Posted by Shane Stapleton
Friday 20 July 2012
Tipperary football — a bridesmaid within a bridesmaid.
From 2008 to 2011, four of the six Munster counties could all claim to have produced a Munster club winner; Tipperary and Waterford were the odd ones out.
It was no surprise to see Kerry’s history embossed with another title when Colm Cooper’s Dr Crokes won it in 2011, no more so than when Nemo Rangers delivered a 26th title to the county of Cork a year earlier.
Clare — through Kilmurry-Ibrikane — won the 2009 Munster title and rolled on to the All-Ireland final the following March, while Limerick’s Drom-Broadford captured a provincial crown in 2008.
A Tipperary club has not even been to the final since Fethard fell at the hands of Nemo in 2001, whereas three different Déise sides have contested it in that time: Stradbally (2004), The Nire (2006) and Ballinacourty (2007).
While everyone else gets invited to the wedding, sees the cake cut and eats a slice, Tipperary have merely been holding the train. Knowing a train of the gravy variety is far away. Yet progress at inter-county level, of all ages, continues.
Yes there were high peaks and troughs under John Evans but it all seemed to have unravelled during a massively underwhelming league campaign that ended in relegation. From Division 4 up to Division 2 and back again, Evans ran out of time this year.
Peter Creedon has taken over and even if there was an expected loss to Kerry, it was more down to a lack of belief than anything else. Accepted, the Kingdom have more jewels but they were scarcely six points the better team on the day.
Offaly were there to be taken but Tipp had to dig in against a somewhat misfiring Wexford side. Yet there is this goal threat among the Tipp forwards that the Models — as is often the case against deep-lying sides — never carried, and one that might carry the Premier a little farther.
Antrim are next up and, in many ways, it’s a means without an end for both sides. Either will ultimately have to win four games in the back door just to make it to the All-Ireland series. For whoever makes it to that fourth game, the loser of Donegal v Down awaits — and Saffrons manager Liam Bradley already recently spoke of the difficulty of dealing with any of his Ulster neighbours. And after that, it gets really tough.
Whatever about the hurdle after this — another northern rock on which to perish — Tipperary must fancy their chances on home soil against Antrim. Captain Aodhan Gallagher has this week left the Ulster side’s panel for personal reasons while Paddy Cunningham departed earlier in the season. Though any Premier County fan will readily point out that talisman Barry Grogan is far, far away from this fairytale run.
With Peter Acheson dictating play beautifully up front, Philip Austin always a danger and Michael Quinlivan an exciting talent, there is still plenty of forward thrust. Brian Fox might be one of the lesser-heralded attacking wing-backs in the country but not by those in direct opposition to him.
This Tipperary team is a curious mix of superb footballers but perhaps with a few cogs that are not as polished as they might be. Against Wexford, you could argue that the Premier had both the standout and most underwhelming players on the pitch. Which is why the dream is likely to end sooner rather than later, irrespective of the result on Saturday.
Tipp-Antrim is a clash of two teams who played Division 3 this year, neither coming in under the radar after upset victories in the previous round of the qualifiers. In fact, both would have been exactly what the doctor ordered when the draw was made — an antithesis to the nobody-wins scenario of Kildare-Cavan.
Tipp came through Round 2 over a Wexford side who matched All-Ireland champions Dublin for long spells just a few weeks before and Antrim against a Galway side that has been unable to shaky its flaky reputation.
“It was superb, that was one of the best wins I’ve been involved with in Tipperary,” said midfielder Hugh Coghlan after the Wexford win. “There’s so many of us on the team waiting for the second championship win in the one year and now we’ve got it.
“There’s a lot more in this Tipperary team; there’s some great young lads coming through. There’s a massive structure there underneath and, after days like today, who knows what sort of a roll we can get on.”
It’s difficult to call a favourite because both of these teams have shown their resentment towards that very tag in the last round. The bookies feel Tipperary have the edge and home advantage might have something to do with that. If that is the reason, the bookies clearly were not in Semple Stadium when Wexford outnumbered the locals last week.
In a county where just a single senior team competed in the north Tipp championship of 2011 — Thomas McDonaghs, an amalgamation of nine clubs — there was never likely to be massive interest from both ends of the Premier.
Yet the feeling is that there should be more, and may well be as Tipperary get ever closer to Croke Park. Tipp may be the Munster bridesmaid and a bridesmaid sport within their county, but still they keep pushing.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter @shanesaint
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