Hang Up Your Brightest Colours
“Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” is, according to Dante’s Inferno, the inscription on the gates of Hell. If some Tipperary GAA supporters had their way they would put the same inscription on the entrance to FBD Semple Stadium whenever the Tipperary footballers are playing.
There is little doubt that Tipperary Football is as low as a snakes belly at the moment and for David Power and his cabinet it must feel like the sun will never rise again. However, the negativity in various online platforms from some so-called “gaa people” is more disappointing to me than the results of a relatively inexperienced Tipperary team. I’m pretty certain I do not have to have to explain the meaning of the word “supporter” to the readers of this paper, as pretty much everyone will know what the word means. But unfortunately, it appears some ‘’supporters’’ have forgotten the important role they can play for their county and its players. A number of the comments I’ve seen on-line about management and players have been really over the top. Nobody minds robust debate on team selections, game plans or styles of play but when it descends into personal abuse then it has gone too far.
As a result it may will be that in the next few games, a player, for fear of further criticism, will be trying so hard not to miss a shot or a pass that instead of taking the second or two he gets on a ball to concentrate on executing the pass or shot properly, he might have that short timespan filled with self-doubt which will lead to another mistake. If Tipperary GAA people want to see Tipperary Football thriving, then they need to drop their keyboards, pick up their car keys and get themselves to Thurles for the next few home games. If ever a team needed a 16th man then it’s this new batch of Tipperary footballers.
Of course people are going to be disappointed and frustrated with the results so far. A draw with Waterford and an eight point defeat to Leitrim must surely rank as one of the worst starts to the National Football League that Tipperary has ever had. The style of football we played in those two games was hard to watch. The defensive set up, which if taken in isolation could be deemed to be working but it also means we are inviting teams onto us and giving perceived lesser opposition a chance. We might be trying to keep four players up front at all times but with everyone else in defence we are left with no choice but to hand- pass the ball forward. Even the little man from Mars knows that the more passes there are in a movement, the more vulnerable it is to an interception and when confidence is low the unforced errors will happen, just as they did against Leitrim.
Football is really a simple game. You can split the field into three sections. Inside your own 45m line, between the two 45m lines and finally inside the opposition 45m line. You keep the ball inside your own 45m line, moving it fast and wide. Ideally you try to get in and out of the middle third in three touches or less (older readers will recall a skill called a kick pass) and finally inside the opposition 45m line you are working the ball to the scoring zone.
As I see it, all our problems are coming in the middle third. Our transition from defence to attack is too slow. First up, when we do gain possession in the middle third we are leaving the ball receiver completely isolated. It is not unusual to see a Tipperary player receive the ball in the middle third of the field and have no teammates within 30 yards of him. Because the support is so slow arriving, it inevitably arrives with a tracking opposition player in close proximity. So now, every move we make is going to be under pressure and instead of three touches to get it out of the middle third, we are taking nine or ten and going from side to side like a drunk coming home from the pub. By this time, our inside forwards have lost the will to live and their movement has stopped. We then rinse and repeat for 70 minutes.
Of course there are mitigating circumstances. I have lost count of the number of times over the past couple weeks that I heard people mention the number of players we have lost in the past year. Since the Munster Final win in November 2020, we can no longer call on the services of Philip Austin, Brian Fox, Colin O’Riordan, Liam Casey, Michael Quinlivan, Alan Campbell, Emmet Moloney, Padraic Looram and Liam Boland. There is no doubt that most teams would struggle to replace players of that quality and leadership. However, bitching and moaning about lads that aren’t available cuts no mustard with me. You might as well say Kerry are missing Jack O’Shea. You play with the players you have and you get on with it while at the same time accepting that there will be a period of transition.
The good news is that the players we have are still of a high standard. All they are lacking is experience and a small bit of that potent drug called confidence. In my spare time I sometimes swing into Dr Morris Park to watch this team training and these boys are working as hard as any Tipperary team that went before them. The old Gary Player saying “the harder I practice the luckier I get” springs to mind and if this Tipperary football team continue to work like they are at the moment then if won’t be long before Lady Luck comes along to take them by the hand and wrap her shawl around them. Once she does that, then the confidence will return, the rain will stop, the air will soften, the sun will come out, our speed of thought will increase, players will no longer left isolated when they receive a ball, passes will go to Tipperary hands instead of opposition hands and we will be back winning games again. These Tipperary players are just too good for that not to happen.
Also in our favour is we have a management team that are not out and out daws. David Power is Tipperary’s most successful manager and with a front bench consisting of people with the character and integrity of Charlie McGeever, Declan Browne, Paddy Christie, Elaine Harte and Tommy Toomey, then we have the right people in charge to steer this ship through choppy waters. The problems I have pointed out above will not be news to management and no doubt the problems we currently have in the middle third of the field will be improved when the likes of Jack Kennedy and Steven O’Brien return from the repair shop.
I started this piece with a quote from Dante’s Inferno. There is no hope for the souls that are sent to hell. But Tipperary Football is not going to hell. We may have to spend this year in purgatory but the good thing about purgatory is that it’s only a temporary punishment. If it doesn’t arrive this year, salvation in the form of Division 3 football will arrive in 2023. Of that I am absolutely certain and by then the inscription on the gates of FBD Semple Stadium will be a line from George Bernard Shaw’s letter to Hannie Collins when, shortly after her brother Michael’s death, he urged her to “tear up your mourning and hang up your brightest colours!