ALL-IRELAND SFC ROUND 2A:
Tipperary v Longford
Heads cast towards the floor, silent. A toxic mix of disgust and disappointment exhumed by each and every inconsolable player.
Tipperary football selector Michael O’Loughlin paints a most vivid picture of the county’s dressing room after their Munster semi-final defeat to Cork last month. That horrible feeling, he says, of knowing it had been left behind, resting uncomfortably on their shoulders.
The Premier County had travelled to Páirc Uí Chaoimh as virtual no-hopers, Division 1 residents colliding with a lesser force from the bottom tier. This would be no contest, or so went the general commentary before the fixture.
A contest it most certainly was.
Tipperary held the interval advantage, and as the clock spilled into time added on some 45 minutes later, the scoreboard initiative was still theirs. Alas, Peter Creedon’s charges, with the finishing line in sight, stiffened up coming down the home stretch, allowing Cork, no, allowing Aidan Walsh complete the most dramatic of overtaking efforts.
Dejection for the visitors, who arguably had played the better football over the 70 minutes.
“Absolutely gutted was our dressing room after the Cork game,” recalls O’Loughlin.
“The players were absolutely gutted. The players knew a chance had slipped through their fingers. They were so, so disappointed,” he recalled.
O’Loughlin insists their display last time out was no flash-in-the-pan; the management, stemming from a successful league campaign, were confident of a performance being churned out on Leeside. Results normally then look after themselves, lamented the selector. Not on this occasion.
“It was just one of those games where we felt we were going to do it. We knew this was coming. We had played really well during the league. Now we were a little disappointed with our performance in the league final. If you were in our dressing room after the (league final) game, you would think you were in the losing dressing room because our players were disappointed with their performance on the evening. They didn’t play well and that is the kind of standard they have set themselves.
“Since then, we had played a couple of challenges and all the signs were encouraging. It was in our minds, big time, that we were up for it. We also felt we hadn’t done ourselves justice the year before in Killarney against Kerry. That was also in the back of our minds.
“We met on the Sunday morning after the Cork fixture in the Horse and Jockey Hotel for a recovery session. The mood was more upbeat. Lads had used the night to reflect, to realise how close they had come to the Division 1 league semi-finalists and it put into perspective that we are not as far off as many would believe.”
Longford stand in Tipperary’s path of a prolonged summer campaign and the difficultly now lies in replicating their Cork showing. O’Loughlin doesn’t need to list off the number of so-called weaker teams who have produced big performances in their provincial championship, shoving it up to one of the top table residents, but when it came to surviving on the back roads, they simply couldn’t provide a repeat effort.
“Training since has gone very well and players recognise they must continue and back up the performance against Cork to show it wasn’t a once off. For that is how it will be viewed if we don’t get a result on Saturday evening. We know that. That is what we will be focusing on in Thurles, getting out another performance, and we have no doubt that if we do that this time, the result will look after itself.
“It has happened to a number of teams over the years that they gave outstanding performances in the championship, really put it up to one of the big guns when they were expected to be hammered out the gate, but then couldn’t replicate it and fell flat on their face during the first round of the qualifiers. We are well aware of that. We won’t know until 5pm how the lads have responded physically and mentally to the Cork game. That will be a true test. Hopefully the players will respond to the home draw, we get a good crowd in and the players rise to that. We want them to give it a good rattle.”
As for Longford, Jack Sheedy’s outfit have been turning more than a few heads with their win up in Celtic Park.
“No one will be taking them for granted after what they did to Derry. And they have done that before. They do seem to save their big games for the qualifiers. We know we will have our hands full keeping tabs on Paul Barden and Michael Quinn. It is a difficult assignment, but we are definitely are up to it.”
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