By Noel Dundon
Tipperary’s minor footballers go into battle against Roscommon in the All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday, bidding to bridge a 27 year gap since The Premier County was last represented on All-Ireland Final day in the big ball code.
Form suggests that this could be the year for the Tipp lads to make the breakthrough to the final and having shown a remarkable level of skill, competitive spirit and no shortage of tactical acument, David Power’s charges surged forward to the penultimate game, gaining more and more admirers with every outing - Kildare Boss Kieran McGeeney being the most recent addition to the list following comments he made about the team and their progress in the press recently.
Yes, this has been a great year for the Tipp lads so far. They have defeated the cream of the football world - Cork, Kerry and Meath could be considered All-Ireland championship contenders almost every year - and emerged with Munster medals and a huge store of vital experience for baggage.
There have been many memorable moments along the way, but despite the huge highs the side has attained during the course of the season, the management has always managed to earth the players and ready them for the next challenge. For that, David Power, Tadgh Duggan, Fergal McDonnell, Pat Murphy and John Evans can take a lot of kudos - having the team right mentally as well as physically is as important in the modern game.
This Tipperary side has been able to match the free flowing football of the likes of Kerry and Cork, with the much tighter, more confined and tactical play of Meath in the quarter final. In fact, the differing scorelines throughout the season suggests that this Tipp side can play both games, and the intelligence of the players and management shines through in this regard.
Roscommon will be regarded as more of a free spirited team than Meath - more onto the Kerry and Cork style - and this should suit The Premier County who would seem to be much more at home playing an open game of football rather than the restricted, tight, confined game as witnessed against the Royal County. It is a thought that has occupied Manager David Power over the last few weeks and having watched Roscommon on two occasions, he is perfectly placed to offer and assessment of them.
“Yeah, I saw them twice already in the Connacht Final and in the All-Ireland quarter final. It wasn’t that I was anticipating meeting them or anything like that - I just like going to those games and of course it is an added advantage to us having seen them live, so to speak. Roscommon are a big physical team and I would be hoping that the space Croke Park affords will actually suit our lads. We like to keep it open and to run at teams, and hopefully we will be able do that on Sunday,” David said.
Such was the level of preparation and planning the management team had put into the quarter final tie, that they actually predicted a very low scoring, dour affair. In fact, they had worked very intensely on the mental preparation for the players and the need to keep the cool against a Meath team they felt would be hard to break down. They managed to do that and in spite of giving the ball away on 42 occasions in the game - Tipp also won the ball back on 52 occasions. The average turnover rate at inter county level is 33, and David sees that Tipperary must improve on this aspect of their play, if they are to get over Roscommon.
“We have been looking at that and we have spoken to the players a good bit about it. We didn’t play all that well against Meath and we know that we will have to step it up for Roscommon. The good thing is that we know we can step it up though,” he says.
With a clean bill of health to report following the return to training of Colman Kennedy (Commercials) and TJ Ryan (Rockwell Rvs), David and co had a dry run of the Croke Park experience last weekend. They travelled to Dublin on Saturday and overnighted in Maynooth where they will also stay on Saturday next. They attended the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final where they cheered on Tipp and then visited the dressingrooms and got a general feel for Headquarters. Unfortunately, due to restrictions, they were unable to actually train on the field.
“The Croke Park factor is going to be huge for us. Roscommon have played there twice already and it will be a new experience for us, even allowing for the run out we had last weekend. But, we have embraced challenges all season and we hope we can do the same on Sunday,” David said.
Tipp have been using Semple Stadium as their training base over the last few weeks in a bid to ready the players for a big venue. The training has gone really well and David was thrilled to have been able to avail of the facility.
Lauding the assistance of the County Board and the amount of goodwill received during the course of the season, the Kilsheelan man added that he hoped the support levels would continue for the game in Croke Park.
“We had tremendous support in Portlaoise and it really gave the lads a big lift. People are beginning to see that Tipperary football is worth supporting and that is to be welcomed. This is a results business and I suppose the fact that we have been getting results in a big help,” he says.
Sunday will also see Tipperary’s footballers televised live on TV and this will help to raise the profile of the game in the county.
The huge work being undertaken across the county, over a number of years, continues and will continue long after Sunday as well. There have been many tough days for the footballers, but days like those experienced by the minors make it all worthwhile in the end.
David and co will be hoping that Liam McGrath will lead his side out on the pitch in Croke Park in September for the All-Ireland Final. For now though, the thoughts are on Roscommon. And Roscommon only.
“We never think any further ahead than the next game.
“If you mind wanders off the ball, you can end up in all sorts of trouble. It’s all about next Sunday for us and we will be going up with only one thing on our mind - to perform to the best of our ability and to do everything possible to get over Roscommon. We can do it, but we will have to work very hard for it,” David says.