By Noel Dundon
Tipperary’s minor footballers travel to Killarney on Sunday afternoon next for the Munster Final clash with Cork - their fourth final appearance in six years - with the hope of grabbing their first title since 1995.
The Tipp lads - fresh from their fantastic victory over Kerry in the semi-final having been eleven points down at one stage - are buzzing with enthusiasm in advance of the trip to the Kingdom and are really looking forward to sampling the very special atmosphere created in Fitzgerald Stadium and it’s surrounds on Munster Final day.
Of course Killarney has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Tipperary in the minor grade with the 1995 victory coming against all the odds over Cork again. That team featured Tipp’s future Allstar Declan Browne and who knows, maybe a few Allstars in the making will take to the field for this very talented Tipp side on Sunday.
Manager David Power has been very impressed with the manner in which the minors have gone about their business this year. And, while beating Kerry was a major achievement, he points to the fact that no silverware has been captured yet.
“There was a lot of emotions during the Kerry game - from being down in the dumps at half time to the elation at the end of the game. We have moved on from then - we cannot stay looking back to the past. We know that we have a big task ahead of us on Sunday, there’s no point in saying anything else. They are a big powerful team - a different type of team to Kerry. They might not be as fast as Kerry but they are a very powerful side. They start their attacks from the half back line. If we can win a Munster minor title it will be a step in the right direction. Four in six Munster Final appearances might seem like a lovely stat, but we haven’t won any of them,” the pragmatic Kilsheelan man said at the press evening in the Horse and Jockey Inn this week.
Since the Kerry game, Tipperary’s attentions have been divided between the examinations and club games. Also, the fact that there are six dual players in the squad including captain Liam McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney) meant that the distractions were many. But, David and his selectors Alan O’Connor (Cahir), Tadgh Duggan (Arravale Rvs), Fergal McDonnell (JK Brackens) and Pat Murphy (Kilruane MacDonagh) have ensured that the focus is very sharply on the provincial decider at this stage with a number of key training sessions and challenge games having helped greatly.
“We went to Killarney and had a runout in the field just to get a feel for the place. But I would say that the Leinster league was huge for us. The lads realised that we were in with the big boys in that competition. The biggest turning point for me was the challenge game against Galway which we won before the Kerry match. We have played around 12 games by way of preparation and the great thing is that teams are now looking to play against us which is brilliant. We have learned from each of those games -when you play the likes of Armagh, Meath and Galway you are bound to learn something,” David said.
Tipperary had eight scorers on the day against Kerry and it is the attacking acumen of the side which really catches the eye. Indeed, when they won back in 1995 against Cork in the same venue, it was an attack rich side team which managed to pull it off as well.
“Cork were steaming hot favourites on that day and they are raging hot favourites against us as well on Sunday. We will go down and give it everything. We won’t fear Cork though - we would feel that they have not been tested yet and nobody really knows how good they are. We have watched the dvd’s of them, but we are focusing more on our own team and we’ll take it from there,” David says.
While the Munster Final is imminent, the overall development plan for Tipperary football is more a slow burn process. The development squads from U-14 through to U-17 have been doing their work very quietly and efficiently in the background with the ultimate aim being to see senior footballers nurtured and nourished for the rigors of championship. The roadmap for the future has been charted and the infrastructure put in place - perhaps County Chairman Barry O’Brien’s bold statement at Convention a few years ago that Tipperary will win a senior All-Ireland by 2020 may just be perfect vision afterall.
“The overall context of beating Kerry was huge - the amount of work being done at development squads is serious, from U-14 right up to u-17. The whole development process in Tipp is improving. It has to get better too and there are plenty of areas to concentrate on. For instance, minor footballers are getting no football at club level for nearly ten months as a result of the way the club championships are being played. That needs to be looked at very seriously. The County Board has given great backing to football and people are beginning to realise that playing football for Tipp is no londer a laughing matter. The U-21’s reaped the benefits of our development squads last year but in my view there are better younger players coming through and we have to be patient and keep them working,”David said.
“There is a great buzz around the training field now as we get ready for the game. We have 30 lads in the panel and they get on very well. We have had great craic and at the end of the day, you have to enjoy the thing as well and see where it takes us,” the manager said.