Tipperary begin their All-Ireland senior football championship campaign with a daunting visit to Kerry’s Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday.
And manager Peter Creedon is planning without Brian Fox and Michael Quinlivan for the trip to Killarney.
Éire Óg Annacarty clubman Fox, who can play at wing back or wing forward, is ruled out after undergoing surgery on a hand injury.
Commercials clubman Quinlivan, a 2011 All-Ireland minor medallist who featured in this year’s National League campaign, is unavailable too as he is travelling to America for the summer.
The absence of those two key players will be keenly felt but there is a quiet air of optimism in Tipp’s camp nonetheless.
This is the fourth successive year that Tipp have been paired with Kerry in the Munster championship but the gap between the counties is closing.
In 2010 Tipp lost by 12 points, with eleven points separating the sides a year later. Last year at Semple Stadium Tipp produced a good performance and ran the Kingdom to just six points.
Kerry are under pressure on home soil on the back of a disappointing League campaign that saw Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side narrowly avoid relegation from Division 1.
Tipp are rated as rank outsiders to cause a massive upset but Creedon has assembled a strong squad and recent underage success for the Premier County’s minor and U-21 teams has fuelled belief that a senior breakthrough is not too far away.
Naturally, Tipp would desperately love to topple Kerry in their own backyard but the hosts still have plenty of quality in their ranks.
The Ó’Sé brothers, Tomás and Marc are fuelled by their own personal motivation following the death of their famous uncle Páidí this year.
And Colm Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy and Paul Galvin are forwards of the highest calibre.
However Tipp possess enough firepower to trouble Kerry, with Barry Grogan and Alan Maloney on hand to punish any defensive indiscretions.
Tipp are also encouraged by the fact that they scored more than Kerry during the National League campaign.
Granted, Tipp were operating in Division 4, with Kerry facing teams like Mayo, Dublin, Tyrone, Cork and Donegal in Division 1.
But Kerry managed just 2-66 from seven games in the top flight – including a meagre haul of 0-4 against Dublin at Fitzgerald Stadium.
Kerry reserved their best half of football for when it mattered most – against Tyrone in their final League outing – but they managed just 0-3 in the second half.
Tipp, meanwhile, scored 6-88 in their seven games in Division 4, although failing to beat Offaly in a promotion shootout in Tullamore in the final round of fixtures represented a big disappointment.
Tipp averaged 15.14 points per game in the League, compared to Kerry’s average of 10.28 points.
Those statistics have filled Tipperary’s players and backroom staff with a belief that if they can keep tabs on Kerry’s leading players, they could be there or thereabouts when the game is in the melting pot.
Being in contention heading into the final quarter of the game is Creedon’s immediate goal but the long-term aim is to enjoy another prolonged championship run this year.
In 2012 Tipp bounced back from losing to Kerry by enjoying an historic run in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Victories against Offaly, Wexford and Antrim brought Tipp to the final round of qualifiers, where they lost to Down in Mullingar. Tipp finished as one of the country’s top 12 teams and that run provided further evidence that the Premier County is emerging as a serious senior force.
However Creedon and his players know that they need a victory over Cork or Kerry – Munster’s two traditional heavyweights – in the next few years.
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