Tipperary folk might have thought that a journey to Croke Park in 2013 would have taken in a rock concert or perhaps the GAA museum. But, the ladies footballers have come to the rescue and the blue and gold will take to the field on Sunday afternoon next when Cavan will face the Tipp ladies in a much anticipated clash.
The same opposition defeated Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter final last year, shortly after current Manager Sean O’Donovan took over at the helm. But, Tipperary have gained invaluable experience in the intervening period and have added a hardened steel core to their set-up which saw them through a testing campaign to date, to reach the final.
Indeed, Tipp lost twice in the championship to bogey team Waterford and were on the brink of elimination against Fermanagh in the semi-final, when they somehow found a way to reverse a four point differential in a minute, to win the game. It was sterling stuff and if the Manager and his backroom team of John Kenehan, Mary O’Shea, Kay Lyons and Elaine Purcell, didn’t already know it, they knew then they had a squad of real character on their hands.
That squad has a great mix of youth and experience with nine of them having played in the 2008 final which Tipperary won. And, it was that experience which perhaps helped Tipperary to get grounded pretty quickly after the semi-final dramatics.
“We were able to get back down to earth fairly quickly when we realised that we would be meeting Cavan in the final. They had beaten Waterford - who beat us twice, and Down in the run in and when you are getting over sides like that, you have to respected. We realised that this would be a major test of our mettle and we were able to focus on the final almost straight away, which has been a big help,”Sean said this week.
Tipperary will be the underdogs alright but that just about suits them fine. They are mad for the action to start and while Sean acknowledges that it will take “a phenomenal effort” to land the silverware, there is still a quiet confidence about the Tipp set-up which is rather refreshing. There is no pretence or dodging of the questions - Tipperary are travelling to Croke Park with the intention of winning, no matter what the bookies might suggest.
“We have worked hard to get to this stage and have come through a lot of close, tough games. That will stand to us and while we know that Cavan will be a tough prospect, we feel that we have the work done and ready for the final. It’s a great position to be in and we are relishing the challenge,” Sean said.
The game has come on in leaps and bounds throughout the Premier County with many new clubs popping up and competing in the championships. It takes time for a club to find it’s feet, but the players are finding theirs quite well and the Tipp squad boasts players from the senior, intermediate and junior clubs of the county. The management team has scoured the county for talent and they are happy that they are travelling to Croker with a potent squad in toe.
Captain Anne O’Dwyer from the Cappawhite club has already tasted success this season with her club having won the county championship for the third year in succession. She is really enjoying the captaincy experience though and would love to emulate the achievements of fellow parishioners Pat O’Neill, Tom Costelloe and Eugene O’Neill, in winning an All-Ireland medal in Croke Park. And, with four companions from the club in the squad it is a unique chance, she says, to achieve something very special indeed.
“These chances don’t come about every year and it would be great to make it count,” said that Project Manager who works in UL.
Anne was one of the nine from the 2008 class and claims that the experience has been vital. However, she also points to the innocence of youth evident in abundance amongst the young guns, who simply don’t do nerves and help to drive them all on - that character was shown in the closing stages against Fermanagh.
“We showed great character and real bite in the last moments to see out the win. Some people at home watching on TV had turned it off, but we came good and that has been a feature of our team this season. We have come out the right side of a few tight battles and we are well aware that Sunday’s will be a really tight one again. Cavan are very strong and we are under no illusions as to what faces us. But we are confident too and hopefully we will have a lot of support to help us along,” Anne said.
She added,”It’s a dream come through to play in Croke Park and all of us are looking forward to it.”