By Brian McDonnell
NEXT Sunday the Tipperary minor footballers take on Kerry at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick in the Munster final at 12 noon.
Tipperary, in their first win on Kerry soil since 1984 (2-9 to 0-8 in Tralee), got the better of the Kingdom at the quarter-final stage of this year’s championship, but now face Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s side once more.
“This is a new game and people need to forget about what happened last April,” Tipperary manager David Power told the Tipperary Star.
“It’s maybe three months on now and it’s going to be a different game.
“We’re going to be ready for it and we’re not going to take anything for granted. We’re not going to worry about favourites’ tags or about what odds Kerry are or what odds Tipp are. The only thing that we are going to focus on is getting ready and getting prepared to beat Kerry.”
Kilsheelan-Kilcash’s David Power is joined on the management team by Tom Duggan (Arravale Rovers), Pat Murphy (Kilruane MacDonagh’s), Kevin Mulryan’s (JK Bracken’s) and Alan O’Connor (Cahir).
Kerry fought their way back into the provincial final thanks to the loser’s group while Tipperary went on to beat Cork (1-10 to 0-9) at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the semi-finals.
And, all this progress has been made with the minor football and hurling panels sharing ten different players.
“When you have ten lads that are on both panels, both hurling and football, and when you keep winning that confidence goes through both panels. It’s great to see all the planning and the work that has been done between the hurling and the football this year. It has been absolutely brilliant. Absolutely brilliant,” David Power explained.
Tipperary are seeking to win their seventh provincial minor football title on Sunday (Kerry their 42nd), but also the Premier’s first back-to-back at the grade since 1934-35. David Power, however, isn’t interested in statistics: “no, I suppose we are not really focused on that. There is a bit of talk about history, but that is really the last thing that we are thinking about. It’s a new year, it’s a new championship and that’s the way that we are looking at it”.
Leaders like Loughmore-Castleiney’s Liam McGrath inspired Tipperary to provincial and All-Ireland success in 2011, but several players, none more so than the inspirational Bill Maher, have stepped up to the mark this year.
“Last year you had Liam McGrath, you had Michael Quinlivan, John Maher and Séamus Kennedy who were massive players and great leaders,” David Power explained.
“But this year the lads from last year have developed into great leaders. The likes of John McGrath, Bill Maher, Dylan Fitzelle and there is even a couple of new fellas like James Feehan as well. That’s great to see because the one thing with minor is that the team changes every year. I know we have been fortunate that we had 13 left over from last year. That was a great help to us this year.”
The Tipperary minor footballers are now enjoying an extraordinary eight-match unbeaten run.
Indeed, five consecutive wins in Munster have involved victories over Kerry (two), Cork (two) and Limerick. In fact Tipperary have not been beaten at the grade since the 2010 Munster semi-final against Cork (2-9 to 2-12).
To maintain an edge on the players David Power has approached this year’s campaign differently and is always conscious of varying preparations.
In the past few weeks, for example, Declan Browne, Eoin Kelly and Nicky English have all paid a visit to the Tipperary camp.
“I suppose for people who are looking at us closely they will see that we are probably playing a bit differently again because you have different players and you have to go with the players’ strengths,” David Power added.
“And, from the point of view we have tried to change the training as well. That’s important because it can become repetitive when you’re doing the same old thing time after time. We are trying to freshen it up as much as we can because I’m sure the players get tired of listening to my voice so often.”
The Kilsheelan-Kilcash man is also eager to point out that he will do everything in his power to make sure no semblance of complacency sneaks into his squad: “we try to gauge them from practice matches and from training sessions.
“We played Meath last night (Friday) in Templetuohy and we had a great game against Meath. We have also played Kildare and Armagh since the Cork game and we are after winning those three games. So, I suppose you can only judge them on that.
“You have to judge them on a daily basis really to be honest with you.
“Every so often you do have to give out to them just to keep them honest, but generally they have been top class again this year, like last year and like any other Tipp minor team that I have had for the last four years.
“The respect that they have for each other and for the mentors is second to none and that goes a long, long way.”
David Power also knows that winning the 2011 All-Ireland poses quite a different challenge to his players this time around.
“I suppose there is a massive expectation there now,” David Power added.
“Last year we were going into the Munster final as underdogs, but this year we are going into a Munster final and we are probably favourites. That’s a challenge in its own right as well. And, that’s the way we are trying to use it, that it is a challenge.
“Last year we were underdogs and we came in under the radar, but this year every county knows about us. So, that is our challenge. We have to keep up our level of performance.”
And, as the ambitious sort David Power also has an eye on the bigger picture.
“I am ambitious and I suppose we are all ambitious and the players are certainly ambitious. We want to be favourites and we want to be setting the standard. And, looking at the bigger picture we want to develop these players.
“Most of these (players) will be going on to under-21 over the next couple of years and we have to carry this through. The one big thing is that while it was great to win the minor All-Ireland last year and hopefully we can win a Munster this year and it’s great, but there is a bigger picture out there. We need to get Tipp football at senior level back through the divisions over the next couple of years and these players will have a big part to play in that.”
The Tipperary minor football team which beat Cork in the Munster semi-final: Evan Comerford (Clonmel Commercials), Darren Cass (Clonmel Commercials), James Feehan (Killenaule), Lorcan Egan (Loughmore-Castleiney), Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials), Dylan Fitzelle (Cashel King Cormacs, captain), Bill Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Steven O’Brien (Ballina), Philip Quirke (Moyle Rovers), Jason Lonergan (Clonmel Commercials), John Martin (Ballyporeen), Greg Henry (Killenaule), Jack Shelly (Mullinahone), John McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), Colman Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials).