Colin O'Riordan's dreams come true
By John Harrington
When destiny came knocking, Colin O'Riordan grabbed it with both hands.
Winning a Munster senior title had been a dream since boyhood, which is why he picked up the phone to his employers Sydney Swans and made it clear why it would mean so much to him if they would give him that opportunity.
The rest is now newly minted history. O'Riordan was one of Tipperary's heroes in Sunday's Munster SFC Final victory over Cork, and he'll be forever grateful to Sydney Swans for making that possible.
It's strange how things something work out, because O'Riordan admits it never even crossed his mind a few months ago that he might have the opportunity to play in a Munster Final. Back then he didn’t even know for sure if he’d be able to come home to Ireland during the AFL’s off-season.
When he did land in Ireland he joined up with the Tipperary footballers to maintain his fitness, but then the thought that he might be able to contribute in a real way to the cause began to solidify.
“To be honest with you, it was the Munster final to me that was the big one,” he says.
“Obviously you want to be there with the lads and all that, but at the same time you grew up playing with Tipp and you realise the year that’s in it with Bloody Sunday and that, and you want to be part of it, that’s the biggest thing.
“When David came to me and asked ‘what are the chances?’ I said I’d ask and give it a go. They came back to me and said ‘look, we have no objection to you playing in the Munster final,’ and to me that is something I will be forever grateful for.
“I suppose that’s the dream of every kid when you’re starting off playing football at underage - to be there on the big occasion,
“I can’t have anything but good things to say about Sydney. They gave me the opportunity to play here and gave me my chance to make my dreams come true and for that I’ll be forever grateful to them.”
Tipperary were very much the underdogs against a Cork team that had taken out Kerry in the Munster semi-final, but as soon as O’Riordan arrived in Páirc Úi Chaoimh he had a strong feeling he and his team-mates were going to come out on top.
“Yeah, sometimes you come into a dressing-room and feel there is a collectiveness in there,” he says.
“To be honest with you, I was driving down in the car and I was just thinking to myself coming down, you are playing a Munster final in November, so first of all it’s a different year, but then you go into the dressing-room and you feel the buzz.
“It might sound weird to some people who haven’t experienced it, but sometimes you just walk in and just feel, ‘you know what today is going to be a good day.’ I just walked in there full of confidence and I think the other boys walked in full of confidence.
“At the end of the day that’s what got us over the line. We have had stepping stones in Tipp football from under-14 level obviously up to the 2011 minor team, 2015 Under-21 team, and now this is just another stepping block and we’re going in the right direction. But you know some days you just walk into a dressing-room and you feel ‘this is a special group’ and that’s what it felt like.”
O’Riordan was welcomed back into the fold with open arms and at no stage did he feel uncomfortable about parachuting into a panel he hadn’t been part of since 2015.
“No, I felt pretty comfortable,” he said. “No, I felt happy. I approached Conor Sweeney, going back a bit. Conor is the epitome of what a captain should be. I said, ‘look Conor I want to play or whatever.’
“He said, ‘Colin, we’d love to have you onboard.’ For me, when you get the confidence like that from some of the lads that gives you the real lift.”
The Tipperary team looked resplendent on Sunday in white and green-hooped jersies they wore to mark the centenary of Bloody Sunday.
Superimposed onto the right sleeve of each jersey was an image of former Tipperary footballer Mick Hogan who was murdered by Crown forces in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday.
Did the Tipperary players get any extra push, however small, from the hand of history?
“We couldn’t ignore it,” said O’Riordan. “You can’t rock up in a different jersey on Munster final day and say, ‘it’s just another game’, because it’s not, that’s the reality.
“We approached it as we’re getting a new jersey, we identified it earlier in the week. And that can rattle people, but I think the way we went about it was very good, we wore it a few times in training matches and just got used to it.
“It sounds like a simple incidental thing, but at the end of the day that can rattle teams. We spoke about it, what it means to play for Tipp, the passion you have to bring and I guess the weekend that was in it, it was fitting that we won the Munster final.”
The last time Tipperary reached the All-Ireland semi-final in 2016 O’Riordan had to watch it on his TV in Australia.
That was tough to take at the time, but four years on he’ll now hopefully have a chance to make amends.
“Yeah, I always say that was one of the most emotional rollercoasters I had, just watching that game at two in the morning,” says O’Riordan.
“That was a hard one to stomach, especially because it was my first one gone, Tipp had such a good year that year. But we’ve another opportunity now, and it’s great to be back in an All-Ireland semi-final.
“If you told us at the start of the year we’d be in an All-Ireland semi-final you’d take your arm off for it, you’d take whatever was on offer, and to be in it as Munster champions is even more special.”