Drink will be flowing in Ventry if Tipp manage to upset Kerry
Tipperary have made huge strides but they won't win today, writes Páidí ó Sé
T HERE are people all over the country telling me that Kerry will have their work cut out today to beat Tipperary in the first round of the Munster championship at Thurles. I don't know what planet they're living on: if Kerry lose today, I'll give free drinks to all and sundry in my pub in Ventry tonight from 8-10pm.
Johnny Culloty used to say: "If you are worried about beating Tipperary, you wouldn't want to be thinking of an All-Ireland medal."
My first championship match was against Tipperary in Clonmel in 1975. We didn't know it then, but it was the start of Mick O'Dwyer's great reign as Kerry manager. We on the Kerry team didn't know each other very well that day, but we had played a good number of challenge matches after being beaten by Meath in the National League semi-final.
We were missing our most experienced player, John O'Keeffe, though his cousin, Ger O'Keeffe, was playing, and delivered what we called "a Mater Hospital pass" to me by lobbing a high ball over somebody's head for me to catch. If you didn't go for it, you were labelled a coward and, if you did, well . . . anything could happen.
As it happened, I went for the ball, Babs Keating ploughed into me ferociously and I was hardly able to get my breath up to half-time, though, if I may say so myself, I played quite well in the second half.
Tipperary stuck with us to the last 10 minutes when John Egan (who I am glad to say is recovering well from his recent illness) scored two goals to get us home.
I managed Kerry against Tipperary in Tralee in a first-round championship match in 1997 when we were put to the pin of our collar and, only for a goal by Denis O'Dwyer with 10 minutes remaining, we mightn't have made it. We went on that year to win the All-Ireland.
Much has been made of Tipperary's win over Kerry in the under 21 Munster championship final in Tralee a few weeks ago. That was a wet and windy night and, personally, I don't intend to set much store by it.
Tipperary have some good players -- their goalie Paul Fitzgerald has a fine raking kick out, full-back Ciaran McDonald is another powerhouse in the team and their manager, John Evans from Killorglin, will have them fully tuned up for today. John has a good record as a manager, having won the All-Ireland club championship with Laune Rangers in 1996, and he knows all the Kerry players well.
And, to his credit, he has done a truly superb job with Tipperary -- back-to-back promotions brought them from Division 4 to Division 2 in the league and they narrowly missed out on retaining their second-division status this spring. But if I were John, I wouldn't pay too much attention to that under 21 final at Austin Stack Park and that is said with every respect to the improvement shown by the Tipperary players in recent years and to their undoubted will and tenacity.
Kerry love Semple Stadium in Thurles, better known for the epic Munster hurling finals immortalised by Raymond Smith in The Clash of the Ash. Raymond described the crowd at the Killinan end of the ground as "simple people who did not know what it was like to eat a prawn cocktail or duck a l'orange."
That might well have been so in Raymond's time, but it's certainly not true now. And whatever about prawn cocktails, they know their hurling inside out and a good bit about football too. Still, if I were in the Tipperary camp, I would prefer this match to be played either in Clonmel or at Ardfinnan.
The big spaces in Thurles are made for good footballers with good technique -- if you can't play good football at Semple Stadium, in Fitzgerald Stadium in
Killarney, or at Croke Park, you won't play good football anywhere. (Tralee is ideal for National League matches and, when there is a full house there, there is a great atmosphere, but Killarney on Munster final day is where Kerry truly show their thoroughbred form.)
Reports from the training camp suggest that Kerry are in flying form and that Colm Cooper in particular is at his genius-level best. That does not bode well for Tipperary on a pitch where Kerry have never lost a championship match and where they beat Tipperary in 1969 to go on and win the All-Ireland.
If I'm wrong, it'll cost me a barrel of porter in Ventry tonight!
PS: I was honoured to attend the funeral last week of Mrs Betty McDonnell (sister of Aengus Fanning) who was a big shareholder in Lee Strand Co-Operative Creamery in Tralee, who over the years have been great supporters of the GAA and my own annual tournament.