Tipperary's Josh Keane, Conor Sweeney and George Hannigan.
A gritty Tipperary team recovered a six-point deficit against a wounded Offaly team in O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday afternoon. The Faithful County faced into this game having suffered the ignominy of losing by thirty points to Armagh and although Pat Flanagan’s men fought their way into a 2-9 to 1-6 lead by the 40th minute Tipperary dug deep and won the remainder of this Allianz National Football League division three contest by ten points (1-9 to 0-2).
Allianz National Football
League Division Three
Offaly 2-11 Tipperary 2-15
And, what was really impressive about this Tipperary performance was the fact that Tipp did not play all that well - the lads struggled to piece together the slick attacking moves with which the side has come to be associated, but the Premier County shook off such an inconvenience, worked hard, won the turnover-in-the-tackle battle 26-14 and, eventually, broke the spirit of a stubborn Offaly side. Alan Campbell, Robbie Kiely, Jack Kennedy and Conor Sweeney played especially well while Michael Quinlivan’s stunning goal in the 53rd minute was something to behold.
Tipperary now lead division three on scoring difference - Liam Kearns’ men (+22) have accumulated eight points from five games and although Louth have also managed four wins the men from the Wee County have a scoring difference of just plus six. With two rounds to play Armagh (seven points) are also within striking distance of promotion while Sligo (five points) have an outside shot. So, considering the circumstances Tipperary’s home game against Louth at Semple Stadium, Thurles on Sunday, March 26th (3pm) is hugely significant (the Premier County will conclude their league programme away to Armagh on Sunday, April 2nd).
Just 933 paid in to O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday. Offaly started the game with a reasonably strong breeze at their backs, but Tipperary took the lead in the first minute when Bill Maher set up Conor Sweeney and the Ballyporeen man delivered off his left. Graham Guilfoyle fired over a brilliant long-range equaliser in the sixth minute before a Bernard Allen free in the ninth presented the home side with a 0-2 to 0-1 advantage.
Following a foul on Michael Quinlivan Tipperary’s Conor Sweeney tied the game before Kevin O’Halloran drilled over a free from forty-five metres in the 13th minute to re-claim the lead for Liam Kearns’ men (0-3 to 0-2).
Just then Tipperary suffered a significant blow when Nigel Dunne’s shot dropped short, bounced funny, hit goalkeeper Evan Comerford and then ricocheted off the misfortunate Shane O’Connell before finding the net in the 14th minute (0-3 to 1-2).
Tipperary responded well and struck for a Liam Boland point almost immediately before a scuffle broke out at the opposite end of the field - referee John Hickey cautioned Seán Doyle and Paddy Codd while Tipperary’s George Hannigan and Offaly’s Michael Brazil were shown straight red cards in the 18th minute.
A Seán Doyle point in the 22nd minute helped the home side into a 1-3 to 0-4 lead, but three minutes later Offaly failed to track Robbie Kiely’s run and Kevin O’Halloran found the Tipp centre-back for a nice point. Peter Cunningham’s right-footed point helped the home side into a 1-4 to 0-5 lead in the 25th minute, but Offaly had failed to heed the warning of Robbie Kiely’s enterprising charges forward and in the 28th minute Conor Sweeney found Kiely and the Carberry Rangers man belted home a goal via a deflection (1-5 to 1-4). Once more the Kiely run was not tracked.
To be fair to Offaly they closed out the first half (which included seven minutes of injury time) with points from Shane Nally, Nigel Dunne (free) and Bernard Allen (free) to lead 1-7 to 1-5 at the break.
Tipperary were not playing anything like they can, but given the strength of the breeze there was every chance of Liam Kearns’ men mounting a comeback. A Liam Casey point reduced the deficit to single point two minutes into the second half, but just then the situation that Tipperary found themselves in got significantly more complicated - in a two-minute spell Offaly blasted 1-2 from play to leave six between the sides. Nigel Dunne and Shane Nally were responsible for the points before Joseph O’Connor finished a goal chance off his right in the 40th minute (1-6 to 2-9).
Tipperary responded with three converted placed balls (two from Kevin O’Halloran and one from Josh Keane) to leave a goal in it with twenty-one minutes to play. Jimmy Feehan then picked out Conor Sweeney with a smashing delivery in the 52nd minute - Sweeney turned to strike off his left and the deficit was down to two. Tipperary, however, were far from finished and Michael Quinlivan raced through before belting an unstoppable right foot shot into Alan Mulhall’s top right hand corner to present Tipp with a 2-10 to 2-9 lead.
Having conceded 1-4 in succession Offaly needed to respond and did so thanks to a Nigel Dunne effort in the 54th minute. Kevin O’Halloran, however, set up Conor Sweeney for a point and when Jack Kennedy landed a monster off his right in the 55th minute there was now clear daylight between the sides (2-12 to 2-10).
A Bernard Allen point left one in it, but Shane O’Connell responded for Tipp soon after. And, Offaly’s chances of staging a comeback evaporated completely in the 67th minute when Peter Cunningham was sent off for a second bookable offence following a high challenge on Jimmy Feehan.
Tipperary closed out the game with points from Kevin Fahey and Liam McGrath. And, even though Tipp did not play anything like their best football eleven different players finished this contest with a score to their name.
Offaly: Alan Mulhall, Seán Pender, James Lawlor, Shane Nally (0-2), Niall Darby, Brian Darby, David Hanlon, Joseph O’Connor (1-0), Eoin Carroll, Seán Doyle (0-1), Michael Brazil, Graham Guilfoyle (0-1), Bernard Allen (0-3, 0-2 frees), Nigel Dunne (0-3, 0-1 frees), Peter Cunningham (0-1). Subs: (45th) Jack Walsh for Seán Doyle, (58th) Jason Gethings for David Hanlon, (59th) Adam Mahon for Joseph O’Connor, (63rd) Ruairí McNamee for Bernard Allen, (70th) Declan Hogan for Shane Nally (black card), (72nd) Willie Mulhall for Nigel Dunne.
Tipperary: Evan Comerford (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Alan Campbell (Moyle Rovers), Paddy Codd (Killenaule), Shane O’Connell (Golden-Kilfeacle, 0-1), Bill Maher (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), Robbie Kiely (Carbery Rangers, 1-1), Jimmy Feehan (Killenaule), Liam Casey (Cahir, 0-1), George Hannigan (Shannon Rovers), Brian Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill, captain), Kevin O'Halloran (Portroe, 0-3, 0-3 frees), Josh Keane (Golden-Kilfeacle, 0-1, 0-1 frees), Conor Sweeney (Ballyporeen, 0-4, 0-1 frees), Michael Quinlivan (Clonmel Commercials, 1-0), Liam Boland (Moyle Rovers, 0-1). Subs: (4th) Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials) for Jimmy Feehan (blood - reversed 14th minute), (HT) Jack Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials, 0-1) for Liam Boland, (56th) Kevin Fahey (Clonmel Commercials, 0-1) for Bill Maher, (63rd) Willie Connors (Kiladangan) for Shane O’Connell, (66th) Liam McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney, 0-1) for Liam Casey.
Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).