Tipperary gear up for a huge final test against the Wee County

Brian McDonnell

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Brian McDonnell

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bmcdonnell@tipperarystar.ie

Tipperary gear up for a huge final test against the Wee County

Michael Quinlivan fired home three goals on Sunday against Armagh which dramatically sealed Tipperary's promotion to division two of the Allianz National Football League.

The Tipperary senior footballers will face Louth in the division three Allianz National Football League final on Saturday, April 8th at Croke Park, Dublin (throw-in 5pm). And, the Premier County have also been promoted to division two of the league thanks to a thrilling victory over Armagh in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.

Tipperary got the better of Armagh thanks to a dramatic late, late Michael Quinlivan goal and now manager Liam Kearns is asking his players to “lift” themselves ahead of the league final.

“First of all we are looking at this final as a bonus,” Liam Kearns told the Tipperary Star.

“We have achieved what we set out to achieve which was to earn promotion. And, we did it the hard way. We have injuries and there is no doubt that Louth rested their players last week because they were already promoted - they only played three of their first fifteen. So, they are in a nice position going into this. Yeah, it's going to be difficult, but, at the same time, it is bonus territory, it is a final, it is in Croke Park and we are going to have to lift ourselves for it. But the odds, in my view, are stacked in their favour,” Liam Kearns admitted.

Next season Tipperary will return to division two for the first time since 2010 when the Premier County were relegated from the second tier of the Allianz National Football League having earned promotion from division three in 2009 (beat Down in the division three final that season - 0-18 to 1-14). In 2018 Tipperary will compete against Cavan, Roscommon, Meath, Cork, Clare, Down and Louth in division two.

Louth, of course, got the better of Tipperary most recently when beating Liam Kearns’ men 0-16 to 0-12 at Semple Stadium, Thurles - Tipp led at the break, but the men from the Wee County out-scored their hosts 0-10 to 0-4 in the second half to seal promotion.

Louth will enter Saturday’s contest in confident mood. Colin Kelly’s men have form against Tipperary and have also earned themselves a second successive promotion - in 2016 Louth were promoted from division four and also beat Antrim in the division four final at Croke Park, Dublin (3-12 to 1-14). So, Louth are sure to relish a return to headquarters against a team that they have already beaten.

In full flight: Tipperary centre-back Robbie Kiely.

RETURN TO CROKE PARK

In 2015 Tipperary performed a similar trick when earning promotion from division four before beating Clare (1-16 to 1-15) in the league final at Croke Park. And, a return to Jones' Road is sure to capture the imagination of the Tipperary players and supporters. Memories of 2016’s thrilling run to the All-Ireland semi-final are sure to come flooding back. And, hopefully such memories can inspire Tipperary to a famous win on Saturday.

“It is a huge bonus to go back into Croke Park after last year,” Liam Kearns explained.

“To get back there six months later and in a final is huge. It's exactly what I said to them after the (All-Ireland) semi-final - I said that we had to get back there as soon as possible. I said to them that they were not out place here (at Croke Park) and that we needed to play here as often as possible. They have got back there in six months and that is a huge testament to their determination and their ability,” the Kerry man added.

“We are going up there to try and win the match. It's a final and it's there to be won. We have already achieved our goal and we are looking at it as bonus territory,” Liam Kearns said before reflecting on the league encounter between the sides.

“We figured that we missed 1-8 in the first half - some were really poor misses. We also feel that we should have got a second penalty and we didn't convert the penalty that we got. We missed a 21-yard free and we took another 21-yard free quickly and got nothing from it,” Liam Kearns said.

“There is no point in saying otherwise, but they definitely out-played us in the second half and kicked ten points (Tipperary 0-4). So, while there are lots of things that we can address at the end of the day they beat us in our own back yard. They are playing in Croke Park now and that will suit them. And, they have all the advantages in that they have been resting and have been able to target the game for two weeks whereas we have had to go to Armagh and now we have to face them six days later.”

And, there is no doubting the fact that Tipperary boss Liam Kearns admires the job done by manager Colin Kelly with Louth - Kelly has guided the Wee County toward successive Allianz National Football League promotions.

“I think it is a great achievement,” Liam Kearns said.

“I saw them in the very first game against Laois and they were flying fit. Their fitness levels have been huge and they won four games in-a-row which is no mean achievement in any league or in any division. They have a good system of play, they have a lot of pace and they have a lot of scorers - they have guys who can score from different areas of the field. They are a very decent team and I think they have been under-estimated - at the end of the day they are a fine side.”

ARMAGH WIN

Kieran McGeeney's Armagh men led 0-7 to 0-4 at the break in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, but Tipperary, thanks in no small part to three Michael Quinlivan goals, beat their hosts 3-8 to 0-16 in a thrilling finish. Ultimately Tipperary finished one point clear of Armagh in second place and earned promotion to division two alongside Louth in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Please see below for a video of Michael Quinlivan's dramatic last-gasp goal on Sunday.

“We started very well - in the first fifteen or twenty minutes our game plan was working very well. We decided to play against the wind and we were holding them comfortably and looked dangerous ourselves in attack as well. But half way through the first half they got on top and they started to figure it out,” Liam Kearns explained as he reflected on the famous win over Armagh.

“In the second half we got the goal early on and that really set us up, but, in fairness to them they replied to the goal. They had the edge then and always had that edge on us. We were always in the game all the way to the finish, but they always had the edge and when they went four points up with time almost up it looked like it was over.

“They (the referee) gave five minutes of injury time and what I liked about our guys is that they played right until the very end,” Liam Kearns explained.

“We lost our pattern, we lost our shape and our system of play and everything in the second half against Louth. We started playing as individuals and had not done that in a long, long time. The players were under instructions to take it to the very end and stick to our system of play. And, in fairness to them, they stuck to that. We kept chipping away and we got two great points off the bench from Alan Moloney and Liam Boland and then we got the one last attack and stuck it in the back of the net.”

Captain fantastic: Tipperary's Brian Fox.

TIPPERARY PANEL DEPTH

To see two second half substitutes come off the bench and notch key scores to spark such a dramatic late comeback in Armagh must have delighted the Tipperary management team. And, manager Liam Kearns was eager to place the achievement of earning promotion to division two in context.

“We have lost two of the best footballers who have ever played for Tipperary in Peter Acheson and Ciarán McDonald. And, not only are they inspiring players, but they are also inspiring leaders on and off the pitch. They are massive, massive losses to us. We have played the whole campaign without those two,” Liam Kearns said before revealing that Ciarán McDonald is slowly, but surely working his way back from injury.

“We didn't have Bill Maher for most of the campaign, Colm O'Shaughnessy - who was our corner-back for all of last year - played no game until the last day and George Hannigan has only played a game and a half. And, you can throw in Jason Lonergan, Ian Fahey and Diarmuid Foley who would all be first twenty-one players and none of them have played any game time with us.

“Then just before the game against Armagh we lost Jimmy Feehan, we lost Emmett Moloney - because of that club game two days before we played - and we lost Liam McGrath to illness. We were coming off the back of a really poor defeat to Louth at home and we were in what is generally considered to be one of the toughest places to get a result in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh and we managed to do it. So, look, to say that I am proud of what they did and how they did it is an understatement,” a proud Liam Kearns explained.

“And, we have introduced seventeen new players to our panel this year. That's too many and I think I have said that before, but, at the same time, we had no choice. We had to bring in some new faces, we have given game time to an awful lot of them and we now have inter-county players that we did not have last year. The whole campaign has been hugely satisfying. We were very disappointed with the second half of the Louth performance, but to get the job done in the circumstances was fantastic.”

Considering the Premier County's achievements in 2016 and now 2017 the situation does beg the question: what would the Tipperary team be capable of if Liam Kearns had access to all of the county's very best players?

“Where would we be if you had Colin O'Riordan, if you had Steven O'Brien, if you had Séamus Kennedy, if you had Barry Grogan, if you had Ciarán McDonald and if you had Peter Acheson? If you could add those six to what we have where would be? That is the question you have got to ask yourself because those players are not ordinary players. They are all top, top, top class players and for one county to lose that amount of players and still achieve what these boys are doing is phenomenal in my opinion. That is the only word that I would use to describe it,” Liam Kearns told the Tipperary Star.

“It is for others to judge it, obviously, but my own opinion is that they are an amazing group to be able to keep going forward in spite of everything. You only have to look at the campaign - I mean the Longford game being called off placed us in a really tough position. All the injuries put us in a really tough position, but the players are hugely resilient. They seem to find, and keep finding when the pressure is at its highest, that little bit more.”

ALLIANZ NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Saturday, April 8th
Allianz National Football
League Division Three Final
Tipperary v Louth
at Croke Park, Dublin (5pm)

*Wexford and Westmeath will contest the division four final as a curtain raiser to next Saturday’s division three final clash with Louth (the Wexford-Westmeath game throws in at 3pm).