Tipp footballers in touching distance of history
By John Harrington
Two tough matches await, but the Tipperary footballers are within touching distance of history.
Their 14-point destruction of Louth in Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 2 match means promotion to Division One is now in their own hands.
For a county that played its football in Division 4 as recently as 2014, that would be a truly remarkable achievement.
If they can beat Down in their penultimate match of the campaign this Sunday, then another win in their final match of the campaign against current table-toppers Cavan will guarantee promotion.
Keep playing like they did against Louth on Sunday and you wouldn’t bet against them, but manager Liam Kearns knows two trips to Ulster in quick succession is a very tricky mission.
“I haven’t played them (Down) in my time, but it’s up in Newry, they will be very hard to beat up there,” said Kearns.
“We wouldn’t even consider promotion at this stage. We have got to go up north twice in seven days.
“Cavan are top of the table. Down are the most unluckiest team not to be on eight points.
“They should have beaten Cavan last night, they should have beaten Clare the last day. We have two good tests and that will be great for the championship.”
Some of Tipperary’s attacking play in the first 15 minutes of the match against Louth when they scored 2-7 with just a single point in reply was a joy to behold.
Their twin towers in attack, Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney, were once again to the fore.
But Liam McGrath also continued his run of good form this year and finished the match with four points to his name.
The 2011 All-Ireland minor winning captain looks like he’s really starting to really deliver on his potential, but Kearns is a hard task-master and is still demanding more from the Loughmore-Castleiney club-man.
“Liam kicked four good points from play but he also kicked a couple of right stupid kicks which talked about half time,” said Kearns.
“Get rid of the stupid kicks and we’ll be happy enough.”
Prodigal son Steven O’Brien is now starting to really hit his straps on returning to the fold after a two-year stint with the county hurlers.
He and Liam Casey completed dominated the middle third of the field against Louth and are developing into a powerful double-act in the Tipp engine-room.
“They’re a good midfield partnership,” said Kearns. “They’re mobile, they’re big, they’re strong in the air.
“They’re everything you want from midfielders. Both of them are improving so there’s more to come from them.”
Ciaran McDonald’s injury-forced retirement last year was a blow for Tipperary because he was a quality defender and one of the real leaders of the team.
But the sting of his departure has been salved somewhat by the performances so far this year of John Meagher at full-back.
Another former member of the Tipperary senior hurling panel, his expected progression through the ranks in that code was stalled by a series of injuries.
It looks like he’s finally put those behind him, because he’s been very solid so far this year at full-back in a Tipperary defence that’s going from strength to strength.
“John is playing well,” said Kearns. “I am delighted with him. He is doing a lot of things right. He is improving all of the time. But a lot of them are.
“There is a lot of guys who have gelled in. It is a bit annoying to hear people talking about Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan as if that’s all there is to our team.
“But there is a lot more to our team than that and our boys will continue to prove that.
“We’ve been getting a lot of stick with the amount we concede. We only conceded eleven against Clare, eleven against Meath and now we’ve conceded nine against Louth so I think our defenders are doing really well.”
Tipperary’s progress to the 2016 All-Ireland Football semi-final was the fairy-tale story of that summer’s Championship.
Were they to seal promotion to the top flight of the Allianz Football League it would just confirm what that championship run vividly illustrated – they’re a team of serious quality.
But are they ready to mix it with the cream of the crop in Division One and hold their own? Liam Kearns isn’t so sure.
“No, not yet, I don’t think so”, he said. “We have still more work to do. The loss against Roscommon was one. Our performance against Clare was another. We have work to do.
“We are progressing all of the time. But Kildare are a good team and they are under massive pressure in Division 1 and that is the reality of it.
“But it’s up to the players now. We have got two games and if they win the two games we will be going to Division 1 so we will wait and see.”