Thursday 18 January 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Tipp footballers are born fighting the odds - and that might be their greatest strength

'Poor relation' status gives Premier extra drive - but their best hope is Mayo's tendency to get carried away with themselves

Tipperary's Conor Sweeney celebrates with manager Liam Kearns and (left) Sweeney with Michael Quinlivan
Tipperary's Conor Sweeney celebrates with manager Liam Kearns and (left) Sweeney with Michael Quinlivan

Tomás Ó Sé

Let's be straight about it, Tipperary are the cuckoo in the nest here. They are well off the other three teams left standing at this stage in terms of the quality of player they have.

They are the outsiders. The ones who don't belong. And that might just be their best asset.

We had it with An Ghaeltacht. We were a small parish on the edge of everything. The edge of Ireland and the edge of Kerry. We were different. Right down to the language we spoke.

From the moment we left the house, we felt we were fighting. Dingle is only a couple of miles up the road but we felt different to them even. They had a handful of county championships from the 1960s and they had Paddy Bawn Brosnan.

We had Páidí but for all of my childhood we weren't an entity of any real significance in Kerry club football circles. At least not as far as the big fish were concerned.

So when we pulled together a really good team around the turn of the millennium, we traded on that feeling of isolation. We'd never won a Kerry senior championship but we'd go to places like Dr Crokes and Stacks and you'd be chewing at the hinges of the door to get out and get a rap at them and redress the balance.

Tipp are similar. Jesus, when those lads step out their doors in the morning, they are reminded they are the poor relation in their own county. They are in hurling country. There's fellas who won't play for them.

But they manage to keep going. I'm told that centre-forward Kevin O'Halloran's club hasn't had an adult football team for the last few years. Portroe isn't a footballing outpost - it isn't even mapped.

It just goes to show that the Tipp footballers are swimming against what should be an overwhelming tide.

When you're born into those sort circumstances, it tends to shape you. It gives you a steel and a defiance. And I've seen that in the Tipp lads this summer.

Tipp manager Liam Kearns Picture: Sportsfile
Tipp manager Liam Kearns Picture: Sportsfile

Billy Morgan confirmed as much to me the other day. We were talking about their progress and we got on to Peter Acheson. For me he's been the outstanding midfielder in the country this year.

Billy told me he was mad - in the good way. Try as he might, he only got Acheson out to play Sigerson with UCC for just one of the four years he was in college.

But when he did come out he said there was no end to him. He didn't understand losing, never knew when he was beaten. Exactly the sort of character you'd want in these situations.

I love watching Conor Sweeney. Michael Quinlivan is another star. And if themselves and Clare hadn't gone on their runs, Jesus we'd have had almost nothing else to talk about from a largely tepid championship. Of course, Kerryman Liam Kearns comes out of this with plenty of credit. His boys will be ready to take advantage if Mayo start indulging themselves.

I had one interaction with him as a player, when he was in charge of Munster in the Railway Cup.

I'd love to tell you that I knew he was made of the right stuff there and then but to be honest myself, Mike McCarthy, Aodán MacGearailt and Marc ended up in a nightclub somewhere up the country before that game. So he didn't leave a mark on me, but that was more my fault than his.

People will ask why he hasn't really been in the running in terms of the Kerry job. His name probably will be in the hat the next time it comes up, and there's no denying he has carved out a good reputation for himself in a variety of places.

But I suppose Kerry people put more stock in what fellas have done inside the county rather than outside. And there's a tradition of appointing from within.

One thing I can say about Liam is I know his teams are teak-tough. The Limerick lads that he pulled together were made of pure iron. That group were more than good enough to win a Munster. And they came mighty close to turning us over, when we felt we had a really good team.

But look, you'd have to say Kearns' Tipp side are out of their depth here. If Mayo match their hunger, I don't think they have much else. Effectively, the direction of this game rests on Mayo's attitude to the thing.

Read More: Tipperary underdogs aim to keep double dream alive

Now in Kerry I always thought we were very good at giving the teams the respect they deserved. We'd do our homework exactly the same no matter who it was we were playing. And because of that, we didn't lose too many games we were expected to win.

That was driven by a genuine fear of being the Kerry team that lost to this minnow or the other.

That still follows the boys of '92 around a little bit after they lost to Clare. So we always prepared well as a team.

But honestly I think it came down to the individual. When our fellas got a hosing of some unknown fella, there'd be lads laughing at them in the dressing-room afterwards.

And at that stage trying to make the point to those boys that such and such was actually a good footballer held no water. You were the laughing stock on the bus on the way home.

Now you can say that's typical Kerry arrogance. But it served a purpose. No-one wanted to be the lad who got a dusting in a game we won comfortably. That fear taught you to respect everyone.

Now Mayo should win, and win with a bit to spare. But there's a feeling around this Mayo side that they are more inclined to get carried away with themselves more than any of the other serious contenders. Which is ironic considering they haven't gotten over the line.

They are the better team but you'd be hoping to Jesus that Stephen Rochford got them into a room after the Tyrone game and tell them that win doesn't mean a f***ing thing.

They need to treat that win over Tyrone - and this game with Tipp - as simply a step on the road rather than some sort of confirmation of their own excellence.

Because I'm not sure if Mayo are learning the lessons they should from playing football at this time of the year. This is the serious stuff now.They need to go out and knock the hope out of Tipp in the first 20 minutes, because the longer they stay in it, the more dangerous they will become.

Kerry did that to them early on in the Munster final. They choked the life out of them around the middle and Tipp went away.

Now you can say they have a thing about playing Kerry that they wouldn't have against, say, Galway.

But that performance from Tipp in the Munster final disappointed me and it colours my thinking greatly in terms of tomorrow's game.

Look, fair play to Tipperary, they have been brilliant since the Kerry game. But I don't think they have progressed so much that they should be in an All-Ireland semi-final.

It's over to Mayo really. This thing could open up nicely for them yet.

Irish Independent

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