Extra Time with Ronan Quirke
On Monday September 7th, 2015, David Power appeared in studio for the Extra Time sports program on Tipp FM and gave a rather sobering assessment of Tipperary’s football future and the coaching structures that would underpin it.
I say sobering because, in 2015 Tipp had reached an All Ireland Under 21 football final, losing narrowly to Tyrone, and were a fortnight away from playing in a minor football final.
One could be forgiven for thinking that football in Tipperary was in rude good health and our underage success was the envy of most of the 32 counties. No silverware was forthcoming but we were at the top table now surely?
So what was it in 2015 that so worried our 2011 minor manager and current senior manager? Fast forward a year and we were one of the last four teams competing for Sam Maguire and that semi final defeat to Mayo still rankles with me personally and I am sure many others.
Our minor success in 2011, under 21 success in 2015 and senior success in 2016 were backboned by a close knit group that had played together for years and were supplemented by experienced campaigners like Acheson and Sweeney and Kiely and Austin. But Power knew there was no conveyer belt of talent coming through and said so in a forthright manner.
And despite the glory of last November 22nd in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and our subsequent appearance in the last four for a second time in four years, despite the wave of emotion that was evoked by the Bloody Sunday jersey, we find ourselves asking about the overall health of Tipperary football.
Perhaps some perspective is needed here. How many counties in Ireland would love to swap places with Tipperary and enjoy some of the success we have had in the past ten years? I would not swap days like the 18th of September 2011 for anything. Wouldn’t most football counties such as Leitrim or even Kildare have loved such days in the sun? So yes, we have punched above our weight and we fully deserved the great days in Croke Park and in the Páirc. However, we now find ourselves in the basement of league football and our performances in the league, whilst disappointing, point to greater problems.
At underage we have struggled in recent years at both minor and under 20. I would reference the minor performance against Clare last year as being a particular nadir. And perhaps David Power saw that performance coming as far back as 2015 when he made his comments. He was talking then about development squads, coaching structures, investment, strategy and future proofing.
Speaking after our recent relegation loss to Longford, Power said ‘we are in a very tough place at the minute, when there is no energy out there it is very hard to win any game and I don’t know what it is.’
On the same Extra Time program, analyst Martin Quinlivan tried and failed to make sense of the performances this year bemoaning the lack of the very basics such as work rate, aggression, doing things at pace and thinking on your feet. Some players were absent this year certainly and injuries hampered preparation but it was the lack of urgency in the second half in Pearse Park, when the Division Three status was on the line, that set alarm bells ringing amongst football supporters.
We were poor against Limerick, Wicklow, Offaly and Longford, four counties that would have loved to experience the great days we have had in the last decade.
After what was achieved last November, is there a sense that this team has reached its Mount Everest? They are the only Tipperary men alive with Munster Senior football winners’ medals. Can they lift themselves for another tilt? They will be remembered forever and they can all reflect on successful careers in the Tipperary football jersey.
But there is more in this team and they are better, so much better, than what we have seen this year.
A team that was within 3 minutes of Division 1 football in Cavan only a few short years ago now look forward to trips to the Fraher Field rather than more salubrious football venues. In the championship, we await the winners of Clare (Division 2) and Kerry (Division 1). We will be long priced outsiders in that Munster semi final for sure. But good people are in the backroom team and good people are on the pitch and we can be confident of better days and better performances ahead.
After the league ended, I took a few minutes to look again at the Tipperary Football Strategic Plan 2018-2020. It is a fine document, produced by the Football Board, and over 120 people had an input into it. It has a section on Gaelic football promotion in non-traditional football areas. What price on unearthing another Stephen O’Brien or a Philip Austin, two outstanding inter county players who play little club football if any. Can you imagine a Kerry midfielder who doesn’t play football for a club?
Many of the aspirations in the document have been hit by the pandemic. The document aspires to ‘encourage all clubs and facilitate them to enter a football team in all age grades including adult football competitions.’ It will make interesting reading to see the results from clubs that will have been surveyed so as to understand reasons why they don’t enter teams. Perhaps the biggest obstacle might be in convincing some clubs that hurling and football can co exist and complement each other.
Establishing a 50:50 focus between hurling and football in Cúl Camps is another laudable action point in the document and as we re-emerge from lockdown such parity of esteem is to be welcomed.
Join Ronan on the Extra Time Sports Program on TippFM Monday nights at 7pm.