Cork's Marc Collins and Tipperary captain Brian Fox pictured at the launch of the Munster Senior Football championships in Muckross House, Killarney recently.
The Tipperary football team have their backs to the wall once more, but manager Liam Kearns expects his team to come out fighting in the Munster Senior Football Championship semi-final against Cork at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday, June 10th (5pm).
The script has been written. Tipperary are David; they are expected to show up in Cork on Saturday at the appointed time with a slingshot stuffed into their back pocket. Tipperary did beat Cork in 2016, but this time Goliath is expected to drop a large boulder on the head of the brave blue and gold lads.
The circumstances, after all, are not encouraging. A number of players are ruled out through injury, Tipperary find themselves pitted against a sleeping giant of inter-county football in their own back yard and, of course, the Premier County’s extraordinary goalkeeper Evan Comerford is ruled out through suspension following an incident which occurred in a club game.
But each time this group of Tipperary men have found themselves shoved up against the wall they have come out fighting.
Just this year this Tipperary team proved that they have the stomach for the fight. Following a mixed run of form Liam Kearns’ men lost a critical contest against Louth in the league at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Tipperary were told they had missed their chance at promotion, but Tipp proceeded to beat Armagh at the Athletic Grounds, sealed their place in division two and then saw off Louth comprehensively in the league final at Croke Park, Dublin (3-19 to 0-19).
“We are up against it, we are playing a team that has played a championship match, we are playing them in Páirc Uí Rinn, we are down four of our championship team and we have numerous other injuries,” manager Liam Kearns told the Tipperary Star.
“It has been a difficult period to manage, but we are coming off a very successful league campaign that ended with us being promoted to division two and also saw us win the league. And, we have responded to adversity every time that we have faced it.
“After losing to Louth everyone thought we had blown our chance of promotion, but we went to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh; we lost Philip Austin and Jimmy Feehan on the day, we were down other players going into that game and we still managed to come out of Armagh with the win that we needed to get promoted.
“There are obstacles put in the way of Tipperary football all the time and in fairness to this team and to this group of players they have shown tremendous resilience to overcome those obstacles. And, I would say that this is another huge obstacle that we have to face considering the circumstances that are there. But I have no doubt that the team will perform - they love a challenge and they will perform. And, we have got to see where that performance can take us.”
Tipperary senior football manager Liam Kearns.
In the world of mathematics those who solve the problems that everyone else finds intractable take the honours. And, manager Liam Kearns has a real riddle of an equation to solve this weekend against Cork - a number of injuries have complicated preparations while the issue with Evan Comerford’s suspension has also clouded the picture.
“We are without four of the championship team from last year - Evan (Comerford) is out and so are Ciarán McDonald, Peter Acheson and Philip Austin. Colm O’Shaughnessy is back in training, but he has, literally, only played two matches this year in total,” Liam Kearns explained this week.
“On top of that Ian Fahey and Kevin Fahey are out, Willie Connors is out and Emmett Moloney, literally, came back this week from the stress fracture that he picked up in that under-21 club match (April). Even from our extended panel Liam Casey is out and Joe Hennessy is out. So, we are really up against it.
“And, they are huge losses - you are talking about a goalkeeper who is a nominated All Star from last year, (Peter) Acheson is a nominated All Star from last year, Ciarán McDonald is the best man marker that Tipperary football has ever produced and Philip Austin is one of the best forwards that we have ever had. There is huge leadership and huge experience ruled out,” the Kerry man said.
“We will perform and I believe that our systems of play are robust enough to deal with the loss of quality players like Peter Acheson, Ciarán McDonald and Philip Austin - the players have done that all the way through the league.
“Our system (of play) is robust enough to cope with all of those, but at the end of the day you must reach a saturation point at some stage. If you keep taking quality players out of any system at some stage you will reach that saturation point and the system is not going to be able to carry you. At the same time we have shown that we are a championship team - we proved that last year and we hope to prove it again this year.
“There is no doubt that we have been very unfortunate in terms of missing players and injuries. But, as I said, the players are resilient; they have proven themselves to be resilient time and again in the past and I am hoping that they will prove it again next Saturday night.”
Brian Fox captained Tipperary to the division three league title in April.
CORK’S QUARTER-FINAL WIN
Given Tipperary’s 2016 experience you won’t catch Liam Kearns reading too much into Cork’s narrow (1-12 to 1-11) win over Waterford in the recent Munster Senior Football Championship quarter-final played at Fraher Field, Dungarvan. Last year Tipperary also looked laboured in their 1-15 to 1-7 quarter-final win over the Déise before exploding into devastating championship life.
“Waterford played fifteen men behind the ball which made life very difficult for Cork - I have just watched Carlow play fifteen men behind the ball and Dublin took a long time to break them down. They did win by twelve points in the end when Carlow had a man sent off, but playing against that kind of system can be very difficult,” Liam Kearns explained.
“I mean we looked very bad against Waterford last year and everyone was writing us off on the basis of that game. So, in fairness Cork got through it, they have a championship match under their belts, they have got the championship cob webs out and they played a team who played fifteen men behind the ball. And, in that scenario it does not matter who you are - you are going to struggle to break down that kind of a team.
“Cork had two goal-scoring opportunities at the start of the second half and if they took one or both of those opportunities it could have been a completely different match. In the end they got out of Fraher Field with the one-point win.”
FAR FROM FINISHED
This Tipperary team are far from finished. When the championship draw was made Liam Kearns declared that his goal for the opening quarter of 2017 was to earn promotion to division two and add significant depth to his panel.
And, true to his word Kearns managed both to achieve both. The Kerry man introduced seventeen new players to the senior squad this year and presented twenty-seven different players with game time during the division three league campaign. That determination to develop the senior panel may just pay a dividend on Saturday at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Remember too that life as an underdog can be fun.