The man who guided Tipperary’s U21s footballers to last year’s All-Ireland final says the county does not truly value Gaelic football and those supporting the game are “being undermined from within”.
Tommy Toomey, a selector with the seniors who face Kerry in Sunday’s Munster final, has questioned just how much consideration Tipperary is giving to its dual status.
The Arravale Rovers man criticised minor hurling manager Liam Cahill for earlier this year issuing an ultimatum to dual players to solely commit to the game or not be considered for selection.
“You have to look at the actions of Tipperary this year alone, particularly stopping lads who played in an All-Ireland minor final last year playing football this year. You’d have to look at those actions.
“Once you make those steps and decide one is above the other and decide to stop players playing, and they’ll go back and say ‘the players consented’ and all that, that’s rubbish. I’m a Tipperary man, I know what happens.
“I was a selector when Eoin Kelly was young enough to be minor. Keith Ricken was the minor football manager and we went after Eoin Kelly to play football. He was 16 years of age, playing in trials above in Dr Morris Park, playing in the divisional competition up there, South Tipperary against West Tipperary. The South won 3-18 to 2-16, Eoin Kelly scored 3-14. That was a football game and two months later, he was below in St Kieran’s and he couldn’t play any more football. We lost him.
“That’s reality in football in Tipperary. We are undermined from within. Hurling is the number one game, there’s no doubt about that and you have to look at it financially too. The number of supporters that go to hurling games way outweighs football so we can’t have any illusions about where the best players, in the minds, need to go. But I still think there’s scope for young players to play all the way up to U21. And then make up their mind after that.”
Senior football and hurling panels train on the same nights in Dr Morris Park with former footballers Steven O’Brien and Seamus Kennedy having opted for hurling earlier this year. Yet O’Brien has made just one appearance off the bench, in the league against Clare, this year.
Toomey bemoans the loss of the promising midfielder not to the hurlers but to sitting on the bench.
“I think that should have been handled in a different way. There is a lot of controversy around it but the bottom line is that for the player himself that if the development of Steven was a long-term project, Steven should still be playing football to keep his competitive edge because that wears off very easily.
“And what I have noticed from players coming back from the hurling, when they haven’t played competitive games, it takes them six to eight months to get the competitive edge back.”
Speaking generally but with O’Brien in mind, Toomey fears dual players opting for hurling are selling themselves short.
“I’m with the senior operation nine years and I’ve seen all of this, I’ve seen players undervalue themselves and go playing hurling.”
Toomey believes football and hurling are becoming more complementary sports to play. He points to how the Tipperary under-age system has been aiming to develop “athletes to play for Tipperary whether it was football or hurling”.
He said: “I think there should be a small bit of sense. I don’t believe this sleeping with the hurl, what it was in the day.
“When you look at it, when was the last time you saw in a senior hurling championship match, anyone pulling on the ball first time? I saw one of them in the last while and that was Waterford’s goal against Clare, Maurice Shanahan, he pulled on the ball, he actually mishit it and it trickled into the back of the net. First-time hurling is gone.
“Now it is about possession, it is about power. It is about swarming, it is about fitness. Kilkenny brought a certain brand of hurling with a football edge to it through Mick Dempsey. Anybody that says different, I don’t believe they are real sports people. They are away somewhere else about how the development of hurling is going and now you have teams like Clare and Waterford building on that.
“I watched Clare play Cork in the league last year and I watched them in the championship. Clare were building spines for the puck-out — that is a football tactic. You go centre and then break, Clare were doing that in their half-forward line and all those tactics are coming from other sports. Tipperary have fallen behind a bit when it comes to those type of initiatives.”
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