Saturday 18 November 2017

Kearns in challenge to Tipp to make Munster finals a habit

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Liam Kearns. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Liam Kearns has urged Tipperary's footballers to make Munster senior football final appearances a habit after their shock semi-final win over Cork on Sunday.

Kearns has praised the work of the Tipperary medical team, headed by physio and former Munster rugby player Ian Dowling, for getting so many key players back to fitness after a difficult run of injuries.

But beyond this season, which gives them a first Munster final appearance since 2002, Kearns has challenged Tipperary GAA to make it a regular fixture on the calendar.

Without 11 players who were among the 21 used in their opening championship game of 2015, Tipperary pulled off a remarkable success over Division 1 opposition, the only time a team from a lower division of the 2016 league has toppled a team above them in this championship.

But Kearns believes the achievement is enhanced more by the manner in which they were able to negotiate Cork with such interrupted preparations.

"We didn't despair, we kept a cool head throughout," said Kearns of their injury crisis.

"There were times when we thought we were never going to get the players we needed on the field but we knew if we did we were going to have the nucleus of a good team still, despite all the losses.

"Ian Dowling and the medical team did a great job. Ian has done a great job, he has been very well tested and has had every kind on an injury to deal with. In fairness, every one of the panel were togged and available to play.

"Kevin O'Halloran didn't play any of the league and got back, George Hannigan only played two 30 minutes in the league. Ian Fahey had an operation on his cartilage and only came back two weeks ago.

"Robbie Kiely had a hamstring and didn't come back for five weeks. He did one hamstring and then did the other in a challenge against Dublin. He had very, very little done. Conor Sweeney did his hip flexor in a challenge against Clare. He wasn't ready for Waterford so we just got him back. We had to get them all back to have a chance and we did, just about."

Among the absentees were Colin O'Riordan, now an AFL player with Sydney Swans, and Seamus Kennedy and Stephen O'Brien who switched to the hurling team, robbing Kearns of three of their most promising players.

That they were able to cope without them speaks volumes of the underage system that is throwing up so many good players in Tipperary, Kearns feels.

"The underage system is very good and they are producing players. In fairness to the younger players on Sunday, they were all outstanding. Colm O'Shaughnessy, Jimmy Feehan and Josh Keane, until he picked up a black card.

"It's very rare that players step up and be as good at senior so quickly."

Kearns hopes the result will instil further belief that Tipperary football can really soar over the next few years and wondered aloud about the appetising prospect of their strongest team taking the field one day.

"Whatever about supporters I hope all the players will buy in and see that there is plenty there because there is a panel of players that are still to come back in and it would make for very interesting times if we could get every available footballer in Tipperary to be part of this squad.

"That would make for serious competition and would only improve us. You would love to find out where you could go if you had them all available."

The repetition of Munster finals is of paramount importance, he stressed.

"You have to keep coming back to a Munster final. It can't be a case that they won't be in a Munster final for another 14 years. None of the players have played in one. It's important that they come back again quickly."

The win has earned Tipperary a place in next year's Munster semi-finals with no guarantee that they will be playing Cork because the draw in the province is open. "I don't think anyone has a problem with the draw as it is," noted Kearns. "Beat one of the big two and you get your reward."

Because of the home and away arrangement between Kerry and Tipperary, the final will be in Fitzgerald Stadium where Kearns took Limerick teams in 2003 and 2004 (replay) for Munster finals against his native county.

Meanwhile, Kearns was celebrating on the double as his daughter Rachael gave birth to a baby girl Roisin, his first grandchild.

He got the text from his Rachael confirming the news just a couple of hours before what is arguably his greatest managerial triumph, even outstripping the 10-point win that Limerick enjoyed over Cork in 2003.

"I knew about 1.30, walking into Semple Stadium when she sent me the text.

"'Congratulations Granddad, you've got a beautiful granddaughter, Roisin, and she's perfect. All you have to do now is go and beat Cork. She'll be your lucky charm'.

"They're both well and perfect, that's the most important thing."

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