Sport Gaelic Football

Monday 25 September 2017

Tipperary's fledglings will require nurturing

Minor success does not always translate, says Damian Lawlor

LAST December, as the Tipperary football convention lauded the unprecedented success of their minor team, chairman Noel Morris warned delegates to level their expectations for the future.

However, after winning the first major All-Ireland trophy in the 29-year history of the football board, Morris had a tough job trying to temper the excitement. Setting an All-Ireland under 21 title within three years as a realistic target, the chairman cautioned that greater scrutiny came with winning a championship and advised the young players to be careful of the lifestyle they choose.

"Players have a responsibility not to go down the road of living off that success," he said.

But from what we've seen of the minor vintage of 2012 -- with 13 of last year's minor panel still available -- there's not much need to worry. The have already beaten both Kerry and Cork in this year's provincial championship.

There are seven dual players ready to burst a gut for both hurling and football teams. Liam McGrath, last year's captain and a serious hurler to boot, is a perfect example. On a trip to New York last winter, he brought his schoolbag with him, using the seven-hour airtime as a chance to get study and work done. The attitude in the squad seems to be exemplary. The mindset stems from the minor manager David Power and seeps through to the players, who are now unbeaten in eight championship games in the past year and a half.

Behind Power and his backroom, an army of volunteers are working away at development level. The stamp of former senior manager John Evans is there for all to see and in his absence the good work is being undertaken by grassroot coaches.

The hurling fraternity has no choice but to tolerate this growth but it helps that Power and William Maher, the Tipp minor hurling manager, have an excellent relationship established with communication channels continuously open.

It will require high levels of co-operation to guarantee continued progress. In the years ahead not every hurling manager will be as receptive to the dual concept and with every underage Tipp squad featuring a plethora of such players, serious difficulties and challenges will arise down the line.

To keep the momentum, the county could use a lift from the senior footballers, who have suffered successive league relegations. It hasn't helped the seniors that they've drawn Kerry for the past three years in the Munster championship, losing by 12 points on the last two occasions.

Last week Colm Cooper questioned Tipperary's ability to bring the underage players through at pace and keep them playing football at the highest level.

He is not far off the mark because Tipp is primarily a hurling county and football coaches will struggle to keep their best players. And despite the success down through the ranks, a progression of five or six players from each minor or under 21 team would be most acceptable.

As Morris wound down last December's convention, it must have been hard not to get carried away. Three trophies sat beside him at the top table -- the All-Ireland and Munster minor and Darrell Darcy cups. The Jim Power Cup that the under 14s claimed was elsewhere that night. Such shiny silverware is enough evidence to suggest that Tipp football -- and Power's fledglings in particular -- will someday soon be a serious force at senior level.

However, there could be some painful days ahead before that happens. Today's game against Kerry is a game they could have done without so soon. Winning an All-Ireland minor title came years quicker than anybody expected.

Although the dividends should be seen in the next eight years, there's bound to be a few harsh realities experienced along the way as the seniors begin their fight to get out of Division 4 once more.

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