By Stephen Gleeson
All the years of waiting to get to Croke Park on a big day in the senior football championship came to a halt when the senior team finally made the main stage in 2016. Years of graft, by coaches across the county, had gone into the mix to get the blend right for a Tipp team to take centre stage.
Buoyed up by convincing wins against Derry and Galway, the Premier county reached their first All-Ireland football semi-final since 1935. For a Tipp team backboned by Brian Fox, Peter Acheson, Conor Sweeney and Mikey Quinlivan the sky seemed limitless that year. The majority of the panel had experienced provincial success at minor and under 21 level so they weren’t overawed by any foe. The players involved had some great days across the decade. At under 21 and minor level the wins began to build and the success translated to senior level. Since those heady days though, Tipp football has plateaued somewhat. The senior side are in division three and success below senior level is sparse.
Last year, one of the orchestrators of the minor success of 2011 took over as senior manager. Kilsheelan Kilcash native, David Power, managed Tipp teams across the decade and guided the minors of 2011 to the All Ireland title. He has seen the success come and go and told me this week that the progression across the decade was wonderful:
“Of the last ten years there has been so many great times. In 2010 we won the Munster under 21 football final. Then there was a couple of league promotions. Then in 2011 we won the Minor All Ireland and then got to a couple of Munster under 21 finals and won it in 2015. The minor footballers got back to the All-Ireland football final in 2015 and then the seniors had that great year in 2016 getting to the semi-final against Mayo so there has been a lot of very good years.”
The fortunes of the county sides have been waning somewhat since then but yet the next breakthrough always seems around the corner such was the level of expectation coming from the highs of the early part of the last decade. In recent times the younger age groups and developmental teams haven’t been reaching the same heights and the ‘win graph’ has been slower to rise. David Power takes up the story:
“What has been really disappointing I suppose is that the minors haven’t got to a Munster semi-final, never mind a final, in a long time. At under 21 I think we are gone three years without winning at that grade, maybe more, so that’s really disappointing. In saying that there are young players there, the likes of Sean O’Connor and Rhian Quigley are coming through, but the real problem is the players don’t have the same confidence as the other players on the senior panel. The senior players have played Munster finals, they have the league promotions under their belt, they have played in Croke Park on big days. The underage set up in Tipp football over the next few years is important. Hopefully there will be a resurgence of getting minor teams back to Munster finals. I remember from when Peter Creedon was the minor manager and when Philly Ryan was the minor manager, they got to Munster finals and in 2009 we got there too. We went through from 2006 or 2007 up until 2015 getting, I’d say, to six Munster minor finals. That’s not happening anymore and that’s going to be a massive issue going forward.”
Looking at the current situation in 2020 the senior manager is focused on the task at hand in what is the centenary of the Bloody Sunday football game between Tipp and Dublin. David says this year is a symbolic one but he just hopes there is football played this year “It is a big year and unfortunately we are in July and hopefully there will be a club championship and hopefully an inter-county championship. I’d be still very cautious because if there’s another couple of bad weeks that’s really the championship gone. It’s really on tenterhooks over the next couple of months. We’re not playing until October so we’re still another three and a half months away from action. That’s a long time. Hopefully we are able to play because people are missing the GAA whether your part of a management team or a player or a follower. People are missing it. I just hope we will be playing.”
“We had a tough start this year but I was keen to introduce younger players into the league. We have two very important games left in this year’s league and then the Clare championship game so if we do get back up and running in October we are going to have some busy months. Hopefully we are playing well into November. I know the Munster final is fixed for the same weekend as the Bloody Sunday commemoration. It would be massive for Tipp football if we could get to a Munster final. It would be great to get there especially as it’s the Bloody Sunday weekend.”
A number of the panel over the last three or four years had been away travelling or working and as a result, some new players emerged in their absence. Having a larger panel and players such as Cahir’s Liam Casey and Commercials Mikey Quinlivan to choose from adds to the depth of Tipp football. David says: “For one reason or another they couldn’t commit at the start of the year. We have a couple of lads back from injury as well. They are all back in club. They are only really on Strength and Conditioning programmes; we have done no full collective sessions since the middle of March. We won’t be doing a full collective session until the 14th of September and even then you’ll have lads in county finals as well so it could be the end of September before we are fully back. And hopefully we are back because I’d still be sceptical of this virus.”
Looking back on this year’s league, David felt his side had to hit the ground running and it will be similar when the restart comes: “Staying in division three is one thing and if we could win those there’s great momentum going into the Clare game. It gives huge confidence. With the club championship there’s a fair chance you could pick up some injuries but that’s in every county to be fair. The clubs start on the 17th July and it’s nonstop for eight week’s between the round robin for hurling and football and then it will be down to the quarter finals and semifinals of the hurling and football as well. It’s a busy period and hopefully we can keep going without losing any player.”
When the restart comes, David hopes to build momentum for a championship run, and winning league games is the best way to do that according to the Kilsheelan native: “We will take it game by game. Our first focus will be Offaly and we will look to build up momentum going into the Clare game. It gives us a great opportunity. It’s going to be a very tough game, Clare are in a similiar boat, they’re down near the bottom of divison two so they will have two tough games as well. Colm Collins has done a great job and we won’t be looking further than that. So it’s all about the Offaly game and hopefully we can start with a win to give us confidence.”
The last decade started off with the confidence levels of Tipp football rising game by game. 2020 could be the starting point for another successful decade.