Only three weeks ago against Dublin in Semple Stadium, Tipperary were within a point of being condemned to the division 1A relegation final, their three-point win just enough to see them across the line.
In two weeks, again in Semple Stadium but this time against holders Kilkenny, they will be within one game of being crowned league champions. Strange?
“Sure, that’s the way we planned it!” laughs midfielder Kieran Bergin. “Jesus, it’s mad, we were just saying how simple a game it is. I know for a fact even our own supporters this year were saying ‘They’re this, they’re that, they’re useless, they’ll win nothing.’ To be honest we were kind of happy to be in that position.
“I know we were fortunate the way the Dublin game finished – (Niall) McMorrow missed a point or he didn’t know the situation (Dublin forward, had a simple point-scoring opportunity which would have seen Dublin through to the league quarter-final, sent Tipp to the relegation final, but opted to lob the ball into the square where it was gathered and cleared by Conor O’Mahony). It’s turned around and we are proving we deserve to be there now — that’s all that matters.
“Nobody’s been giving us a chance since we’ve been on the brink of relegation, but I suppose we’ve turned that fuel into a bit of motivation and we’ve been able to bounce back.”
Then the rider – “But we’ve nothing won yet. We have to plough on and get back down to business. We’re in a training camp this week, so we’ll try and get the work done and get ready for the next phase.”
Another who is counting Tipp’s blessings this week is full-back Padraic Maher, who starred in Sunday’s semi-final win over Clare at the Gaelic Grounds.
“For a few weeks there we were holding on by the skin of our teeth in the division but the way things worked out we got a crack at a semi-final and a crack at Clare. Thankfully now we’re in the final and hopefully go on and finish the job.”
With the championship also only around the corner, a June 1 date with their conquerors of last year and current Munster champions Limerick, Tipp are timing their run well – it all coincides with the return of a few big players, says Pádraig.
“We’re getting everyone back at the right time and there are a few more to come back as well. Bonner (his namesake, Patrick Maher, but not related – two-goal man-of-the-match against Clare) was out for a few weeks through injury but he was bulling to get back into action. He told me last week he only had one match in six of seven weeks and was mad for road — you could see it there against Clare. He can be too unselfish at times but it’s no harm to see him take his own scores because he gets in great positions — he showed what he can do.
“It’s great to see the competition for places; in Tipp for a few years you could easily pick 13 of the starting team but you don’t know who is going to start the next day and that’s a good sign. Hopefully we’ll keep the competitive edge going in training, bring it into our games and do the business in the final.”
That final is against old rivals Kilkenny, the third league final between them in the last six years. Kilkenny though have won the other two meetings (2009, 2013), time then for Tipp to step up to the mark, or, with a major All-Ireland championship qualifier defeat suffered at the hands of the Cats last year, have they been scarred?
Tongue surely firmly in cheek, Kieran was asserting the latter. “Ah, sure they’ll be a good bit stronger than us. Looking at the Galway game, they’re very sharp so they should get over us handy enough! We said at the start of the year the focus was the Championship, Limerick in June. We’re going to go now for (the league final) as hard as anyone and try to win it. ”
Padraic though was straight out. “We want to go and win it at this stage. There’s no point getting this far and being beaten.”
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