By Noel Dundon
Tipperary’s minor footballers made history by becoming the first Premier County side to win an All-Ireland quarter final when they defeated Meath at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Monday afternoon last, amid scenes of tremendous celebration.
What an afternoon it was for the footballing fraternity of the county, and what support the Tipp lads had for the game, which was tight, tense, tough and very competitive. Indeed, the game will not go down as a classic, but Tipperary won’t care, and the fact that they matched Meath stride for stride in terms of total commitment to the cause, heart and courage, will give them great confidence as they face up to Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park on August 21st.
It has been well acknowledged that this Tipp side has great flair and a real sense of creativity. But, what had not been seen as much perhaps, was the huge appetite for work which runs right through. Courage? - they showed buckets of that against Kerry to come from a huge deficit. But, their workrate in this quarter final was something to behold. Tipp outdid Meath at their own game and their total dedication to the cause was hugely admirable with bravery and never-say-die attitude thrown in for good measure.
In saying all that, Tipp made a lot of mistakes in this game too, and squandered a good deal of hard earned possession. It was something which struck Manager David Power afterwards. “We managed to grind out the result because it was tough going out there. We kept at it and at it and at the end of the day it is all about the result. Meath had their chances and so did we, and while we know that we can do a lot better, we are thrilled with the win. We will work on rectifying those mistakes before we face Roscommon,” the Kilsheelan Kilcash man beamed.
Facing up to the Leinster runners-up, Tipperary’s minors were well aware that they had never won an All-Ireland quarter final tie in four appearances. However, evidence suggested that this could well change as a very polished and confident side took to the field having beaten Kerry and Cork in the Munster championship. Still though, thew job had to be done on the field and Manager David Power alongside John Evans, Tadgh Duggan, Fergal McDonnell and Pat Murphy had been busy impressing upon the players, the need to perform on the big stage, and carry their provincial form through to the All-Ireland series and a crack at Croke Park.
It was a tight, tough, uncompromising first half with very little between the sides in all sectors. Indeed, the fact that the half ended up at 0-3 apiece shows how little was in it, but Tipperary supporters obviously felt that their side had the measure of Meath as the ‘Tipp, Tipp, Tipp ‘chant reverberated around O’Moore Park while the players made their way from the pitch for the break.
“The support was unreal – it was some lift to us to hear the chant going around the stands as we went in at half time. I think that gave us a big boost because the crown got behind us and really helped us along,” David said afterwards.
Tipp, playing against the breeze, started very well and brought a new level of intensity to the play. They used the ball very well until the final last third where many plays broke down. Indeed, it was quite noticable that both teams were playing with plenty behind the ball which resulted in their being a lot of space in the two full forward lines. The feeling was, that if Tipp could get enough direct ball into Michael Quinlavan and co, scores could well materialise.
Meath had the opening score through Bobby O’Brien after 3 minutes and though it took Tipp another five to get off the mark, through Philip Quirke, the Premier lads had opened very smartly. They were playing a very tight, in your face kind of football and allowed Meath no time on the ball at all – John Meagher, Colin O’Riordan and Dylan Fitzell being particularly impressive in this department.
Tipp had a number of wides in the first quarter with only one score coming from their four shots at the target. And, while Meath were showing much promise in attack, they were unable to shake off the Tipp defenders, although Bryan McMahon sent them into the lead in the 17th. Tipp full back John Meagher was having a blinder at full back – his heroics would only get better and better as the game wore onwards.
Michael Quinlivan had Tipp back on terms in the 28th minute after a John McGrath pass and Tipp should have gotten more three minutes later when half forward Bill Maher was taken out of it, as he bore down on goal. Michael Quinlivan pointed the resulting free to give Tipp the lead for the first time with Meath midfielder Adam Flanagan going into the book for his troubles – another step forward and Maher would have been in the penalty zone.
Meath equalised through an Oliver Sheridan effort after a quick free to leave them locked at the interval. Tipp could have been happier going in at the break. But, they would have the breeze in the second half – perhaps the aid they required to adopt a more direct style of play. It was.
Tipp’s play was more direct and they reaped the benefits with Quinlivan and John McGrath finding the space to their advantage while the likes of Ian Fahey and Stephen O’Brien coming through the middle were able to get onto second phase ball.
It was Bryan McMahon who shoved Meath back in front upon resumption but Tipp hit back through Philip Quirke after Quinlivan was fouled, and then Fahey – a massive effort from a placed ball and a real lift to the side.
McMahon levelled again but Tipp wing back Colin O’Riordan came upfield to restore the lead with a fine score. And, as the rain began to fall, Stephen O’Brien and Bill Maher shoved Tipp three clear with nine to go.
Meath sensed the danger of being left in Tipp’s slipstream and they clawed their way back into contention with McMahon and Anthony Forde pointing. They really needed a goal but with John Meagher superb at full back, there would be no way through on Gearoid Slattery’s goal.
True to form, Tipp finished the game the stronger with points from Quinlivan (2) – his second a beauty over his shoulder – and centre bakc Dylan Fitzell who came upfield to fire the insurance score in the 33rd.
It was a fabulous win for Tipp – one they fully deserved. However, it was far from a complete performance and David Power is happy in the knowledge that there is much work to be done in preparation for the All-Ireland semi-final. The team has consistently improved with each outing and they will need to up the ante again for their outing at Headquarters.
“It is massive for us to get to Croke Park, but at the end of the day, it is just another game and we will be treating it as such. I am delighted to get through today – it was a bit like the Limerick game in the sense that it was a whole new competition, and we came through. We battled hard, but we know there are things we have to improve on as well and we’ll work on those things in the coming weeks,” David Power said.
Tipp had many heroes on the day. In fact, to a man they deserve enormous credit for their efforts. But, a few stood head and shoulders above the rest. John Meagher was as solid as Loughmore castle in it’s heyday; Stephen O’Brien and Ian Fahey worked so hard at midfield; Dylan Fitzell and Colin O’Riordan marshalled the half back line; while the McGrath’s, Philip Quirke and Bill Maher never stopped working. Michael Quinlivan added the finese to the forward division and revelled in the fast ball supplied in the second half.
For Meath, Bryan McMahon was the ace in attack while Padriac Harnan, Anthony Forde, Bobby O’Brien and Conor McGill were also prominent.
Teams and Scorers:
Tipperary: G Slattery, N Sullivan, J Meagher, C O’Sullivan, C O’Riordan 0-1, D Fitzell, S Kennedy, S O’Brien 0-1, I Fahey 0-1, G Henry, P Quirke 0-2, B Maher 0-1, L McGrath (Capt), M Quinlivan 0-4, J McGrath. Subs: J Lonergan for Henry; TJ Ryan for I Fahey; J Martin for Quinlivan.
Meath: R Burlingham, C Finn, C McGill, O Fitzpatrick, A Forde 0-1, P Harnan, S Melia, S McEntee, A Flanagan, S Sheridan, B O’Brien 0-1, O Sheridan 0-1, B McMahon 0-4, C O’Sullivan, W McGrath. Subs: E Wallace for S Sheridan; C Sheridan for S McEntee;R Farrelly for W McGrath;
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)