By Noel Dundon
Tipperary 1-11 Roscommon 0-12
A fantastic performance of grit and determination saw fourteen man Tipperary through to the All-Ireland minor football final in a tense, energy sapping semi clash clash with Roscommon at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon last.
Bridging a void going back to 1984, the Tipp lads controlled the game from start to finish, but had to contend with some very serious affronts during the course of the game – the dismissal of centrefield Ian Fahey in the 20th minute of the second half being the most serious one. However, the also lost centre back Dylan Fitzelle and midfielder Stephen O’Brien in the closing stages and were forced to use all their considerable store of character to dig out victory, having been 1-8 to 0-4 in front with twenty minutes to go. It was real edge of the seat stuff – much like the visit a week earlier to Headquarters when the senior hurlers took on Dublin, but this time the underdogs were to win out.
This was a very fancied Roscommon outfit, but Tipperary didn’t allow their reputations to upset their approach to the game. Having already taken the scalps of Kerry, Cork, Limerick and Meath in the course of the championship, David Power’s men travelled to Croke Park with nothing to lose. And, Tipperary’s record at this stage of the championship was also impressive with five wins out of six ensuring that the Premier lads had every cause to be confident as they took the team bus to Dublin.
Of course Tipp had played some fantastic football during the course of the season and this was to continue in the semi-final. They used the ball very well and didn’t panic when confronted with difficult situations. Tipp were full value for their victory and the win has made many pundits, who didn’t give them a prayer, sit up and take notice.
Indeed, anyone watching the game on Sunday could not but help notice the huge work ethic in the side from attack to defence. Tipp worked so hard to overturn possession outfield while the defence was simply superb with the excellent John Meagher again leading by example followed closely by Colin O’Riordan. But, it was Fahey at midfield who proved to be the real inspiration for Tipp and even allowing for the fact that he was off the field for the crucial last fifteen minutes (including five minutes additional time), he was the Man of the Match, fielding great ball and popping up to take scores when the chances came.
Tipperary enjoyed a very productive first half and really showed their worth. Adopting the long ball option with plenty of space left for the two man inside forward line, the Premier lads found it to their benefit to give the ball in good and fast where TJ Ryan and Michael Quinlivan were having the best of the encounters in that area.
Indeed, the opening score of the match came from such an early ball with Stephen O’Brien feeding TJ Ryan for a first minute point to help settle the Tipp nerves. Not that there were any signs of nerves in this Tipp side – it has to be said that they played with real confidence and method right from the off and it was quite clear that they were extremely focused on the job in hand.
Ian Fahey kicked a fine score from a free for Tipp in the 3rd minute – the score created after Tipp had forced an over-carry, the second in as many minute. Tipp were battling very hard indeed, with the forward division being the first line of defence when not in possession.
Fahey had another beauty in the 4th minute when he kicked from distance and it was farily obvious that this was going to be a very open game of football. Roscommon had had a few chances at the other end as well with corner forward Donie Smith posing an early threat before Conor O’Sullivan got the grips with him.
The Connacht champions had their first score in the 6th minute thanks to a pointed free from Smith, but Tipp powered on again and Fahey kicked his third after Liam McGrath had pummelled the ball into the attack after catching a kickout from keeper Comerford – the direct, long ball, paying off again.
Liam Conlon helped Roscommon’s cause with a well taken 11th minute point but Tipp wing back, Colin O’Riordan – Conlon’s marker – cancelled the score after he raced upfield and fired over a smashing point to really lift Tipp spirits.
Roscommon showed their potential though in the 14th when a great move saw Kevin Finn through on goals – Tipp keeper Evan Comerford earned his corn with a fine block to keep Tipp in front. A goal at that stage would have been a disaster for a Tipp side which had made all the running in the first quarter – to have had their good work wiped out in the blink of an eye would have been a disaster.
Tipp pressed on again and two points in a minute from Michael Quinlivan and Stephen O’Brien put them 0-7 to 0-2 in front but Roscommon responded through Thomas Corcoran and Enda Smith after they had turned over the possession. But, Tipp’s last score of the half from wing back O’Riordan again was another morale booster and left the Premier lads ahead by double scores 0-8 to 0-4 to the good at the interval.
It had been a very productive first half for Tipp and the hope was that they could press on in the second. They did just that and when after only 55 seconds, Michael Quinlivan blasted to the back of the Roscommon net, after a Fahey pass, Tipp supporters began to feel that this could be their day.
Stephen O’Brien’s injury though was a set back and eventhough he resumed play, he was forced to retire before the end.
Roscommon were always going to come back hard and points from Conor Daly and Fintan Kelly helped them back. Greg Henry kicked a fine point for Tipp in the 14th , but then Tipp lost centre back Dylan Fitzelle after he shipped a heavy tackle. The Cashel man was a big doubt before the game with tonsilitis but managed to last under the 46th minute – a huge credit to his determination and commitment to the cause.
Roscommon seemed to be getting the lions share of the free count at this juncture as well. They had won 9 frees to Tipperary’s 2 in the second half by the 16th minute mark, and were to go on to win 17 to 5 by the end of the half. While the free count was frustrating from a Tipp viewpoint it did demonstrate the huge pressure the Tipp lads were under with Donie Smith (2) and Conor Daly finding Roscommon points to leave four in it with six to go.
Liam McGrath had kicked a beauty for Tipp in the 19th but the second yellow card shown to Ian Fahey robbed the Premier of one of the most influential players on the field. They were forced to reshuffle the decks with Michael Quinlivan coming to midfield from full forward, thereby leaving only one man in front of goal.
Roscommon had it back to a goal when Donie Smith kicked a lovely point in the 24th minute, but Tipp sub Colman Kennedy pointed superbly with his first touch having coming on as a sub in the 26th .
Tipp were weathering the storm but when four additional minutes went up on the board, it made for a tense climax to what had been a fabulous showing from the Munster champions. They held firm with the defence superb – Liam McGrath winning some vital ball and bringing it outfield at crucial stages. And, when Michael Gunning pointed for Roscommon in the 34th minute, Tipp knew that a goal would defeat them. They were simply not prepared to allow it happen though and they stood up to the challenge to hold out for another famous win.
There was sheer elation on the Tipp bench when the final whistle sounded. The players had given themselves enough of a cushion in their ‘up-time’ and were able to snuff out any possibility of a Roscommon blitz at the end. It had been a very professional performance and the fact that Tipp emptied the bench and had contributions from five subs was also significant, especially as players legs began to tie up with cramp in the vital last ten minutes or so.
Tipp had set up their defence to prevent Roscommon from getting scores easily. It worked. The Connacht men had to work so hard to create openings and never had the chance of taking handy scores. The work of the half back line led by Fitzell and O’Riordan, complimented the brilliant defending of Meagher at full back, flanked by the two O’Sullivans. Keeper Evan Comerford, drafed in for his first start, had a massive game as well, while at midfield Stephen O’Brien and Ian Fahey were well on top. Tipp’s attack worked so hard and while Quinlivan and TJ Ryan provided the finesse, Liam McGrath, Greg Henry, Bill Maher and Philip Quirke were crucial to the Tipp win. Colman Kennedy’s point was also vital and came at a crucial time for Tipp.
Roscommon were highly fancied for this one, but they had to accept that Tipp were the better side on the day. The Roscommon lads were unable to break down the Tipp defence and found it very difficult to defend the huge expanses of space left in the Tipp attack – space which was being exploited by the accurate delivery of ammunition to the sharpshooters inside.
Donie Smith was their most productive attacker while John McManus, Conor Daly and Liam Conlon were also prominent for them.
Tipperary: E Comerford (Commercials), N O’Sullivan (Moycarkey Borris), J Meagher (Loughmore Castleiney), C O’Sullivan (Galtee Rvs), C O’Riordan 0-2 (JK Brackens), D Fitzelle (Cashel), S Kennedy (Commercials), S O’Brien 0-1(Ballina), I Fahey 0-3(Commercials), G Henry 0-1 (Killenaule), P Quirke (Moyle Rvs), B Maher (Kilsheelan Kilcash), L McGrath 0-1(Loughmore Castleiney), M Quinlivan 1-1 (Commercials), TJ Ryan 0-1(Rockwell Rvs). Subs:J McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney) for P Quirke; A McGuire( Kilsheelan Kilcash) for D Fitzelle; J Lonergan (Commercials) for G Henry; C Kennedy 0-1 (Commercials) for TJ Ryan; T Kirwin (Ardfinnan) for S O’Brien
Roscommon: C Lavin, D Murray, R Timothy, S Carthy, M Connaughton, J McManus, C Daly, F Kelly, T Corcoran, L Conlon, M Healy, E Smith, D Smith, K Finn, S Jordon. Subs:F Sweeney for S Jordon; D Brandon for F Kelly; M Gunning 0-1 for K Finn.
Referee: D Brazil (Offaly).