The ripples caused by Tipperary’s qualification for their first All-Ireland quarter-final have been large but on the Breffni Park pitch on Saturday, it felt like an intimate affair.
From small acorns grow... but as of now there is plenty of space on the bandwagon. “We knew the individual Tipperary football supporters out there on the field,” said Tipperary selector Tommy Toomey.
“They came up on the bus and the players would know them. That’s how close-knit the Tipperary football community is. It’s a job done and another step on the journey where we need to try to go. We have to be more consistent in Munster and move up the divisions in the league.
“We can’t be too hard on ourselves. They’re going to lose matches but if we can continue to have that belief... it doesn’t make you a bad team if you lose a match but it does help with the perception of where Tipperary are going. Beating Cork this year, beating Derry, they are huge steps. It hasn’t happened for us in the past but this is a marker year for us no matter what happens in Croke Park.”
Toomey’s not getting his excuses in early — Galway can be beaten — but he knows the magnitude of reaching the last eight for the first time.
Changing a culture isn’t measured in miles but millimetres.
“In my own playing days, it was very evident that there was an expectation of loss. What has changed during the years with players and minors in particular, is the exuberance of youth, which is great, and they don’t seem to be too bothered if we win, lose or draw; it’s about the effort they can put in.
“They’re not afraid of anybody and they won’t bow heads to anyone. The setting up of development squads in Tipperary, taking on Kerry in Munster has been a help to us. Clare and Tipperary are in the last eight, Kerry are already there and Cork could be too. There are three Munster teams in the last eight. We’re doing something right to develop football in Munster. Cork and Kerry are the front two and have to be taken back by teams like ourselves who have that bit of hunger and belief in ourselves. There are county boards who stand by us and continue to develop the game. Football is not something to be afraid of; football is no threat to hurling. It gives us more athletes to work with.”
Those, like Toomey, who are in the know didn’t despair too much when the likes of Colin O’Riordan, Steven O’Brien, Seamus Kennedy, and Jason Lonergan became unavailable this year. “There was more talk about the people who were missing but not a lot of talk about the U21s who came into the panel like Jimmy Feehin. We had four or five out there (against Derry) and they’ve added great energy and belief. Against Cork, we near enough gave away the game. We showed a bit of inexperience at the end of it. It was something similar with Derry but the team had that bit of energy to get the scores to win the game.”
Neither did Toomey feel too down in the mouth when Kerry ran out handsome winners against them in the Munster final. “We asked Kerry a few questions that we didn’t in the past. The pace of our game was good in periods but we didn’t do enough. Some people were a bit disingenuous about us being beaten by 10 points but when you have James O’Donoghue coming on to kick four points at the end of the game — that’s what we were up against that day, the number two team in the country.
“Tipperary are on the road and whatever happens in Croke Park we’re not going away. We have a nucleus of young players coming in behind us from minor teams that have played Munster finals. We didn’t win them all, the same with U21, but we won a couple. The players understand that sometimes you have to step back to go forward.
“It’s important that we take a step like beating Derry, beating a Division 2 team; beating Cork, a Division 1/2 team. We hadn’t been doing that. This was our third time in the top 12. It’s not something that has happened overnight. I think people need to have a look at that and see the development work that’s going on and what’s happening in the background for Tipperary football and give a small bit of credit to the people who are doing that, bringing the young players up.”
Galway are the next tier up but there’s a sense Liam Kearns’ side won’t be inhibited by much on Sunday.
“We won’t take ourselves too seriously,” insisted Toomey. “We’ll have a go with the type of football we’ve been playing. We’re not going to make great plans. We know Galway, they know us. We’ve played them twice in the qualifiers in recent years. They’re on the way up, they’re a small bit ahead of us and we’re aware of that. They’ve won a Connacht championship, we haven’t won a Munster championship so they’re ahead of us in the winning stakes. Our lads won’t be afraid of Croke Park.”
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