A little disagreement in last year's Munster championship semi-final clash between a very brave Colm O'Driscoll and Tipp players Liam Casey, Bill Maher, Brian Fox, Paddy Codd and George Hannigan.
Tipperary senior footballers begin their National League campaign with a tough Division 2 assignment away to Cork in the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening next (throw-in at 5 pm). The game is a curtain-raiser in a double bill that also features the Division 1A hurling clash of Cork and Kilkenny.
After three consecutive years operating in Division 3 of the league, Tipperary, under the management of Liam Kearns, now find themselves back in the second tier for the first time since 2010, when incidentally another Kerryman, John Evans, was at the helm. That campaign lasted just a single year, and Tipperary will need no reminding that there is a huge step up in class at this higher grade.
Last year’s league campaign was crowned with a Division 3 final victory in Croke Park last April against Louth on a score of 3-19 to 0-19, but it was without doubt, the victory against all the odds in the Armagh Gaelic Grounds against the Orchard County (3-8 to 0-16) that was the high point of the campaign. With a hat-trick of goals that day from then All-Star Michael Quinlivan, Tipp rallied late in the do-or-die clash to guarantee promotion. It led to scenes of unbelievable joy for the few football faithful who had made the long journey north from the Premier County.
That is all consigned to history now, and team manager Liam Kearns fully appreciates the task that lies ahead, not alone at this higher level of the league but also throughout the whole of the football year ahead with a re-arranged calendar and championship format.
TIPP START AGAINST THE TWO FANCIED SIDES
“We have a very tough start ahead of us in the league coming up against the two favourites in Division 2, Cork and Roscommon, one week after the other, with Cork away and Roscommon in Thurles. And then straight away after that we have a tough local derby game against Clare, all in the space of three weeks”, said Kearns who is now beginning his third league campaign with Tipperary since succeeding Peter Creedon.
“Like everyone else we will be hoping for a good start and we have prepared well for this campaign. We are definitely in better shape now than we were this time last year or the year before, as you would expect us to be. We’ve been back at it since last November and spent the whole November indoors working on fitness and stuff and only came outdoors for December,” he added.
CHALLENGE GAMES PLAYED
“We’ve had a few good workouts in challenge games against Galway (lost), Limerick (won), CIT (won) and the most recent one against the Garda College (won) and we’ve given a run-out to a lot of our panel in those games.
“We are very happy with the panel in general and some of the newer players have been doing well such as David McGrath (Moyle Rovers), John Meagher (Loughmore/ Castleiney), Sean Carey (Moyle Rovers) and Brendan Martin (Kilsheelan/Kilcash) and there’s also Steven O’Brien (Ballina) back again,” continued Kearns.
“It is going to be a taxing league for sure for us. The whole campaign is game after game starting with Cork and finishing the end of March, seven games with just two weekends off. That is a huge demand on players and resources over a short period of time. After that then you are quickly into the Munster championship (Tipperary play Waterford on weekend of 19th May) and after that the qualifiers which this year are different and depending on how a teams progresses you could end up in another group of qualifiers. To be honest, to me, it seems too demanding on players but that’s the way it is and we will get on with it,” commented the former Limerick and Laois county manager.
It should be worth noting that if the beginning of the campaign is difficult with games against ‘The Rebels’ and ‘The Rossies’, the finish is equally as difficult with the last two games both away to northern teams, i.e., Down on Sunday, 18th March, and back up to Ulster the following Sunday to finish the seven game programme against Cavan. Sandwiched in the middle are games against Clare (away), Meath (home) and Louth (home).
Finally, I put it to Liam that he must somewhat relieved therefore with the postponement of the South Senior Football final replay which was due to be played last Saturday, just seven days before the opener with Cork.
“Look, I don’t think that was a game anyone wanted or needed, neither manager seemed in favour of it going ahead and I agree with them because it wouldn’t have helped us in any way in our preparation for the Cork game. We have 12 players now from both clubs on the county panel, six from Commercials, six from Moyle Rovers and if it was just one or two players well maybe they might have gotten away with it, but 12 was just too many. Some players didn’t play the first day because of the dangerous conditions of the pitch and it is ridiculous that club games should still be going on at this time of year. And you must remember also that neither team are in full training at the moment which doesn’t help in preparation,” concluded Liam Kearns.
CORK WIN MCGRATH CUP
Cork have prepared for the league opener against Tipperary with a victory over Clare in the McGrath Cup final, fortuitous as it was for them with a goal in stoppage time by Stephen Sherlock. In the semi-final they easily defeated Waterford.
New Cork senior football manager Ronan McCarthy has been experimenting with a big panel in the McGrath Cup in an effort to finalise his League starting 15, with neither team that lined out against Clare or Waterford bearing any resemblance to the team which played Tipperary in the championship in Páirc Uí Rinn on 10th June last.
GREAT DIFFICULTY IN BEATING TIPPERARY
Speaking last week about Tipperary the Cork manager had this to say ....
“We’ve had great difficulty in beating them, like last year at Páirc Uí Rinn, when we got there eventually.
“Tipperary are an example of a team, who’ve been patient and built well. They’ve worked hard at under-age level as well. There’s a good group there with an astute manager and Tipp are probably further down the line than we are in terms of progress.
“Our job here is to get the mix right for the game, be positive coming into it and hope the qualities that are there come out in the fixture” added McCarthy.
“The main thing for us is to steer a steady course and not get to excited either way, results wise.
“Obviously we want to win the game, but let’s not be too short term because leagues are won over three months,” concluded the Cork manager.
That day in Páirc Uí Rinn a 60th minute goal by Cork’s Luke Connolly stunned Tipperary who had just taken the lead through a Conor Sweeney goal and looked like producing a seismic shock for a second year running. Only 12 months beforehand Tipp had stunned ‘The Rebels’ when breaking a 72 year barren spell to win in Thurles by two points. And back in 2014, under Peter Creedon, Tipperary pushed Cork all the way at Páirc Uí Chaoimh before losing out by 0-16 to 1-11 on a lovely Saturday evening in June.
TIPP’S SEVEN GAMES
Saturday, 27th January v Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Sunday, 4th February v Roscommon in Thurles.
Sunday, 11th February v Clare in Cusack Park.
Sunday, 24th February v Meath in Thurles.
Sunday, 4th March v Louth in Thurles.
Sunday, 18th March v Down in Newry.
Sunday, 25th March v Cavan in Breffni Park, Cavan.
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