BRENDAN CUMMINS has been around the block a few times, and will be playing his 62nd championship match tomorrow, yet even for him it’s a unique occasion, with Tipperary in a position to shatter Kilkenny’s dreams.
All-conquering Kilkenny will be trying to make GAA history by winning the first ever five in a row of All-Ireland titles. Tipperary, whom they beat last year in a titanic contest, will be doing their damnedest to deny those Cats.
Back in 82, the Kerry football team were going for that same five-in-a-row record, but an unfancied Offaly team upset the odds and won, a controversial last-minute goal by Seamus Darby the clincher.
Cummins, a former inter-county footballer himself, remembers that occasion, but with much regret: “I was at that game, in the Upper Hogan Stand sitting on my dad’s lap, and I can remember looking at it when Seamus Darby pushed Tommy Doyle in the back and he stuck the ball in the roof of the net. I cried like the rain when Kerry were beaten – I’ll never forget it.
“Kerry were the team I loved, they were the Manchester United – and ye know myself and Manchester United. They were flamboyant and had all the guys moving, scoring and were winning everything – why wouldn’t a young fella be attracted to that? And then Offaly went and ruined it – I think I’m scarred for life after it!”
Afterwards it was Offaly, not Kerry, who were immortalised – isn’t that same carrot there now for Tipperary this Sunday?
“History is its own thing, we’re just thinking about performing on the day. Ask any of the Kilkenny players, they have won four in a row and if they are beaten on Sunday everyone will be talking about Tipp rather than Kilkenny.”
Cummins knows the Kilkenny mentality, spending a lot of time in the county in his day job as a financial planning consultant with AIB.
“I drive down through Ballingarry (Tipperary) going to work and on the border you can see the changing of the colour – it’s fantastic. As a player you try and detach yourself but you also have to respect the fact that supporters will have a ball with this thing.”
And that five in a row is the hottest topic among those supporters – understandably, says Brendan. “If I were a supporter in Kilkenny I would be talking about it as well. But they don’t talk about it in a cocky or arrogant way, they don’t use it as a stick to beat you with. It’s just a coolness or calmness about it that ‘look, we are going for this five in a row’, and there is a sense of confidence.”
While the fans are caught up in the five in a row furore, however, the Kilkenny players are not; for them, this is just business as usual.
“They never get sucked into any of the messing or the circus that goes on around all the games. They just want to go and win matches. They know they have a unique bunch of players and that they can’t afford to take their eye off the ball – they haven’t, and I suppose that’s the lesson we all have to learn from what Kilkenny are doing.”
In fairness to the Tipp players, they too are staying away from all the hype about possibly ending Kilkenny’s run – for them, this isn’t about ending anything, it’s about starting something of their own.
They came very close last year, didn’t have the luck, didn’t get the best of the referee’s decisions either, and they also came up a keeper in PJ Ryan who was simply inspired on the day.
Now they’re back, and with three new faces – Mickey Cahill at corner-back, Gearoid Ryan and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher up front, all youngsters, all fearless, all winners previously at minor level.
“These boys are serious workers and that is what they bring to the table. There are no more high balls being dropped into our square from half-backs standing planting balls in; if a wing-back gets the ball in the stand ‘Bonner’ Maher is going to chase him up there, and chase him home with it, that is the determination the man has.
“He certainly inspires me, as does Gearóid and the players around them, by the appetite they show. I mean the engine these fellas have – Bonner won’t be scoring 10 points for Tipperary but he will ensure the ball passes through that line – he gives us huge energy.”
Those are the youngsters – what about himself?
“I have played 61 times for Tipp and I only have one All-Ireland medal – that’s disappointing to say the least. It cuts to the bone and that’s why I’m trying every year to win something; to play that much is fine but success is what you are judged on. All-Ireland medals in Tipperary are the only currency, and I have only one.”
Could that be about to change, can Tipperary and Brendan Cummins do an Offaly and a Seamus Darby?
That’s the question, isn’t it?
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