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He would have played under Tommy Dunne while Eamon O’Shea was a lecturer of his in NUI Galway.
“Speed bump” is how a few in the Tipperary camp have described the Munster final defeat to Limerick and Egan is no different. “We maybe underestimated the amount that the four games in six weeks took from us. We just didn’t perform against Limerick and when we reflected on it, we probably put so much emphasis on the first four games to get out of Munster, we just didn’t have enough in the tank.
"Now, Limerick were top class that day as well but with 15 minutes to go, Seamie (Callanan) hit Nickie Quaid’s foot with the ball, it was a great save, and we would have only been three points down so all was not lost.”
Tipperary were thankful for the outing against Laois as it helped iron out a few issues.
“The Laois game was funny as well in that we could have scored 3-12 in that first half and had we scored that we could have ran away with it,” reviews Egan. “A big thing from the Laois game too was it gave some of our players an opportunity to play in Croke Park. Alan Flynn and Brian Hogan never played (Championship) in Croke Park and you can’t underestimate the size of the stadium and the arena you are heading into.”
Crucial to the semi-final victory over Wexford was the contribution from the bench - scoring four points (that was the combined tally from replacements across the previous four games). Egan knew the quality in the reserves was only waiting to shine.
“We pride ourselves on our panel. We had a very clear picture as to who and when they were going in against Wexford. Now, games change and when John McGrath went off it affected our ability to make substitutions in defence because we were going to need fresh legs up front because we had five players running for six lads but we knew who was sharp and if you are putting your hand up in training, you will get the nod.
“Mark Kehoe was excellent when he went in. Willie Connors, who had been excellent in the early rounds of Munster, but we hadn’t seen him in recent games but Willie put his best foot forward for the 10 days leading up to the Wexford game so he got in and thankfully did well.”