Their growing confidence inside the whitewash is at long last being matched by their words off it; Tipperary football speak has never been so bold or assertive.
Where once they were grateful for Division 4 league success, accepting of moral defeats and apprehensive that a string of qualifier wins would endanger their dual crowns, those serving at the coalface of Tipperary football are now targeting Munster senior glory, a quarter-final spot in the All-Ireland series and the Holy Grail itself, Sam Maguire, by 2020. Quite the change in scripts.
Take manager Peter Creedon’s mundane post-match musings following Division 4 league glory in the spring of 2014: “Any time you win a title is a boost. We have to put the work in because we are playing a Division 3 team [Limerick] in the championship and we know there is plenty of room for improvement.”
Take the lack of self-belief uttered by goalkeeper Paul Fitzgerald on the run in to their Munster semi-final date with Cork last year: “If we’re still in there with 10 or 15 minutes to go, we might have a chance. We’re going to have to be at the top of our game and they’ll have to have an off day.”
Note the genuine concern of Creedon that Colin O’Riordan and Steven O’Brien would eventually be lured into the county’s hurling set-up, irrespective of how far up the ladder the footballers climbed: “If we can hold onto the likes of Steven (O’Brien) and Colin (O’Riordan), the younger players, we’ll make progress, but it is hard going.”
That was 2014. Tipperary football 2015 is a much more exciting brand — on and off the field. In the days leading up to their maiden All-Ireland U21 final contest, football board chairman Joe Hannigan revealed their ambition of All-Ireland senior glory in 2020 to mark the centenary of Tipp’s last win in 1920.
“There’s no reason why that can’t happen,” reasoned U21 captain Colin O’ Riordan.
Their evolution has progressed at such a rate of knots that such declarations are no longer viewed as preposterous.
And finally, the words of Creedon this week as Tipperary look ahead to their opening Munster championship bout of the summer.
“Our aim is to make the last eight,” he asserted. It is clear they are looking far beyond Sunday’s encounter at Semple Stadium. “What we need to start doing first is getting to Munster finals, we need to start beating Cork and Kerry, we haven’t done that in a long, long time and then we need to take out a Division 1 team in the qualifiers.
“If we started doing that, and get up to Division 2 or Division 1, you might have a chance of getting to an All-Ireland semi-final in the next couple of years.” Where once they railed against the seeding system in Munster, they now seek out Cork and Kerry for an accurate reading of their progression. O’Brien, O’Riordan, Ian Fahey, Evan Comerford, Seamus Kennedy and Liam Casey spent the majority of their formative years scoring wins over Munster’s dominant pair. There lies the next hurdle.
“Success in the championship is first of all beating Waterford. I would like to say beat Kerry. That would be very successful,” remarks half-forward Brian Fox.
“But from a realistic point of view, I suppose it’s about aiming for an All-Ireland quarter-final. It’s a process. You have to perform in each game to get there. Last year, we took each game as it came and it led to the final 12. Hopefully we can get to that stage this year and go further.” Fox was present in Semple Stadium when Tom McGlinchey’s Tipp drew with Cork in the 2002 Munster decider. A 12-year old Fox decided there and then he would wear the blue and gold.
“Declan Browne had a brilliant game that day. And Tipp were denied by what I could only describe as a lucky goal. That day showed to me where football could go to in Tipperary. I just wanted to represent Tipp.”
He added: “It’s getting there. People are talking about Tipperary football. It’s not a case of we’re followed as much as the hurlers. But you saw the crowd at Parnell Park for the U21 final, genuine Tipperary supporters wanting to see a Tipperary win. And that’s what happens when Tipperary are going well. There’s been a lot of progress made underage and that’s started to bear fruit. And then you see lads at U14, U15 winning Munster titles and that all changes the perception. You see kids wanting to play football and supporting football. That’s the effect success, or relative success has.”
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