Tipp's Ciaran McDonald reveals why losing Munster final was a blessing in disguise
Tipp defender feels the absence of pressure has helped them to thrive
Losing a Munster football final to Kerry by 10 points might, in hindsight, have been one of the best things to happen this Tipperary team, their long-serving defender Ciaran McDonald has suggested.
He also predicts that they have not yet reached their potential despite wins over Cork, Derry and Galway that have lit up the championship season.
McDonald feels they were still only hitting their peak "in patches" but concedes that if they had left it behind them "you'd have to look at a lot of what we did.
"We learned so much from that loss to Kerry and, to be honest, maybe it was a good thing that we did lose in the way we did because we learned a lot in how to improve ourselves personally and team-wise," McDonald reflected.
Tipperary's advance to an All-Ireland semi-final ranks right up there with Fermanagh in 2004 and Wexford in 2008 who both reached the 'last four' against the odds.
But the with the backbone of an All-Ireland minor win in 2011 and their journey to last year's U-21 final to sustain them, their potential has always been strong.
As the county basked in their progression this far for the first time since 1935, McDonald was able to reflect on an existence as a Tipperary footballer where pressure to perform, unlike their hurling counterparts, doesn't exist.
The currency of hurling still has a far greater exchange rate in Tipperary, something likely to be reflected when they face Galway in All-Ireland minor and senior semi-finals in 12 days' time.
The absence of a large support in Croke Park for their landmark victory over the Connacht champions is not something that unduly bothers him.
"It doesn't bother me now in the slightest. All the people were there that wanted to be there so there's not much pressure on us in terms of performance. No one thinks we're going to win anyway.
"It's great not to have that pressure. The hurlers are under constant pressure. Wherever they go they're monitored, they're observed, they're well recognised. It's very difficult for them to have a normal life.
"For us, I think it's a lot easier and we're happy with our football supporters. Fair play to them for coming all the way up because they've been coming to games for the last nine years while I've been playing. It's great to get them a result as well as for us."
The opening Munster Championship game against Waterford apart, McDonald and his defensive colleagues produced their best display of the summer, conceding just 1-10 after 2-16, 3-17 and 2-17 in their three previous games.
"I think there was a few question marks over the defensive structure we had in place but I think the lads played very well today in terms of cutting out the ball coming in to us and made it easy for us. I didn't really have that much to do to be honest," he reflected.
McDonald has hailed the mental strength of the group to bounce back after their Killarney experience.
"I think we've a great resolve and there's no team around stronger than us at the moment.
"It's just a belief in each other's abilities. Marking Mikey (Quinlivan) and Conor (Sweeney), I know what they're capable of doing. There's only a few forwards in Ireland that are capable of doing what they're able to do and they proved that against Galway."
McDonald admits that the presence of Kerry in Munster has held them back somewhat in recent years.
"I suppose ultimately it's hard to be playing in your province with Kerry every year. They have been dominating the All-Ireland series for the last couple of years and I think we realise that, especially the fact that we didn't play to our potential in the Munster final.
"That bogged a lot of us down. We were lucky that we had three weeks to recover from that mentally as well as physically. We just want to get to our full potential I suppose. I think that's what we're striving to do. No matter what the match is we just want to play."
For Kearns, the progress represents a significant lift for his inter-county managerial career.
But he was quick to integrate the other strands of his management team that include Shane Stapleton, former goalkeeper Paul Fitzgerald, Tommy Toomey, the man who guided them to last year's All-Ireland U-21 title, former Munster rugby back and team physio Ian Dowling, and the strength and conditioning coach Dave Moriarty who was with Richie Bennis when Limerick reached the 2007 All-Ireland hurling final. Their hard-running midfielder Peter Acheson credits the management for getting the balance right between defence and attack.
"The manager came in and if he tried to put a defensive system in place, all-out defence like some of the northern teams, I don't know if we would enjoy it. We dropped a man back this time alright, Liam (Kearns) got his tactics spot on, the match-ups, the full-back line and the centre-back were marking certain Galway men and they cleaned them."