Michael Quinlivan: 'Getting out of Division Three was our aim'
By Cian O’Connell
Reflecting on a breathless Sunday afternoon at the Athletic Grounds Michael Quinlivan smiles while attempting to make sense of it all. Quinlivan completed his hat-trick with a dramatic injury time winning goal securing Tipperary promotion and a spot in Saturday’s Allianz Football League Division Three decider.
“Going up to Armagh, while it wasn't an ideal scenario to have lost two games and to still have a chance to gain promotion it was all to play for,” Quinlivan says.
“Other people mightn't have seen it that way with the defeat against Louth seen as the final nail in the coffin, but we never believed that we were out of it.
“Then it was daylight robbery up above, but I suppose you create your own luck too. If you are on top, and Armagh were on top you kind of need to put us away. We were still in the game, two wonder scores bring us back into contention and the goal just happens. Suddenly the final whistle is blown, we led for what? Six seconds maybe.”
Tipperary were ahead when it mattered most of all and having reached the All Ireland SFC Semi-Final in 2016 the blue and gold brigade were especially eager to make an impact in the League.
"Definitely, the first thing on our agenda was to try to get out of Division Three,” Quinlivan admits. “We played there for a few years and should have went up the first year. I would say that we left that one behind us, to keep the trajectory of where we are going we do need to be playing in Division Two as do a lot of the teams, who are still playing in Division Three next year.
"I can never remember a time when I was going out in a game with Tipperary not expecting to win."
“It was fantastic the way it happened, obviously we wouldn't have thought it was going to happen in them circumstances. We are delighted to be looking forward to playing in Croke Park and to be playing for a piece of silverware. That is great as well.”
Defeats at Semple Stadium against Sligo and Louth might have upset another team, but Liam Kearns’ outfit continue to develop. “We were in very indifferent form for the whole of the League,” is Quinlivan’s assessment.
“The thing is that is nothing new for Tipp, we have been like that for four or five years. Maybe there is just more of a spotlight on us this year.
“People were expecting us to win all of our games and stuff like that when there are very good teams in Division Three who we have played against year in, year out. Teams we have always struggled against to come away with victories. We had a bad day against Louth, definitely, we have no qualms, they came down and were much the better team.”
Though Tipperary now have a heavy burden of expectancy attached All Star forward Quinlivan isn’t overly concerned about that. “We are preparing for the games the exact same way that we did last year. I can never remember a time when I was going out in a game with Tipperary not expecting to win.
“That is just the mentality we have had for the last few years. Maybe there is a small bit of expectation within our own county about where we are at, but our supporters are pretty level headed.
“I don't think anyone is getting ahead of themselves just yet. We know we still have a long way to go before we can get back to the heights we were at last year. It is going to be very difficult, we have been enjoying ourselves so far.”
Back in 2010 Tipperary when John Evans was in charge, following two promotions, operated in Division Two. How vital is it for the Premier County not to slip down the Divisions again? “Tipp played Down in a Division Three League Final and beat them after extra-time,” Quinlivan recalls.
“They were wicked unlucky when they were in Division Two that year as well, it would have been a couple of years before I joined the panel. They had a couple of one point losses, they maybe didn't have the experience to close out those games and ended up going down after winning five points, which in a lot of situations would keep you up.
“Then the problem was we fell back down to Division Four the following year, and we were in the doldrums then for a couple of years before we came back up.
“Sometimes when you are getting promotions and things like that you are as well off to solidfy first before you start thinking about pushing on and winning. We have played in Division Three for three years so you get used to that level.”
"We wouldn't hold any fear playing against anyone now."
Enthused by how Division Two status was attained Quinlivan simply wants Tipperary to reach another Munster SFC Final. “When we sat down at the start of the year - we had two rough aims,” Quinlivan explains.
“Obviously to get out of Division Three which we have done and we want to get back to a Munster Final. We didn't perform there last year, that was a bugbear of ours. As good a year as we had last year on our biggest day arguably apart from the All Ireland Semi-Final we let ourselves down.
“We went away from what we are about really, that maybe where we want to get back to this year. Obviously we will face a tough test against whoever comes through a Quarter-Final in Munster.
“I don't think we can be getting ahead of ourselves by setting targets that maybe the likes of a Kerry, Dublin or Mayo can be setting to get to an All Ireland Semi-Finals year in, year out.
“There has only been a bolter three out of the last 15 years. Maybe if we could do it again it would be great, but getting to a Munster Final is a more realistic proposition.”
The 2016 Champoinship brought successes over Cork, Derry, and Galway supplying evidence of Tipp’s emergence as a respected team. “We wouldn't hold any fear playing against anyone now,” Quinlivan says. “That is crucial. You see how good Galway were this year, we take confidence from playing against Cork.
“We played three away games in the League this year - Armagh, Laois, and Offaly and won all three, that brings huge confidence going to Pairc Ui Rinn or Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Obviously when you are going away from home it makes it that little bit more difficult.”
With Quinlivan in attack there will always be possibilities for Tipperary.