Sunday 23 October 2016

Progress even caught Kearns off guard

Jackie Cahill

Published 18/08/2016 | 02:30

Kearns: "We're going from game to game." Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

If you said to Liam Kearns six months ago that Tipperary would reach an All-Ireland senior football semi-final, he'd have suggested that "you'd better lie down in a dark room or something".

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At the time, it was a far-fetched thought. Kearns (right) and his players were about to embark on a Division 3 campaign that could have seen them promoted, but eventually ended with relief that they had stayed in the third tier.

Swimming against the tide it seemed, Tipp were down bodies due to injuries and had also lost Colin O'Riordan to the AFL, as well as Steven O'Brien and Seamus Kennedy to the hurlers.

Three more players left for the US after the League but what's happened since is the stuff of dreams and on Sunday, a Tipp senior football team will compete in an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1935.

At the helm is Kerry native Kearns, the former Limerick and Laois manager who has somehow managed to get them there.

He said: "We're going from game to game. They have a lot of belief in themselves, they're very ambitious as well. They want to take on teams.

"Would they have said they'd end up in an All-Ireland semi-final?

"If you'd asked me that six months ago and asked any of the players, we'd be looking at you and saying - yeah, right, you'd better lie down in a dark room there or something."

Tipp ended a 72-year wait for a senior championship victory over Cork by stunning the Rebels in a Munster semi-final.

They lost the provincial decider to Kerry but after smashing through the last 12 barrier with that gritty win against Derry, Tipp went a step further by knocking out Connacht champions Galway at Croke Park.

Notable milestones but Kearns acknowledges that now it gets really difficult, as Tipp gear up for a tie with a Mayo team in their sixth successive semi-final. He said: "It will be a rarefied atmosphere and this is the highest level we'll have been at.

"Mayo will bring a lot of intensity and put us under a lot of pressure. How we handle that will have a big bearing on how we go."

It's likely that Tipp won't get the kind of space afforded to them by Galway when they face a Mayo side that Kearns believes isn't as "gung-ho" as it once was.

He noted: "They played very defensively against Tyrone - two sweepers on both sides and it was a game of chess. They're trying to find a system that works for them. They're improving - some would say they're timing their run perfectly.

"I would say they are certainly not the gung-ho all-out attack team that they were, it just wasn't getting them over the line to win All-Irelands. They have looked hard at that and are trying to find another way to get there."

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