Forde eyes bright horizons as star continues to soar
JASON FORDE reckons their seven-point Munster U-21HC final victory over Limerick will have no influence on Sunday's senior championship quarter-final – but Tipperary hurling fans are hoping he is wrong.
Last Friday's U-21 win was exactly the dress rehearsal Tipp were looking for ahead of the clash between their respective senior sides – and it says a lot about the experience amassed by Eamon O'Shea's seniors that Forde is the only one of Tipp's U-21s likely to start Sunday's showdown.
His contribution in last week's Thurles game (he scored 1-8, which included four frees and a penalty which he blazed over the bar) indicates the sort of form he is in.
Last month TG4 named him man of the match in Tipperary's league semi-final drubbing of Dublin, when his 0-4 included one of his trademark sideline cuts.
Not bad considering the teenager doesn't turn 20 until December and will be eligible for Tipp's U-21s again next year. A first-year business student at the University of Limerick, he broke into the county seniors this season and is already tipped for big things.
His exemplary form with intermediate club Silvermines helped accelerate his senior call-up.
"It probably didn't do harm anyway," he agrees. "We won our first county title in 14 years and then won the Munster intermediate title, which was fantastic, because the club is where it all starts really.
"It gave me that extra platform to be still playing when other clubs had stopped, so I suppose it had to help."
Tipperary's new senior management doubtless already had their eye on him as Forde is a former county minor captain, who also won an All-Ireland Colleges (Croke Cup) medal with Nenagh CBS last year.
O'Shea phoned him up last December and once the club was beaten by Kilkenny side Clara (led by Brian Hogan's younger brother Keith) in a thrilling extra-time All-Ireland semi-final in late January, he was free to join Tipp's senior panel.
Forde was, he admits, a little intimidated by walking into a dressing-room that contained so many of his heroes.
"I would have looked up to all the lads who played in those (recent) All-Ireland finals. They were competing with the best and that was great.
"They were idols for so long and now they're team-mates. That's something you have to adjust to, to see them as your equals more so than anything else."
The 19-year-old has also had to quickly adjust to the demands at the top level.
"It is fairly full-on with the seniors," he remarks. "You start back earlier in the year and have gym programmes. There's a lot more to it than the U-21s and then there's the physical strength and the pace of the game itself – you're constantly pushing yourself.
"You'd see it in the size of guys straight away, they're a lot bigger than U-21s because they've a few seasons of conditioning under them. Conditioning is something that's really come into hurling a lot more in the last few years."
His league debut was certainly an inauspicious one, called off the bench during Tipperary's 12-point defeat by Cork in the opening round.
"I think we just played poorly on the night, things started to get away from us," he suggests.
"It was just about getting to know each other again and, in the first round, things like that can happen. As the games went on we settled into it more."
A wing-forward for Silvermines, he says he had no problems adjusting to the rotating forward line that is now commonplace at senior inter-county level.
"If you're just standing in your own space you're an easy target for a backline. A backline doesn't like a lad who's going to be moving around, but I think a lot of it is a natural movement anyway, even in club games."
Forde replaced Seamus Callanan after 56 minutes of their league final loss which saw four of Tipp's starting forwards replaced and Kilkenny hold them scoreless – but he insists the reaction locally was far from negative.
"Three points was far from a hammering," he reflects. "Goals win games and we just failed to get one that day, but it was a very close game and we wouldn't be overly disappointed with it in the end."