Thursday 25 May 2017

Power confident Tipp's 'big-ball' movement can deliver All-Ireland triumph

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

PEOPLE may be salivating at the prospect of another heavyweight hurling clash between Tipperary and Kilkenny, but it isn't just the small-ball game that is thriving in the Premier County these days.

Tipp became Munster U-21 football champions last year after contesting four finals in a row, and their minor footballers were also provincial champions this season after contesting four of the previous six finals.

Anyone who doesn't believe that their young footballers are in tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final against Roscommon on merit need only look at their record.

In Munster they beat the 'big three' -- Limerick, Kerry and Cork in that order -- and then they defeated Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

They needed a late Liam McGrath clincher to squeeze past the Kingdom, but that win included a phenomenal 11-point comeback, and their Munster final victory over Cork (3-11 to 1-9) was particularly emphatic.

Tipp also won Munster U-15, U-16 and U-17 football titles last year and, this year, beat Kerry to win the U-14 tournament for the first time.

The Premier County's burgeoning love affair with football has a similar feel to Dublin's now fully-fledged hurling revolution.

They also have the 'Friends of Tipperary Football' supporters' club that raises approximately €60,000 a year for the cause.

Passionate Kerryman John Evans has received plenty of plaudits for the county's recent U-21 and senior successes and he is in the back-room team again tomorrow, but Tipp's football movement is far from a one-man show. "John is an inspirational figure, but loads of work is also being done at grass-roots level," says Tipperary minor manager David Power.

"The kind of success and consistency we're having couldn't just be done by one person."

Hugh Coghlan, PRO of their football supporters' club and father of Hugh, who plays for the county seniors, quickly lists off the foundation stones that are already well embedded.

Denis Maher is employed as the county's games manager and oversees four regional development officers. Two of them -- Johnny Cummins (father of hurling goalkeeper Brendan) and Kevin Halley -- have a special interest in football.

And there are many other football men who have kept the flame lit, unsung heroes like Joe Hannigan (north division), Tom Fitzgerald (west) and Pat Halley (south).

North Tipp remains a big hurling stronghold, but it hasn't gone unnoticed that Toomevara won their first 'North' U-16 football title this year.

"What really kickstarted it was when our seniors went from Division 4 to 2 in a few years," Coghlan notes. "That created real interest in football among young players.

"When we were in Division 4 we used to have only about 20 for the county development squad, but by the time we were in Division 2 that had swelled to 80."

This year's Munster minor title was Tipp's first since 1995, when their U-18s included a future legend called Declan Browne.

Browne, a talented hurler also, unusually put football first when it came to his senior career and there are now growing numbers of young Tipp dual stars who may follow his footsteps.

Tomorrow's starters include six 'dual' minors. Star forward McGrath scored 0-26 (0-21f, 0-2 '65s') in this year's Munster minor hurling championship. His first cousin John (brother of senior hurling star Noel), John Meagher, Bill Maher, Seamus Kennedy and Dylan Fitzelle are also talented hurlers so, as with Dublin, the issue of managing their dual talents will have to be resolved when they reach senior level.

But that's a happy problem for another day as Tipp bid to reach their first All-Ireland football final since 1984.

"This year's success has been a long time coming," says Power, who has managed their minors since 2009.

"Massive work has been done, but there is still a lot more to do. The county board has been extremely supportive, especially since Barry O'Brien became chairman.

"When he was elected he said Tipperary's aim should be to win a football All-Ireland by 2020. A lot of people laughed at that, but I honestly think that is a realistic goal."

Irish Independent

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