GAA Player Study

If anything was possible what Tipperary would you build?

Brian McDonnell

Reporter:

Brian McDonnell

Email:

bmcdonnell@tipperarystar.ie

If anything was possible what Tipperary would you build?

Tipperary senior football selector Shane Stapleton pictured with Liam Kearns.

Our study of the past 30 years of Tipperary hurlers and footballers has revealed some interesting and some alarming figures. We all love Tipperary GAA, but, perhaps, now we need to fall in love with the idea of what the Premier County could become.

The 2016 championship season, which featured the hurlers collecting a 27th All-Ireland title and the Premier footballers progressing to the last four, presented supporters of Tipperary GAA with a glimpse of what the county could become.

We now have inter-county hurling and football teams capable of taking on the very best and although there have been some teething problems in recent years in terms of the dual player issue the time may have arrived to push beyond petty disputes and work to realise our potential as a GAA county. Indeed, the following study of the players who have appeared in the blue and gold jersey during the past 30 years has revealed some interesting patterns.

We all love Tipperary GAA, its traditions and the history associated with the jersey, but, perhaps, now is the time to fall in love with the idea of what the county could become.

The graphic above illustrates where Tipperary’s inter-county hurling and football players have originated from during the past 30 championship seasons. The graphic indicates the distribution of the players across the county - for the sake of interpretation the tallies of Toomevara (15) and Ballybacon-Grange (1) clubs have been marked on the hurling map while that of Clonmel Commercials (19) and Shannon Rovers (1) have been marked on the football equivalent. The contribution of every other club is marked with a circle whose size is determined by the numbers of players contributed by that respective club. This simple visual aid will help to present you with a picture of where Tipperary’s hurlers and footballers have originated from between 1987 and 2016.

MICHAEL QUINLIVAN

If anyone needed reminding of how far Tipperary football has travelled in recent years they were provided with a telling yard stick when five of Liam Kearns’ senior inter-county outfit were nominated for GAA-GPA Opel All Star awards while Jimmy Feehan and Josh Keane were both shortlisted for the young footballer of the year award.

On Friday Clonmel Commercials’ Michael Quinlivan was presented with a 2016 GAA-GPA Opel All Star football award when the 23-year-old teacher became just the second Tipperary player ever to be selected for such a prestigious annual award. Moyle Rovers’ Declan Browne collected Tipperary's first football All Star award in 1998 and added a second in 2003 while Brian Lacey won a football All Star while playing in the colours of Kildare in 1998 - to his credit, during an interview with RTÉ’s Joanne Cantwell, Michael Quinlivan name-checked both Brian Lacey and Declan Browne during the presentation ceremony.

Michael Quinlivan was rewarded for a series of stunning performances during the inter-county football championship which helped to propel Tipperary toward the All-Ireland semi-finals. Quinlivan was nominated for an All Star award alongside teammates Evan Comerford, Robbie Kiely, Peter Acheson and Conor Sweeney.

Shane Stapleton, a key member of Liam Kearns’ inter-county coaching ticket, is proud of Michael Quinlivan’s achievement, just like every other member of the Tipperary management team.

“We are, absolutely,” Shane Stapleton told the Tipperary Star.

“It’s a pity because I thought we might get two. We wouldn’t get three because we are not at that level yet, but I thought that Evan (Comerford) and Peter Acheson must have been very close to getting another one. Michael seemed to be highly-tipped in the media to get one. I was very confident of him, but I just thought that Acheson or Evan might have crept in. It’s great for the lad. After Declan Browne and his achievements it’s great for Michael because he is so young. He can go from strength to strength now and I think the lads can look up to him next year in training and say that if we have an All Star full-forward then anything can happen.”

Indeed, Shane Stapleton was doubly pleased to see Quinlivan succeed since the Clonmel Commercials man was such a pleasure to work alongside.

“I really thought that he was a huge leader in the end. He’s a good lad, he’s an educated fella, he speaks very sensibly in a dressing room and he doesn’t talk for the sake of talking,” Shane Stapleton explained.

“All round he is a good guy to work with and I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg with him. There is more in Michael. I think he could become an absolute star - year-in, year-out an All Star nominee. I just think he is some talent.”

2016 CHAMPIONSHIP

Quinlivan’s award represents another marker on the road for Tipperary football. Indeed, it has been hailed by under-21 manager Declan Browne as “the start of something bigger for Tipperary” football in the Irish times. The message is clear: Tipperary football is not going away. This is just the beginning.

Shane Stapleton is well-positioned to deliver a unique insight into the subject. The Golden-Kilfeacle man comes from a hurling background (lost the 2004 county hurling final to Toomevara as a player with Éire Óg Annacarty-Golden-Kilfeacle) and has coached hurling teams all his life while Stapleton now works alongside Liam Kearns to develop the fortunes of the Tipperary senior footballers.

Stapleton argues that Tipperary has the playing population to support excellence on both the inter-county hurling and football stage - supporters of Gaelic games in the county need to get used to idea that Tipp football is here to stay.

“Definitely, but football people have to stop giving out about the County Board. Internally we have to stop comparing ourselves to the hurlers. We just have to do our own thing and keep improving,” Shane Stapleton told the Tipperary Star.

“We definitely have the raw material that a load of other counties would absolutely love to have. The skill level of the players that we have at our finger tips would definitely measure up to, if not exceed, what a lot of other counties have.”

And, Shane Stapleton is eager to highlight the fact that we, the hurling and football community, are one in the same. We are all in this together.

“As a fella from Golden said to me one time when the dual (player) argument was kicking off: when the lads sat down in Thurles and set up the GAA it wasn’t footballers in one room and hurlers in another. We are one county and just because we are playing different codes the tradition and everything we stand for, I believe, are the same,” Shane Stapleton said enthusiastically.

“We can do both. The footballers are no threat to the hurlers. It’s the same crest, it is the same jersey and we train in the same place, but just with a different ball. I can only see both teams going from strength to strength,” Stapleton added.

“Once the players are harvested, brought up along and have the opportunity to play senior, whether it is hurling or football, I think it should be deemed as a success for the County Board and for the county.

“The key thing is that you do not have to be pro-football; you can be pro-hurling, but we would be hoping to get to the end of people being anti-football. We are a hurling county and we want the Tipp senior hurlers to win every year. We want Tipp to go on a run like Kilkenny did in the hurling. But, for the rest of us, I just think it would be nice if Tipp football was allowed to eat at the big table as well,” Stapleton appealed.

Irrespective of the arguments related to the dual player issue Tipperary GAA faces a number of significant challenges. As the following study will illustrate we are simply not making the most of our resources - the GAA is not penetrating urban areas in terms of the production of inter-county players like it should. This is a massive untapped resource which could be taken advantage of.

“I think there are huge challenges there. We are just not bringing players through in a lot of areas whether that is in hurling or football. That, to me, would be a huge worry,” agreed Shane Stapleton.

The graphic above illustrates where Tipperary’s inter-county hurling and football players have originated from during the past 30 championship seasons. The graphic indicates the distribution of the players across the county - for the sake of interpretation the tallies of Toomevara (15) and Ballybacon-Grange (1) clubs have been marked on the hurling map while that of Clonmel Commercials (19) and Shannon Rovers (1) have been marked on the football equivalent. The contribution of every other club is marked with a circle whose size is determined by the numbers of players contributed by that respective club. This simple visual aid will help to present you with a picture of where Tipperary’s hurlers and footballers have originated from between 1987 and 2016.

1987-2016 CHAMPIONSHIP STUDY

Sliabh na mBan, the mountain of the women, is set in the south-east corner of the county. From the summit you are presented with sensational views of Tipperary, Kilkenny and, of course, Waterford. And, the summit of Slievenamon is as good a place as any from which to assess Tipperary GAA.

From here you can cast your eye over the most under-developed area of the county in terms of producing inter-county hurling players during the past 30 years. Many traditional hurling people in Tipperary like to console themselves with the idea that football is under-developed in the county, but there is no denying the fact that hurling is too. Indeed, considering our under-developed resources Tipperary GAA could potentially become much more and achieve much more.

If you look back through the players that have played championship hurling and football during the past 30 years and then drill down into those figures some interesting patterns emerge.

Over the course of the past 30 years (1987-2016 inclusive) Tipperary have contested 82 championship football games (including the Tommy Murphy Cup) - 186 different players from 38 clubs have been responsible for filling the Tipperary jersey 1,501 times (between starters and substitutes). The bulk suppliers to the team have been Moyle Rovers (216 jerseys filled), Clonmel Commercials (143) and Fethard (122).

In football the South division led the way (105 players from 15 clubs appearing 886 times) followed by the West division (43 players from ten clubs appearing 304 times), the North division (15 players from nine clubs appearing 158 times) and the Mid division (23 players from four clubs appearing 153 times). In terms of percentage appearances: South Tipperary 59%, West Tipperary 20%, North Tipperary 11% and Mid Tipperary 10%.

Meanwhile between 1987 and 2016 Tipperary have competed in 120 championship hurling games - that project required 154 players (from 38 clubs); between starting teams and substitutes the blue and gold jersey was filled 2,222 times. The bulk suppliers to the cause in this instance were Mullinahone (214 jerseys filled), Thurles Sarsfields (202) and Toomevara (180).

In hurling the North division led the way (66 players from 15 clubs appearing 876 times) followed by the Mid division (38 players from eight clubs appearing 567 times), the South division (21 players from eight clubs appearing 437 times) and the West division (29 players from seven clubs appearing 342 times). In terms of percentage appearances: North Tipperary 39%, Mid Tipperary 26%, South Tipperary 20% and West Tipperary 15%.

However, once you take a closer look at the figures the under-performance of many of the urban areas within the county in terms of producing players of inter-county quality becomes a concern.

Between 1987 and 2016 we have only managed to unearth 39 hurlers from our urban areas. A peculiarity which, in terms of arguments related to hurling, nearly wipes out Kilkenny’s population disadvantage. The statistics are staggering and surely this is an area which rapidly needs to be addressed.

1987-2016 CLUB PLAYER CONTRIBUTIONS

The table below represents a breakdown of where Tipperary’s inter-county players originated from during the past 30 championships in hurling and Gaelic football. Thirty-eight clubs contributed to the hurling and football inter-county teams - the number of players from each club is indicated while the respective number of jerseys filled is also recorded.

2011 IRISH CENSUS

According to the 2011 Census the Tipperary population was 158,754. For the sake of this exercise we have concentrated on towns with a population which exceeds 1,500. So, following this line of thought, the county’s urban population amounts to 59,909 (combined total for towns with a population greater than 1,500) and the remaining rural population amounts to 98,845.

Towns with a population of more than 1,500: Clonmel (15,793), Nenagh (8,023), Thurles (6,929), Carrick-on-Suir (5,886), Roscrea (5,403), Tipperary Town (4,322), Cahir (3,578), Ballina (2,442), Cashel (2,275), Templemore (1,941), Newport (1,806) & Fethard (1,541).

Despite the fact that such towns account for 38% of the Tipperary population these urban areas have only contributed 25% of the players to the Tipperary senior hurling team during the past 30 years (1987-2016 inclusive) - 39 players from these urban areas have appeared 586 times for the senior hurling team. In contrast the remainder of the county, which accounts for 62% of the total population, has contributed 75% of the players - 115 players appearing 1,636 times.

Of these towns Thurles has performed especially well producing 11 players who have appeared a combined 202 times for the Tipperary senior hurling team - once Thurles Sarsfields are removed from the equation the performance of our urban areas drops to 18%. Nenagh Éire Óg (nine players), Cashel King Cormacs (six) and Roscrea (four) have made a significant contribution to the cause, however, the towns of Templemore, Ballina, Newport, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Cahir, Fethard and Tipperary Town have contributed nine players between them. Nine players from 24% of the population i.e. 24% of the Tipperary population produced just 5.8% of the players during the past 30 years. That is a serious under-performance in anyone’s language.

Conversely Tipperary’s urban areas produced 39% (73) of the county’s footballers during the 1987-2016 period - that’s 39% from 38% of the Tipperary population while the rural clubs (62% of the population) produced 61% of the players. Clonmel, of course, represents a significant portion of the players produced in urban areas - Clonmel Commercials and Clonmel Óg contributed 22 players and filled 157 jerseys during this 30-year period. Fethard (12 players), Cahir (11), Tipperary Town (11) and Templemore (8) also contributed handsomely to the football cause while the towns of Nenagh, Thurles, Roscrea, Ballina, Cashel and Carrick-on-Suir produced just nine players - that’s 4.84% of the playing population from 19.5% of the actual population of the county.

Obviously, these urban areas deserve particular attention from both a hurling and football perspective. If Tipperary GAA is to realise its full potential surely such an opportunity needs to be availed of.

WHERE TO FROM HERE

So, what happens now? Where to from here for Tipperary?

Three decades ago the jibe of an established Tipperary player after a bad-tempered club game went something like the following: “no hurler worth his salt ever came out of anywhere north of Borris-Ileigh or south of Cashel”. Ahem, we big to differ.

Developing Gaelic games in urban areas is challenging, about that assertion there is no doubt. Traditionalists, after all, are all too eager to tell us that hurling and football are essentially rural games. People, of course, love tradition and simple explanations, but surely we can make an effort to ignore the tedious types who tell us that players are born and not made.

It is possible - just look at Mullinahone. Before John Leahy made his debut for Tipperary in 1988 not a single man from Mullinahone had represented the Premier in inter-county hurling; since then, however, six more have. Indeed, those seven players have appeared in the blue and gold 214 times in 25 years.

And, just look at the good work being carried out by Tony Shelly and the St Mary's Clonmel club who have just won back-to-back county minor A hurling titles. A town the size of Clonmel should have a senior hurling team and it appears as if that dream will soon be realised. The St Mary’s story is one which should not be underestimated or ignored. It appears as if St Mary’s have fallen in love with a vision of what the club is capable of becoming and not just with what it is.

The county in general and many clubs in particular would benefit from learning from the example set. Just imagine how good we could become as a county, at both hurling and Gaelic football, if we placed petty squabbles to one side and worked to realise Tipperary’s extraordinary potential. It can be done.

So, if anything was possible what Tipperary would you build?