Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice reckons Tipperary are a stronger and more “unified” force for having lost so many big-name players during the off-season.
Five members of last year’s starting team — Colin O’Riordan, Steven O’Brien, Seamus Kennedy, Paddy Codd and Barry Grogan — are not involved for a variety of reasons and the Kerry boss believes the 2015 supporting cast have relished being called centre stage this summer.
Take their performance against Cork.
No Tipperary team had managed such a feat in 72 years and Fitzmaurice’s opinion is that Tipperary are a stronger side for not having to rely on one or two individuals.
“It’s funny that sometimes when you’ve a very strong group as they had the last couple of years — when they come through into a group where the older group aren’t quite getting the credit they deserve, there can be a bit of a division within the squad.
“Whereas to me, the team that played against Cork in this year’s semi looked very unified, there seemed to be a serious spirit and sometimes when you lose a few big names, the sum of the parts becomes more important than relying on one or two big names,” said Fitzmaurice.
“And the thing about when you’ve one or two big names, if you quieten those one or two big names, maybe the other fellas aren’t used to having to do a bit more. Whereas this year, Tipperary, looking at it from the outside, look to be very close-knit.
“Some young players have been forced into action sooner than they would have been if the other players were around.
“Kevin O’Halloran was outstanding the last day, he was a fella that was really good for Tipperary both in general play and with a couple of excellent frees.
“So I think they’re actually better this year and that’s not just me saying it because we’re playing them in a Munster final.”
Mind you, most of Liam Kearns’ panel have prior experience of meeting, and beating, Kerry in Munster finals, albeit at minor and U21 level. Robbie Kiely, Ciarán McDonald, Peter Acheson, Alan Moloney and Conor Sweeney were part of the Tipperary team that edged out Kerry in the 2010 Munster U21 final, while Ian Fahey, Bill Maher and Michael Quinlivan were part of a minor team that knocked out Kerry in the following year’s Munster semi-final. Evan Comerford and Jimmy Feehan, meanwhile, were part of the 2012 minor class which toppled the Kingdom in the Munster decider.
Strangers to Munster final Sunday in Killarney, yes, but not total strangers.
“We know the challenge ahead,” continued Fitzmaurice. “If we’re at it, then we’ve a great chance of winning. But if we’re any way off, and like all the favourites that have been beaten in the last while, we’re going to make life very hard for ourselves.
“We won’t be complacent. Training has reflected that the last while.”
The counties haven’t clashed in the provincial showpiece since 1998 — a 20-year-old Eamonn Fitzmaurice lining out at right half-back as Kerry took the verdict with four points to spare (0-17 to 1-10).
“I had played with the U21s in Thurles so I had experience of playing there. I was marking Brendan Cummins who was playing football that year.
“It was bonus territory for me to be in there that young and to be coming into a team that had won the All-Ireland the year before. I remember it was a tight enough game. We played quite well, but Tipperary got a goal in the last 15 minutes and came at us quite a bit. We saw it out. I have only good memories of it really.”
He was on the bench a year later when Gerry Murphy was awarded a goal despite his shot coming off the stanchion.
“We were sitting down in the dugout in Austin Stack Park and we thought it was a goal. It was only afterwards that we heard it had come off the outside of the stanchion. We took it anyway.”
Thereafter, the Premier County slipped back down the ladder and subsequent clashes routinely finished with Kerry enjoying a winning margin in double-digit territory.
Indeed, last year’s 2-14 to 2-8 defeat was as good as Tipperary have managed against Kerry since 1998 — six points was also the margin in their 2012 and 1999 meetings.
“They have come strong again with the way they have developed their underage success. John Evans played a big part in getting the development squads going. A good few different groups have come through and they are all at senior level now. They are strong.”
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