Tuesday 6 December 2016

'They know them all by name' - Liam Kearns highlights special relationship between Tipperary players and fans

Published 01/08/2016 | 02:30

Tipp manager Liam Kearns celebrates after the win over Galway and (main pic) Brian Fox with the fans
Tipp manager Liam Kearns celebrates after the win over Galway and (main pic) Brian Fox with the fans
Tipperary's Conor Sweeney celebrates after the game. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It was, truly, one of the great post-match Croke Park scenes in this new era of pitch access prohibition.

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As the Tipperary players and back room team gathered in a knot with a small core of their support at the front of the Hogan Stand, lines of people began streaming across the Davin Stand to join the acclaim.

Quickly it became a mass movement. Anyone with a hint of Tipperary blood in them was being drawn to this little pocket of the ground, now a confluence of joy and celebration.

The pitch may be off bounds to crowds since 2010 but the obstacles to interaction were easily negotiated.

This wasn't a day to stand back and admire.

A first All-Ireland semi-final, a third landmark championship win in less than two months, demanded them to be up close and personal.

Tipperary football, for so long and very much still an after-thought in so many parts of the county, has always been built on the contributions and special relationships of loyal people.

Read more: 'It is rare to see a team that has chemistry like that' - Joe Brolly lauds Tipperary heroes

You could count them in their hundreds at that moment but then, those are the odds that they have long become accustomed to. It's had to be that away under the iron-rule that hurling has enjoyed.

"There's only a small band there," reflected Liam Kearns afterwards. "We could do with a bigger band, Tipperary is a big county and I hope the players will get the support they deserve in the semi-final because they are putting in a massive effort on behalf of the county.

"But we're delighted to share it today with the ones who are here - they're the loyal supporters, they know them all by name and I'm just delighted they've got a day in the sun.

"Nobody gave us any credit for beating Cork. It was all about Cork and how could Cork lose and they have so much talent and so much behind them and they're winning All-Ireland under-21s and to lose to Tipperary is a disgrace. We got no credit at all for that win. We got a bit more for the Derry game but again, we were boxed off as part of the romance, ourselves and Clare. I told the lads that the script was written here and we were supposed to drift away after our day in the sun. But we weren't going to go with the script."

If the respect this Tipp team feel they haven't got until now is to grow it must be nurtured from within, Kearns accepted.

"That's something we'd like to see change as well. Those players deserve respect.

Respect

"But I think the county is starting to become aware of how good they are now, and performances like Cork, Derry and this performance surely will bring some respect to them - or bring the type of respect they should get and deserve."

There have been so many landmarks days for them in this decade. A Munster U-21 title in 2010, All-Ireland minor glory in 2011, an All-Ireland U-21 final last year. Now this arguably topping the lot.

Strange to say it had been almost anti-climatic at the end!

If they were to progress they might have expected a siege like Cork or a smash and grab like Derry but from early on this had the feel of a procession.

They scored three goals - it wouldn't have have been out of place if that figure was doubled.

They were that good, imperious in just about every position with the notable exception of Galway's dynamic full-forward Damien Comer.

From the moment Michael Quinlivan followed up the rebound off Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power's save from George Hannigan for their opening goal on 17 minutes they were inflated with extraordinary belief, reflected in some of the passes they tried and ultimately connected with.

Read more: Shane Long leads the joyous reaction as Tipp romp to first All-Ireland semi in 81 years

Inevitably Peter Acheson was involved in that build up, making one of his many countless territory-gaining runs through the middle to put Galway on the back foot.

At times he resembled an American football running back stepping his way through traffic. Galway just couldn't lay a hand on him.

Behind him half-backs Robbie Kiely and Bill Maher repeatedly joined the line with impeccable timing and with Brian Fox supporting in a sweeping role and Colm O'Shaughnessy eating up the ground in support the Galway half-forwards were quickly cut adrift, all three hauled ashore by the 63rd minute.

Inside Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney began to make the ball stick, despite the best efforts of Declan Kyne.

Galway were hammered on their own kick-out in the first half too, six from 15 despatched by Power snared by ravenous opponents.

The form line through Connacht will now be open to question. Mayo remain the only Connacht champions to have won an All-Ireland quarter-final in 16 years now.

Had they seen it coming?

"We just seemed to be flat. Maybe it was the three games in Connacht and a team being clapped in the back the last three times may have taken a bit of energy out of the team," suggested Kevin Walsh afterwards.

Inevitably a light will be shined on the fact Galway have now gone 11 games in 15 years in Croke Park - since the 2001 All-Ireland final - without a win.

Total

In the last four years alone Croke Park has been their graveyard, losing the last three against Kerry, Donegal and now Tipperary by a cumulative total of 26 points.

Walsh took a philosophical view of the season. "In a month's time there will be one team standing and everyone will have setbacks.

"We'll assess the year as it was rather than one match. To be fair to these guys, they've done a lot of stuff this year. We'll assess that over the next number of weeks but it's been a positive year as well - first time winning the Nestor cup in eight years and having to do it the hard way, going to Castlebar and beat Roscommon the second time. That probably took a lot out of the lads.

"Maybe playing someone that you're expected to beat, by the media and by ourselves probably, maybe the bit of extra pressure seeped into the legs today."

The evidence of an energy deficit was palpable when Acheson gathered one of their own kick-outs after the break and put Maher and Kiely away through the middle to create the opening for the first of Conor Sweeney's two goals.

Read more: History-makers Tipperary annihilate Galway to reach first All-Ireland semi since 1935

That left it 2-9 to 1-6 and with Quinlivan, operating so effectively between full-forward and midfield throughout that second half, kicking the next point, the lights went out on Galway.

Tipp surged, their conditioning and physical care under Dave Moriarty and former Munster rugby player Ian Dowling, the team's physio, really showing.

But the effect on the scoreboard was nothing like it should have been.

"I'm disappointed we didn't score more, especially in the first half," said Kearns. "And I keep coming back to it - the Tyrones, the Kerrys, the Mayos, the teams that we're left with now, they'll punish you for that and they won't let you back into it. So we've lessons to learn."

"We felt Galway were decent but had things to prove as well. People were saying the tradition of Galway was going to wipe us out in Croke Park but we didn't feel that. We felt it was two new teams."

You could never have legislated for the ease with which they did it. They seized the moment impressively, they've earned the respect their talent deserved.

Irish Independent

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