Saturday 3 December 2016

Peter Canavan: Tipp a team that will never quit

Premier have answered every question so far and will test Mayo to the full

Peter Canavan

Published 19/08/2016 | 02:30

Tipperary players celebrate their victory over Galway Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Tipperary players celebrate their victory over Galway Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tradition might be perceived to be against Tipperary this Sunday as they prepare to take on Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final, but history is not.

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Over the course of the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading Michael Foley's book The Bloodied Field - an excellent account of the events surrounding the Black and Tans' infamous Bloody Sunday massacre on Croke Park in 1920 - and it was fascinating to learn so much about Tipperary's involvement in the struggle for independence.

Tipperary was very much at the heart of the GAA's formation. Hayes Hotel in Thurles played host to the organisation's very first meeting, Carrick-on-Suir man Maurice Davin became its first president, and the people of the county saw playing Gaelic football and hurling as an extension of their nationalist identity.

The fact that one of their famous sons, Michael Hogan, was killed while leading out Tipp footballers against Dublin in that atrocity in 1920 is very much a source of pride. So, 100 years on from the 1916 Rising and in the midst of celebrations of a momentous period in our history, the prospect of running out in front of a stand named after their former captain is sure to resonate in the Tipperary dressing-room this week.

That they have got this far, especially when they have lost so many players from last year, is a credit to the resolve of each and everyone involved in Liam Kearns' panel.

Considering they are without their outstanding midfield partnership from last year's U-21 team, Colin O'Riordan and Steven O'Brien (to name but two of over 20 absentees), it is a minor miracle that they are on the brink of an All-Ireland final.

The aspect of Tipperary's play which has impressed me most has been their dogged perseverance, especially when things go against them. This is something which you often see in established teams like Dublin and Kerry, who frequently overcome setbacks by just putting the head down and digging themselves out of a hole.

Getting so-called underdogs to develop such a trait is a far more difficult task. Mental strength often withers away in the face of repeated failure at senior championship level.

Maybe Kearns being from Kerry has helped, but his players have shown this summer that they are made of stern stuff. Ballsy is the colloquial term.

Against Cork, they relinquished a big lead and allowed the Rebels draw level with two minutes to go, yet they rolled up their sleeves to kick the last two points of the game.

Against Derry, they did much the same - being five points up with ten minutes left only to concede a sucker-goal and even let their opponents edge ahead. But again, they refused to let the heads go down, and Conor Sweeney fired over the winning point.

Collectively, they have become stronger mentally, and there's no doubt this has been a spin-off from the sheer single-bloody-mindedness they have shown in their general play. For me, this was crystallised in the lead-up to their second goal against Galway.

Choked

Initially, Galway were on the attack around the Tipp '45' when they found themselves choked for space as Josh Keane, Sweeney and Philip Austin got back to make tackles. A schemozzle developed and the ref opted to throw the ball-in which Galway won, but the Tipp hits kept coming and possession was turned over.

In the next breath you have Bill Maher and Austin haring down the field to set up Sweeney, who has also sprinted back down and caresses the ball soccer-style to the corner of the net. Game over.

The main worry I have for them, apart from their lack of experience at this level, is that Mayo will not allow them to take short kick-outs like Galway did the last day. This will force Tipp to kick the ball long and Mayo's physical superiority in midfield will give them a marked advantage.

With Seamus O'Shea, Aidan O'Shea and Tom Parsons to call upon, Mayo should be able to establish a foothold around the middle; I'd expect Parsons to start, allowing Aidan O'Shea to push more forward.

The other main concern I'd have for Tipp is that they tend to be opened up pretty easily - mainly as a result of allowing the opposition move the ball quickly to their frontmen, and also what I'd term naïve defending.

Danny Heavron started at half-forward for Derry but played a sweeper role and was allowed roam around the field unopposed, kicking four points from play in the process.

In the Galway game, Damien Comer barrelled through the defence just before half-time and fired home a brilliant goal that gave his side a lifeline, albeit temporary. But the point is he should never been allowed get that far.

With their power, Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle have the ability to launch attacks from the Mayo half-back line, and with the likes of Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran showing a return to form, Stephen Rochford looks guaranteed to come up with a less-defensive game-plan than they had against Tyrone.

The bookies have installed Rochford's men as 1/5 favourites, and while those odds flatter them, having been here before should see them able to justify that tag with five or six points to spare.

Mind you if I was a Tipp supporter, I'd get plenty of encouragement from the last time the two counties met in the 1920 All-Ireland semi-final - a game actually played in June 1922 - and from reading the Irish Independent match report which appears in the Bloodied Field, two aspects of that game stand out.

Firstly, the phenomenon of the wayward Mayo forward is not a recent development: the report says their attack "not only missed chances, but made the poorest use of frees" as Tipperary won by 1-5 to 1-0.

Secondly, the low-scoring nature of the game was a feature of that year's championship as Tipp had previously played out what must have been a thrilling 0-2 apiece draw with Clare in the Munster semi-final.

Clearly much hasn't changed in 100 years, as blanket defences must have existed back then also, so we can't lay the blame for all the game's ills at Jim McGuinness' door!

Irish Independent

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