By Noel Dundon
Tipperary Minor football Manager David Power danced a jig of joy on the Croke Park sideline when referee Damien Brazil (Offaly) sounded the final whistle - an agonising four minutes after the end of normal time.
The Kilsheelan Kilcash man was left drained and full of tension in the final moments of the game, but was then energised and submerged in a wave of euphoria when it had come to pass that Tipperary had made it to their first All-Ireland final in 27 years.
David had watched his men race into the lead and then defend with great determination as Roscommon came back at them in the closing stages.
And, despite the huge pressure of being down to fourteen men and having lost centre back Dylan Fitzelle and midfielder Stephen O’Brien, Tipp managed to hold on for a famous win.
But, according to David, it was not an unexpected victory, in spite of what all the pundits and bookies had predicted.
“I expected the big performance today. I was more happy going into today’s game than the Meath match. We were wicked nervous before the Meath game but today we were more settled. We are after beating a few big hitters. If Cork or Kerry were here today they would have been favourites. We were underdogs today, but we know that the next day will be even tougher again. As I have been saying to people, this is not a big surprise - we have been winning underage titles and there was a target set out for 2020 for a senior All-Ireland and while people might still be laughing at us, this is a step in the right direction,” David said afterwards.
There had been much made of the fact that Tipperary had been refused a request to have a run out on the pitch in Croke Park in advance of the big game. And, while it didn’t seem to affect their approach or hinder their radar, David still feels that it is wrong, and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion.
“I still think it is wrong. I think all teams should be allowed to train before big games. You have international soccer and rugby team who can go out and train five days before their games. At the end of the day Croke Park is made by the players and people are forgetting that,” David said.
One thing Tipperary didn’t forget on the day was how to win matches. This team has a very good record of winning and seem to be able to match any style or side thrown at them. Sunday’s game was a tough encounter but Tipp played some fine football, particularly early on.
“It was a tough game - we started off very well for the first time all year and I thought that we would drive on and make it easy for ourselves. But, to be fair, with Roscommon, we always knew that it would be a tough game and it certainly was that. It was a good game of football to watch. It was tough, competitive and very fair. In any game you won’t have it all your own way for sixty minutes. We battled hard and Colman Kennedy scored an excellent point. That’s another thing we showed today- we don’t just have fifteen players - we have a strong panel and that’s important too. Clubs, parish the whole lot can be proud of this team. There are great leaders in this team,” David said.
Tipperary’s defending was of the ‘non-fussed’ variety. They didn’t panic, showed great composure on the ball and worked the play from defence to attack with great method. It was quite clear to see that they are playing to a plan - the blueprint has been ingrained from way back and even when the pressure came on, they were able to cope.
“It was a massive achievement for us to prevent them from scoring a goal. We defended very well and worked hard at it. At half time I set them three targets - win the throw-in; get the first score - I would have taken a point but the goal came instead and I’d take that as well; and win the second half. I don’t think we won the second half but we got two out of three and that’s not so bad.
It’s going to be a massive few weeks for Tipp with the senior hurlers and now the footballers in the All-Ireland. The senior hurlers have been great to us - they let us in to Semple Stadium last Tuesday night to train in the big field and the whole county is behind us. We are all behind each other and that is great,” David said.
While not ruling out Galway in next Sunday’s semi-final, David says that Dublin are hotly fancied by everyone. And, were the Dubs to emerge victorious it would set up a repeat of the 1984 final which Dublin beat Tipp in. David’s father Michael - now Secretary of the Football Board - was a selector with Tipp back then and it’s ironic that David is now at the helm with the current bunch.
“We have four huge weeks now to work at it and we have a big chance. We will be working in training again in the coming weeks - it’s all about training and challenge matches now for us to get ready for the All-Ireland final. We’re thrilled and we’ll take it on from here.” se said.
Football Board Chairman Noel Morris was lavish in his praise for the management and backroom team for the manner in which Tipp prepared for the big game. The Borrisokane man pointed to the very professional set-up and said that it has helped create an environment for the players to flourish.
“It was a fabulous win and the lads have put in an awful lot of work since last November, and maybe even futher back if you wanted to go into it. But, anyhow we have beaten Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Meath and now Roscommon - we are in a final.
“We know we will be written off. Dublin are supposed to win the other semi-final, but they are not there yet. We are there and we won’t be just making up the numbers,” he said.
The former County Board Chairman pointed to the character of the side stating that to lose both midfielders and the centre back would be huge blows to most sides. But, Tipp just got on with it and managed to hold out for the victory. He looked forward to the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be a great few weeks with the hurlers as well. I’m not sure if there was ever a year when Tipperary were represented in both finals so maybe history was made here today. Whether it has or it hasn’t, we are there now and it is a great thing for the county,” Noel said.