You’d have been hard pressed to envisage a day like this when Tipp were trudging their way through Division 3 of the Allianz Football League.
They couldn’t even get into Semple Stadium to play a home match, battling it out instead against Offaly and Clare in conditions we’ll generously describe as heavy, before Kildare hammered them by 11 points in Clonmel.
Coming home with muddy shoes and fingers barely thawed out, you’d wonder where they were heading.
Liam Kearns probably wondered what he’d let himself in for. When he took over from Peter Creedon last year, the platform seemed sound from his viewpoint.
But then Colin O’Riordan signed a contract with the Sydney Swans, Steven O’Brien and Seamus Kennedy went to the hurlers and after the league concluded, Kevin Fahey, Jason Lonergan and Liam Casey decided they’d head for America.
What Kearns has achieved is the story of the year, without question. And it’s a far cry from 2007 when a local radio station wondered if the Tipp footballers were the worst in the country – and were blanked by players and officials for a spell.
To witness the sight of Tipp’s loyal band of followers making their way from the Cusack Stand to the Hogan Stand via the Davin End in their droves yesterday was quite something. Captain Peter Acheson jumped into the front rows of the Hogan to mingle with ecstatic fans as the sheer magnitude of what they achieved began to sink in. Deep in the bowels of the Hogan Stand, they filed out of the dressing room and plonked their gear bags in Seamus Mulcahy’s bus before heading for the players’ bar. God knows when they’ll see those bags again.
Yesterday was for men like Mulcahy, the coach driver who’s ferried these lads the length and breadth of the country for years. For men like Joe Hannigan, who’s consistently told anyone who’d listen that Tipp can be competitive as a senior football force. For the Friends of Tipperary Football, that tight-knit bunch who continue to raise money and fight the fight. I’ve seen Tipperary football in the depths of despair and at their highest heights. Yesterday was sweet, desperately sweet, and there’s a distinct feeling that there could be more to come.
As Kearns spoke to reporters afterwards, he stood for the 12 minutes or so. In truth, he hardly sat down all day. High in the press box just minutes earlier, Tipp FM commentator Killian Whelan, producer Ian O’Connor and analyst Conor O’Dwyer jumped for joy. It really was difficult to hold it in. We don’t see many days like this and when they arrive, you’ve got to savour them.
Shane Brophy is the Nenagh Guardian’s sports editor. He’s been in the job 10 years now, but watching Tipp footballers for the guts of 20.
“That’s the best ever,” he smiled. “Ok, you wouldn’t class Galway as an elite side yet but they were favourites, having beaten Roscommon and Mayo.
“But Tipp not only beat them, they dismantled them and nine points was generous on Galway. It could have been double that.
“It was an out and out attacking performance but we also improved defensively, conceding 1-10. Ok, Galway lost their shape in the second-half but for a team in their first quarter-final, that was as good as it gets.”
Brophy was one of a couple of hundred who travelled to Kingspan Breffni Park last Saturday week, for the qualifier against Derry. He travelled more in hope than expectation – that’s just the way it is when you’re following the fortunes of the Tipp footballers this long.
Winning there was magic but in Brophy’s eyes, yesterday topped the lot.
“This was better,” he beamed. “Purely on the basis of that 10 minutes when the match was over and every Tipp fan in the Cusack Stand made their way around to greet the players. The way they won, with quality, attacking football.
“It wasn’t a 10-9 win hanging on. They had that match won after 56 minutes. “Ok, they didn’t score again but they didn’t need to, they saw the game out.
“They knew they had Galway broken at that stage.”
Roll on August 21. Maybe, just maybe, there’s another story to be told.
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