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'We're not coming into it off a loss. Momentum is with us' - Mayo facing a very different Tipp this time

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Tipperary’s Brian Fox at the All-Ireland SFC launch in the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary. Photo: Sportsfile

Tipperary’s Brian Fox at the All-Ireland SFC launch in the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary. Photo: Sportsfile

Tipperary’s Brian Fox at the All-Ireland SFC launch in the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Fox can smile now about 2019 but only because his and Tipperary's fortunes have turned so sharply and - more to the point - because it's over.

A first Munster title for Tipp since 1935 in Fox's 13th season has cast all that came before it in a different light. But for posterity, and to quantify scale of their achievement this year, he immerses himself once more in the darkness before Tipperary's dawn.

It's arguable whether any county team has had two more starkly juxtaposed consecutive seasons than the Tipperary footballers these past two years. Last year, they were relegated, finishing bottom of Division 2, and lost to Limerick in Munster.

Glimpse

Historically, there's no drama in Tipperary losing to Limerick. But for this bunch, the Tipperary men who had contested an All-Ireland semi-final in 2016, some of whom had won a minor All-Ireland (2011) and contested an U-21 decider (2015), Limerick were the sort of opposition they were only supposed to catch a glimpse of through their rear-view mirror.

"Then," Fox recalls, "we lost to Down and you were just like, 'God, what's after happening?'

In just three years, it seemed, Tipp had unravelled. A self-fulfilled prophecy. From All-Ireland semi-finalists back to Division 3, tumbling seemingly further from Munster's Big Two than at any stage in the previous decade.

Back in the heady days of '16, Tipperary were a sort of novelty act in the All-Ireland semi-finals, tourists among the regulars, the hurling county that had produced a flash in the football pan.

If their underage efforts suggested they wouldn't simply go the way of Wexford (2008) and Fermanagh (2004) and disappear completely from view after a shock semi-final appearance, few expected them back on such an illustrious stage so soon.

And certainly not after last year.

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"To us, being in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2016 was something we had potential to do, to be there," Fox maintains.

Yet the subsequent years have been sufficiently lean to categorise Tipp's appearance in that semi-final as a freak.

In 2017, they were promoted from Division 3. In '18, they were one result away from making the quantum leap to the league's top flight, losing to Cavan in a straight do-or-die game which they played half of with 14 men.

"Last year was a very tough year," Fox recalls now. "I wouldn't say we were going backwards but we just couldn't get the results we wanted.

"Everything we were trying to do seemed to go wrong."

And it seemed for all the world as though the green shoots of minor and U-21 success were beginning to die on the vine.

"It's not that underage success directly translates to senior success but, definitely, we realise the calibre of players we've had," Fox notes.

"To win a minor All-Ireland in 2011 and being in an U-21 All-Ireland in 2015, for a county of Tipperary's standing in football in the country, is huge - because you have to beat the best to get there.

"It's a mental thing to get over, that these (other) counties are always at the top table. So we do draw on that.

"The fact that Davy (Power) has been involved with those teams, when we won the minor in 2011, he does draw on the fact that we are competing."

It's only two years since Tipp last faced Mayo in the championship but as Fox outlines, the circumstances of this Sunday's meeting are world removed.

"Confidence was low that time," he notes, "Cork had beaten us to a pulp. The qualifiers is all about momentum as well.

Exposed

"Sometimes you feel that if you can get a team who are around your own ability or your own standing in the league for example, that you have a good chance and can build momentum then.

"We were getting a Division 1 team in Mayo and we were trying to build momentum and to turn things around after our game-plan was so badly exposed by Cork. At that time, I was there saying, 'Oh God.'

"Having said that, we really did show up against Mayo and caused them a lot of problems for 55 minutes so I suppose two years later, you are looking at it differently.

"We're not coming into it off a loss, we're coming into it after a huge win against Cork. Momentum is with us. We're after winning five competitive matches on the bounce and we have lads playing great stuff.

"We have Michael (Quinlivan) and we have Colin (O'Riordan). That confidence in the county does drive you on."


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