Brian Fox relishing Tipperary revival
By Cian O'Connell
Six and a half years later a gripping Sigerson Cup game in Clontarf lingers in the memory. At the time UL’s victory over DIT was viewed as a shock, but upon reflection the abundance of talent in both panels ran deep.
Two Tipperary men Brian Fox and Philip Austin were key figures for UL, who were trained by former Kerry goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe, who was part of the Roscommon backroom team at Pearse Stadium last Sunday.
Fox chipped a delightful and decisive goal with nine minutes remaining in that encounter and laughs when reminded about that particular contest. “I did get a goal, that was my transformation to wing forward, we qualified for the Sigerson weekend, they had Diarmuid Connolly, Aidan O’Shea and a few more."
That was most certainly the case. DIT’s star studded panel included Colin Walsh and Darren Hughes (Monaghan), Gareth Bradshaw (Galway), Kevin McLoughlin (Mayo), Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan), Graham Guilfoyle and Bernard Allen (Offaly), Aidan O'Shea and Tom Cunniffe (Mayo), Diarmuid Connolly and Ciaran Reddin (Dublin), Martin Reilly (Cavan), Kieran Martin (Westmeath).
In the UL corner Brian Brian Scanlon (Limerick), Seamus Hickey (Limerick hurler), Fionn Fitzgerald, Anthony Maher, David Moran, Michael Geaney (Kerry), David Niblock (Cork), Philip Austin and Brian Fox (Tipperary).
Fox and Austin proved that they belonged in such illustrious company and they have continued to do so in Tipperary colours.
“It is a strange one, the Sigerson competition when I was playing in it seven or eight years ago there would only be the very odd Tipp lad on any of the panels,” Fox, the versatile and consistent Tipperary captain, admits.
“They weren't guaranteed starters or anything like that, but I think it is more to do with the fact that they were recognised footballers with the county at underage and Tipp were having success. Then they made it on to Sigerson squads after that because people realised what they could do.
“I don't want to be slating any of the colleges, but some colleges would have maybe thought they are only Tipp footballers a few years ago, but now they wouldn't think like that. Before they'd have a notion that Tipperary lads couldn't play football.”
Dealing with tricky tasks is part and parcel of being a Tipperary footballer. Fox has graced the blue and gold jersey for a decade, dealing with problems and promise.
The past couple of years, though, have brought renewed hope and energy, something is really stirring in Tipperary. Remaining relevant is the current mission, that can only be truly be achieved by continuing to deliver wins, especially in Championship fare.
In the Qualifiers challenges can arrive thick and fast. Last weekend’s drama laced comeback triumph over Cavan confirmed the desire of the Tipperary panel, but Armagh are next on the agenda this Saturday.
Reaching the last 12 in the All Ireland race is quite a significant carrot. “Yeah, it is a huge prize to get through to the next round after such a hard earned victory against Cavan,” Fox acknowledges. “The prize is massive now taking on Armagh.”
That Cavan triumph included a couple of crucial cameos from Philip Austin and Michael Quinlivan, who were summoned from the bench following recent injuries. Tipp trailed by six at the break, but they had the resolve and resources to recover.
"We weren't happy with what we did in the first half,” Fox says. “A few things didn't work for us. We sat down in the dressing room and said we needed to change things.
“Philly Austin came on and was unreal from the very start of the second half, even Dee Foley came on towards the end of the first half to make a big contribution. Michael came on, he kicked a score, you need fellas to contribute like that when they are coming off the bench.”
Having reached the All Ireland Semi-Final in 2016 and earned Allianz Football League Division Three glory in the spring, Fox is adamant that progress is being made.
“There are a few things to it really; yeah, it is nice to get promoted, but Championship is where you want to be doing your main business,” Fox remarks.
“I suppose because we did so well last year we were training together for longer. Stuff like that helped when you came back you hadn't lost your fitness as much and you hadn't been out of contact with some of the lads for as long. When we came back it was that bit easier.
“If we had finished up there last weekend it would be a huge break, it would be a very long period of time before we'd meet collectively again as a team. That wouldn't be ideal going into next year really, especially going into Division Two.”
It is also why Tipperary’s tussle with Armagh is loaded with significance. Fox highlights the vital work Tipperary carried out in the underage ranks as the chief reason why the senior team is a healthy state currently.
“There is no secret about the fact that we have had a lot of underage success,” Fox comments. “When I was minor or Under 21 we were getting to Munster Finals, but we weren't winning them.
“In the years after they started winning them which was a huge thing, it should they were capable and that we were producing players of real quality. They are starting to progress through, to make their name on the team. I've never played Division Two really because I was injured at the time so it will be a big step up, it will be a new experience, and I'm looking forward to it.”
Fox speaks favourably about the impact of former boss Peter Creedon and current manager Liam Kearns, who have helped to ensure Tipperary are now a widely respected outfit.
The inter-county game has changed during his decade of service with Tipperary according to Fox. “Yeah, I definitely think so,” he replies.
“I started my career off playing wing back and I went to corner back for a while, I went up to wing forward, I even had a spell in as a corner forward. In general everyone has to be able to be versatile. You see Robbie Kiely popping up in the forwards scoring, you see Conor Sweeney coming back defending at times.
“It doesn't matter what position you are on the pitch, you have to be able to adjust to what is going on in the game. Your workrate and tactical work is a lot more.”
There will be always be a place for skill, but speed, strength and stamina matter deeply now. “That is probably the biggest difference, the levels of fitness and strength and conditioning,” Fox says. “That has changed the most in my 10 years.
“It was definitely coming in when I started, but it is really here in a powerful way and the fitness element of it. You are running ridiculous amounts to get on the ball, to get forward, to get back in one strand of play.
“It isn't just numbers five to 12 anymore it is a corner back being up in the full forward line, it is corner forward tracking their man all the way back so that he doesn't score.”
Still willing to adapt and learn Fox’s sterling service to the Tipperary cause is worthy of the utmost praise and respect.