Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 1 July 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
In the aftermath of Clonmel Commercials late and dramatic Munster club final win against Nemo Rangers last November, Clonmel manager Charlie McGeever referred to a sense of history which had been building for close to a decade, and which had just been realised.
McGeever though, wasn’t just speaking in isolation; Clonmel’s journey had followed a similar path to the one forged by Tipperary football in recent years. “We have broken the mould,” said McGeever. “We have mirrored ourselves on Tipperary in the sense that there are so many crossovers between the players. It shows the work that is being done. This is a win for Tipperary because nearly everybody that is contributing to Tipperary is contributing to Commercials.”
The achievement was massive. Nemo were going for their 16th Munster title. A Tipp club had never won the Munster club but Commercials’ quality was a reflection of the potential within the county. That has completely been evident by the club’s presence during the Tipperary underage football revolution over the last decade.
Commercials had four starters on the Tipp minor team which won the 2011 All-Ireland minor title, and three starters on the side which narrowly lost last year’s All-Ireland U-21 final to Tyrone. Two players from the club featured on the team which contested last year’s All-Ireland minor final.
There is a clear correlation to Clonmel’s success with the underage progress Tipp have made. In the last decade, Tipp have contested seven Munster minor finals and seven Munster U-21 finals, winning four titles from those 14 appearances. That record is even more impressive considering Tipperary only contested 15 provincial underage finals at minor and U-21 in the preceding 77 years. Some of those were breakthrough successes, with Tipp’s first U-21 title arriving in 2010. Tipp have still to crack the code at senior level but the culture is radically changing in the county and a huge threshold was crossed last month with a first championship victory against Cork since 1944.
Tipp were a decent underage force from 1983 to 1987 when contesting four Munster finals, two minor and two U-21. They won a minor title in 1984 before losing U-21 finals to Cork and Kerry by one point in 1986 and 1987. That success though, stemmed from one group of players whereas the current underage success has been far more sustained because the proper structures have been in place to facilitate that development and improvement.
The biggest change has been the broad cultural spread of the game across the county. Three of last year’s minor squad were from Drom & Inch, one of the strongest hurling clubs in the county. Eight of that Tipp squad also played in the All-Ireland minor hurling final two weeks before the football decider.
Kevin O’Halloran, who steered Tipp to victory over Cork, made it onto the Tipp team without ever having played club senior football. His club Portroe, a traditional hurling club in North Tipperary, don’t play football beyond U-21 level.
After playing well in a club U-21 game against Shannon Rovers last year, O’Halloran got a call from Joe Hannigan, who is involved with ‘Friends of Tipperary Football’, asking him to come to U-21 training that evening in Thurles. The call arrived at 6.40pm. Training was at 7.30. Hannigan picked up O’Halloran in Nenagh shortly afterwards and they didn’t arrive in Thurles until 7.45pm. A few weeks later, O’Halloran was top scorer in the Munster U-21 final win against Cork.
Tipp are absolutely maximising their resources but they’ve had to more than ever this year. When they played their first championship match against Waterford in May, Tipp were down 11 of the 21 players which featured in the same fixture 12 months earlier, including three young pillars around which new manager Liam Kearns would have been building his team; Colin O’Riordan, Stephen O'Brien and Seamus Kennedy. O’Riordan is gone to the AFL with the Sydney Swans while Kennedy and O’Brien are with the senior hurlers. The remainder of the absentee list was down to injury, travel, unavailability and retirement.
A couple of those injured players have returned but Kearns still had to mould a new structure in defence and midfield. O’Riordan and O’Brien were a formidable midfield partnership but a new pairing of George Hannigan and Peter Acheson, which played against Cork, will now have to go up against the strongest midfield in the country. Kieran Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan played there against Clare, with Kerry’s best pairing of David Moran and Anthony Maher coming off the bench.
Tipp will just have to do what Dublin always do, or try to, on their own kickout against Kerry – don’t launch the ball down on top of their midfield. That’s easier said than done but at least goalkeeper Evan Comerford has that range, and distance, in his kicking game.
Comerford is one of six starters from the U-21 team which reached last year’s All-Ireland final, four of which make up the back seven. That’s a big test against a Kerry attack with so much firepower and class. They had ten different scorers while James O’Donoghue still has to return.
After the league final, any question marks about Kerry focused on their defence, some of which resurfaced against Clare when they conceded 0-17. Debutantes Brian Begley and Tadgh Morley added some of the pace and energy that Dublin were lacking in the league final but Kerry’s defence is likely to receive more makeovers yet before they settle on the right defensive blend.
Tipp will ask some questions of that defence on Sunday. Acheson is a really penetrating player going forward, Philip Austin has huge experience while Conor Sweeney and Brian Fox, outstanding against Cork, will get scores. O’Halloran is deadly from placed balls while Michael Quinlivan is their X-factor player.
Apart from their new culture of success at underage, Tipp have always had that air of confidence when playing Kerry. Paul Galvin said in his column recently that he always felt Tipp never rated Kerry as highly as other counties did. These Tipp players will stick their chests out and have a go but they won’t be able to repel Kerry’s firepower and stop the machine marching forward.
Tipperary football is creating a vibrant new culture but the mould at inter-county senior level hasn’t been fully broken yet.
Watch Independent News and Media Journalist Roy Curtis and eir GAA ambassador Tomás Ó Sé chat about the upcoming Kerry vs Tipperary match;
There's general agreement on who our GAA experts are predicting will win all this weekends games, apart from Donegal vs Monaghan which is again a close call;
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Kerry to win: 95%
Tipperary to win: 4%
Sligo: to win: 91%
Leitrim to win: 6%
Laois to win: 64%
Armagh to win: 33%
Cavan to win: 13%
Tyrone to win: 86%
Donegal to win: 56%
Monaghan to win: 42%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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