Liam Kearns has been here before, on the cusp of a Munster football championship breakthrough with a team of talented young players who dream of breaking up the Cork/Kerry cartel.
The specifics are a little different, according to Kearns, who argues when he took over as manager of Limerick in the early 2000s, “they were in a worse place to where Tipp are now” but accepts the general comparison.
In both instances, the long-term challenge is the same, to break up the monopoly exerted by Munster’s big two and usher in a new era for football in both the county and the province.
When Kearns approaches the Kilmallock grounds tomorrow afternoon, he will recall fond days in charge of an ambitious and energetic young Limerick side, buoyed, like Tipp at the moment, by underage success.
Both counties, Limerick in 2000, and Tipperary in 2015, had won a Munster U21 title and reached an All-Ireland U21 final prior to Kearns’ arrival as senior manager.
The Shannonsiders never quite replicated that success at senior level though and even now, 12 years on, Kearns winces when reminded of Darragh Ó Sé’s succession of catches on Kerry’s own goal line from long-range Limerick frees in the drawn 2004 Munster final. A week later, Limerick lost the replay, one of four provincial final defeats throughout the 2000s.
“There is no doubt in my mind the players in Limerick at that time were good enough to win one or two Munster titles,” said Kearns.
“Even after we left they were unlucky again, they had it won again another year and managed to lose it so nobody can say they didn’t have their chances.
“They deserved to get there but they never did. That’s it unfortunately.”
The hope around Tipp was that 2015 may be their year to go a step further than Limerick had managed.
A young side backboned by the All-Ireland minor success of 2011 and the U21 players that reached last year’s All-Ireland final, approached the Munster championship with adrenaline coursing through their veins.
Waterford were punitively dispatched but, ultimately, the summer tale was depressingly familiar with Tipp lowered by Kerry and Tyrone, the elite teams they aspire to.
Since then, they’ve lost the midfield pairing of Colin O’Riordan (to Australian Rules) and Steven O’Brien (to hurling) which had looked set to sustain their assault on silverware over the next decade or so.
“Seamus Kennedy has gone to the hurlers too and George Hannigan is out with a long-term injury, that’s four guys that would have been in the reckoning around midfield,” said Kearns.
“We really have been shorn of players in that area, there’s no point saying otherwise.
“But we did okay in the McGrath Cup, we played a Kerry side with David Moran and Tommy Walsh at midfield and I thought our midfield did pretty well.
“It’s just circumstances unfortunately. From my point of view, to have three of the best young players in the country, never mind the county, gone when I got the job was a setback.
“You don’t want to harp on but Colin would have been a special talent. Kerry, Cork, Tyrone, they can maybe absorb that sort of loss but counties like Tipp need their best players.”
Throw in the current absence of the Clonmel Commercials players preparing for the AIB All-Ireland Club semi-finals, as well as the indefinite unavailability of Barry Grogan and Paddy Codd, and you get a feel for the size of Kearns’ task.
Ask him about promotion from Division 3 and, unsurprisingly, he shrugs.
“Having everyone available is the key, isn’t it?” said the Kerry man. “Like, Tipp had those players all available to them last year and didn’t get out of Division 3. If we had them all, I’d still fancy our chances but we’ll see.
“I have no doubt Kildare are the hottest of favourites to go up and Westmeath wouldn’t be far behind them
“Limerick have everyone available and are in good shape as well. We still feel we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”
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