Thursday 20 October 2016

'We've changed mindsets in Tipperary, now we have to change results'

Midfielder Steven O'Brien calls on young guns to make the step up at senior level

Published 11/06/2015 | 02:30

Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien with his GAA/GPA Player of the Month award for May, sponsored by Opel
Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien with his GAA/GPA Player of the Month award for May, sponsored by Opel

Steven O'Brien and a handful of other Tipperary players from his age group will put their remarkable record on the line next Sunday when Kerry come to Semple Stadium for their Munster SFC clash.

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As it stands, O'Brien has never lost a championship game to Kerry.

It's an unusual record for a Tipp footballer to have, but it's also a measure of the level O'Brien and his generation have been operating at right through the underage ranks.

Senior is a different story and history will weigh heavy on them this weekend. Tipp's footballers haven't beaten Kerry since 1928 while Eamonn Fitzmaurice's side come to Thurles this weekend as reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions. The climb could hardly be much steeper.

Some time back, that might have seen Tipperary beaten before a ball was even thrown in, but the current side think differently thanks to their recent underage success.

"It's great to be part of the lads who have changed the mindset in some way," O'Brien reflected. "But it's grand changing mindsets, now you have to change results.

"That's the big thing. We have been lucky enough at underage level to overcome it results wise.

"Now it's time to start producing at senior."

Tipp seem best placed to break the duopoly that has existed in Munster since Clare broke the glass ceiling in 1992, but the question remains whether Tipp can expect to beat either Cork or Kerry at this stage of their development. For O'Brien the answer is simple. Now is as good a time as any to make the breakthrough. Waiting for things to happen is a dangerous game.

"The target is to win it whenever we win it. There's no point in saying: 'Okay, we'll wait until 2018', we'd win it every year if we could.

"We're like every team. Every team in Munster sets out at the start to win a Munster title or get to a Munster final. We're not just there in Munster to make up the semi-finals or quarter-finals - that day is long gone.

"So I don't know if we set a date or anything, we're just aiming to be contenders."

O'Brien had to deal with the agony of losing an All-Ireland U21 final to Tyrone. Along the way they played some fantastic football and saw off Dublin the in the semi-final.

The decider however was shrouded in controversy with allegations of sledging as they went down to Tyrone.

But O'Brien believes they will learn from the experience.

"You have to learn something from every game, and every man, woman and child in Tipperary realised that this is what teams are going to do.

"You have to be able to take it as well at the same time.

"Definitely as a group we've learned a lot- just be aware of it but not get distracted by it. I think that's what can happen teams who have basically been sledged - they get frustrated.

"But now that we know it's going to happen, mentally we're prepared for it I suppose and it's just don't let it affect us.

"We've refocused now again, we don't have any massive heads from it (the All-Ireland final) or anything. Everyone's focused and it's easy to be focused when the All-Ireland champions are coming to Thurles."

In the meantime, they'll continue to fight for the hearts and minds of GAA people in the county. That All-Ireland final defeat was a signal that people were starting to take notice of the progress being made in the big ball game.

"Hurling is number one and for the moment football is still second string but we are starting to turn a few heads," said the Ballina man.

"It's amazing what success can do. That day in Parnell Park the amount of Tipp supporters there was incredible and you really did feel like the whole county was behind you which was incredible. It was something I hadn't experienced in a Tipp football jersey since I started playing and it was great to finally see it.

"Hopefully people will start getting behind us but it's up to us. We have to produce the performances to make them come."

Irish Independent

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