1995 – The Year of the Underdog – Tipperary Munster Minor Football Champions


1995 The Year of the Underdog – The Story of the Tipperary Minor Footballers, Munster Champions 1995

1995 was the year of the underdog. The Clare hurlers, under the guidance of the charismatic Ger Loughnane, ended an 81 year wait to capture Liam McCarthy while the Dubs ended a rather shorter twelve-year famine for Sam Maguire. Much closer to home both Moyle Rovers (Gaelic football) and Nenagh Éire Óg (hurling) tasted Tipperary senior championship success for the first time in their history while the Tipperary minor footballers ended an eleven year wait and won the Munster championship for the first time since 1984.

 

Noel Dundon (Tipperary Star) commented in the Tipperary GAA Yearbook 1996 that what transpired “in the minor football championship came as both a shock and a surprise and leaves the football fraternity with fond memories of ‘95”.

 

The minor management consisted of Eamon Owens (JK Brackens), Michael O’ Mahony (Newport), Jimmy Moynihan (JK Brackens), Paddy Morrissey (Galtee Rovers) and Michael Lonergan (Ardfinnan) and they left no stone unturned in their efforts with this minor team but it was the response of the players, as Dundon pointed out, “that made this minor team from Tipperary a good one, with the ability of becoming a great one”. To prepare for the championship no stone was left unturned as the management entered the team into a league involving Clare, Offaly, Kilkenny and Galway in the Spring and played challenge games against Dublin, Clare, Limerick, Longford and the JK Brackens’ under-21 side. During this league the management looked at 44 players while eventually Offaly beat Clare in the final played at MacDonagh Park, Nenagh.

Such was the professionalism of the preparations that the team trained in Semple Stadium to help the players adjust to playing in the surrounds of a large stadium so that they wouldn’t be fazed come championship. While training did ease off during the Leaving Certificate examinations, once these were over preparations stepped up. Selector Michael O’ Mahony (Newport) pointed out in an interview with Colm Kinsella in the Nenagh Guardian that “we have been training very hard for the past couple of months and are lucky to have such a committed and dedicated bunch of players. The fact the four players from the North have made the team is very pleasing. Each is there on his own merits and fully deserving of their place”.

 

The four North Tipperary men were Brian Farrell (Nenagh Éire Óg), Niall Kelly (Kiladangan), Brendan McKeogh (Ballina) and Aidan O’ Gorman (Newport) and the team entered the campaign against Waterford with five of the previous year’s starting fifteen including captain Mark O’ Shea (Aherlow), Mark Ryan (Rahealty), Paul Ormonde (Loughmore Castleiney), Ben Walsh (Clonmel Commercials) and the aforementioned Niall Kelly.

 

While Tipperary would have fancied themselves to defeat Waterford in the first round, the Déise did have the advantage of a championship game under their belt as they had already accounted for Clare that April. Noel Dundon commented in the Yearbook that “it was the character and never-say-die attitude in the side the brought Tipperary through many a sticky moment and none more so than in the first-round game against Waterford”.

 

 

Munster semi-final

Tipperary 0-9

Waterford 1-6

Semple Stadium 13-7-1995

 

It took a late Declan Browne point to snatch an unlikely draw for Tipperary in this free laden game as Waterford led from the second minute when corner forward Rory Walsh scored the only goal of the game.

 

The drizzly rain combined with a greasy surface did not allow a game for the purists and with referee Gerry Hough (Limerick) taking charge of proceedings this encounter saw 72 frees (41 in the first half, 31 in the second) over the sixty minutes, 38 conceded by Waterford, 43 by Tipperary.

 

The Nenagh Guardian’s Gerry Slevin reported on “the number of amazing misses on both sides”, “the hard luck stories as the cross bars and uprights denied scores to both sides, the ability and bravery of the Waterford keeper who saved some certain Tipp goals and most of all the influence which referee Gerry Haugh from Limierick had on the game”.

 

At half-time the visitors led 1-3 to 0-3 and within nine-minutes of the resumption they had extended this to six with three well taken points. Things looked bleak for Tipperary at this stage however they “showed great heart” in forcing a draw.

 

Declan Browne was introduced midway through the second period for Mark O’ Shea and the Moyle Rovers sharpshooter was largely responsible for bringing Tipp back into the game: “Browne had a sense of vision that, if emulated earlier by others, would have seen victory ensured for the home side”.

 

As the second period played out “Tipp dominance emerged as the defense got to grips with the situation and the surging attacks for the forwards elicited several frees which Tipp wing forward P.J. Sweeney was only too delighted to tap over”. Paul Ormonde came in for particular praise at centre back as he began to take charge of the defense and set up numerous attacks.

 

Declan Browne scored two late points to draw the sides level but disaster struck as Waterford were awarded a free two-minutes into stoppage time and Jimmy Sheehan appeared to have to “only step up and tap the ball over” however the pressure of the moment got to him and the ball went wide much to the relief of the Tipperary players. Tipperary’s season would have been much different had that ball sailed between the posts.

 

On the other side of the draw Cork also drew with Kerry and the Rebels emerged victorious in the replay.

 

Tipperary: Paul Fitzgerald, Thomas Keane (0-2), Niall Kelly, Ben Walsh, Brendan McKeogh, Paul Ormonde, Mark Cummins, Aidan O’ Gorman, Terry Kearns, P.J. Sweeney (0-2), Brian Maguire (0-2), Darren Owens, Mark Ryan, Mark O’ Shea, Brian Farrell. Subs: Declan Browne (0-2) for Ryan, Brendan O’ Dwyer for O’ Gorman.

 

Waterford: Glen Arrigan, Brendan Cliffe, Gary Cullinan, Conor Barrett, Francis Halpin, Jimmy Sheehan (0-3), Colm Keane, Derek Hayes (captain), William Kavanagh, Kevin Lenane, Laurence Harney, Sean Murphy (0-1), Rory Walsh (1-1), Mark Radley, Seamus O’ Rourke. Subs: Colin Walsh (0-1) for Harney, Kieran Curren for Radley.

 

Referee: Gerry Hough (Limerick)

 

 

Munster semi-final replay

Tipperary 1-9

Waterford 0-8

Fraher Field, Dungarvan 16-7-1995

 

Just four days later the team travelled to Fraher Field in Dungarvan for the replay and qualified for the Munster final having overcome the Déise challenge by two-points.

 

The home side got off to the worst possible start as centre-back Jimmy Sheahan received his marching orders from referee Gerry Hough (Limerick) following an off the ball incident in the ninth minute. Sheahan had been Waterford’s outstanding player in the drawn game and at the time they were winning 0-3 to 0-2 having coming from two points down following frees from the boot of Brian Maguire.

 

Wing-back Thomas Keane was deployed as Tipperary’s free man and his influence on proceedings ensured the advantage swung in the Premier’s favour as the game developed. Waterford, to their credit, fought gamely and at the interval the sides were deadlocked 0-4 apiece.

 

Tipperary immediately bursted into life upon the resumption and after four minutes Paul Ormonde found full-forward Mark O’ Shea with a superb pass and he blasted home Tipperary’s only goal of the game.

 

Tipperary could never fully kill off the challenge of a brave Waterford side and entering the final quarter only a goal separated the two teams. The numerical advantage began to tell and with Tipperary making clever use of possession, Waterford, try as they might, could not penetrate the Tipperary defense for that all-important goal.

 

Tipperary: Paul Fitzgerald, Brendan McKeogh, Niall Kelly, Brendan Walsh, Thomas Keane (0-1), Paul Ormonde, Mark Cummins, Aidan O’ Gorman, Terry Kearns (0-2), P.J. Sweeney (0-1), Brian Maguire (0-2), Darren Owens, Mark Ryan (0-1), Mark O’ Shea (1-1), Declan Browne. Subs: Brendan O’ Dwyer (0-1) for Kearns, Brian Farrell for O’ Gorman.

 

Waterford: G. Arrigan, B. Cliffe, G. Cullinan, C. Barrett, F. Halpin. J. Sheehan, K. Curran, D. Hayes, M. Radley, C. Keane, S. Murphy, S. O’ Rourke, K. Keane, S. Murphy, S. O’ Rourke, K. Kenane, W. Kavanagh, R. Walsh. Subs: M. Hyslop for Walsh, W. Fennell for Radley, C. Walsh for Lenane.

 

Referee: Gerry Hough (Limerick)

Munster Final

Tipperary 2-6

Cork 0-10

23-7-1995

Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney

Brendan Larkin, reporting in the Cork Examiner, was full of praise for the Premier men as they “tore the formbook to shreds” to “beat a highly fancied Cork side” to claim their fifth provincial minor title. “It was a marvelous performance by the Premier County, who showed total disregard for their more illustrious opponents and there certainly was no fluke about their success”.

 

This was a serious Cork side and a quick look through the team reveals a list of players who featured for Cork in both codes and would end their inter-county careers highly decorated.

 

Tipperary played into a stiff breeze in the opening half and “rocked Cork with the ferocity of their play”, “rattled their opponents” and “then fought a tremendous rearguard action” “before claiming the spoils, much to the delight of their small band of ecstatic supporters”.

 

Cork started the game brightly and after Derek Barrett kicked them in front Joe Deane, who would go onto become one of Corks most famous hurlers, found himself through on goal and his shot seemed destined for the corner of the net until Paul Fitzgerald managed to get a foot to it, deflect it away to safety for “a magnificent save”.

 

Tipperary were unlucky not to score a goal of their own shortly after when P.J. Sweeney saw his effort blast back off the post but Darren Owens made no mistake soon after “belting home a splendid goal”. He soloed through for over thirty metres after collecting possession on the stand side of the field, glided past numerous Cork challenges and hit a low cracking shot into the back of James O’ Connell’s goal.

 

The goal settled the Tipperary men and instilled a solid belief that they could go on and win this encounter. They began to play “delightful football” and were rewarded when Brian Maguire ran forty yards and kicked “a marvelous point”.

 

Declan Browne, who would go onto become one of Tipperary’s greatest ever players and the first from the county to receive an All-Star award (1998) and another in 2003, had his first point of the day in the nineteenth minute, kicking from an acute angle.

 

Tipperary were awarded a penalty when Brian Maguire sent Terry Kearns through on goal and he was fouled by the Cork net-minder and up stepped Brian Maguire who kicked a superb left-footed shot for Tipp’s second goal.

 

By the interval Cork had reduced the margin to three-points: Tipperary 2-2 Cork 0-5.

 

Cork made a number of changes at the break which improved things for the Rebels as Derek Barrett kicked an early free which was cancelled out by a David Fogarty point in the ninth minute. Moments later Brian Maguire extended the lead out to four points (2-4 to 0-7) which in fact seemed to spur on Cork as they dominated the next ten minutes kicking three unanswered points and many began to fear the fairytale would have a bitter ending.

 

Colin Crowley found himself through on goal and despite his effort beating Paul Fitzgerald, it crashed off the crossbar and the chance was gone. Declan Browne added another point which stemmed the tide.

 

With five remaining a point separated the sides and it looked as if a replay was on the cards but the Tipperary defense, led superbly by the brilliant Niall Kelly, refused to be beaten. Tipperary began to show phenomenal character and self-belief and snuffed out a number of Cork attacks and a late Declan Browne point stretched the margin to two and they held on for a famous victory which was greeted with scenes of unbelievable joy from all who made the trip from Tipperary.

 

TIPPERARY: Paul Fitzgerald, Brendan McKeogh, Niall Kelly, Mark Cummins, Thomas Keane, Ben Walsh, Brendan O’ Dwyer, Paul Ormonde, David Fogarty (0-1), P. J. Sweeney, Brian Maguire (1-2), Darren Owens (1-0), Terry Kearns, Mark O’ Shea, Declan Browne (0-3). Subs: Mary Ryan for Kearns, Alan Fogarty for Sweeney.

 

CORK: James O’ Connell, Niall McCarthy, Shane Murphy, Brian Kidney, Donal Philpott, Sean Óg O’Halpin, Anthony Lynch (0-1), James Fleming, Kieran Connolly (0-1), Alan O’ Shea, Derek Barrett (0-4), Liam Beale (0-1), Colin Crowley (0-1), Austin Walsh, Joe Deane (0-1). Subs Nicholas Murphy for Connolly, Alan Beale for Fleming, Timmy McCarthy (0-1) for O’ Shea.

 

Referee: Kevin Walsh (Clare)

 

“THEY HEARD IT BACK IN AHERLOW” screamed one of the headlines in the Cork Examiner referring to the roar that greeted Mark O’ Shea as he held the Munster minor trophy aloft in Fitzgerald Stadium. Following in the footsteps of 1984 captain Frank Howlin, O’ Shea led his troops to Killarney and surrounded by approximately 20,000 vocal Cork fans, the Premier emerged victorious for what was a famous, and for many unexpected, victory. “Incredible scenes of joy greeted the final whistle” as the small band of loyal Tipperary supporters experienced euphoria few would have experienced before.

 

Then senior manager, and the man in charge in 1984, Seamus McCarthy was in jubilant mood afterwards and wholesome in his praise: “It was a magnificent effort by all concerned and will do untold good for the game in the county. Our lads battled bravely in the face of strong Cork pressure at a number of stages in the game and in the end thoroughly deserved their win”.

 

Colm Kinsella, in the Nenagh Guardian, was lavish in his use of superlatives in describing the win: “Tipp reach high heaven in ‘the Kingdom’”, “magnificent minors”, “superb win” and there is no doubt they the panel and management deserved all the praise that came their way, and more.

 

In his report, he mentioned that “the dressing room afterwards was a scene of euphoria. Players, mentors and Friends of Tipperary Football walked on air. To chants of ‘champions, champions’, the players emerged from the field. Sheer delight etched on each and every face.” Noel Dundon reported that “it was quite a scene to witness grown men crying in the Tipperary dressing room in the immediate aftermath of the game”, “backs were red from slapping when the celebrations finally calmed for a short while but Tipperary minors had claimed a place in history and nobody could take that from them”.

CORK

The rivalry between Tipperary and Cork is something that is embedded in all our DNA but it is a rivalry borne out of mutual respect, banter between supporters, great sportsmanship and this occasion proved no different. Cork, as always gracious in defeat, were the first to offer their congratulations.

 

Cork County Board chairman, and future president of the GAA, Christy Cooney, spoke to the Tipperary team: “You have worked extremely hard for this. I feel that the most important thing now is that you go on and win an All-Ireland for yourselves and for Munster. Be proud of your jersey today. We came here to win but we did not succeed. If we had won today we would feel that we were good enough to go on and win an All-Ireland. You should think yourselves good enough to do the same. Go ahead and do it”.

 

Frank Murphy commented “that the win showed how good football is in Tipperary. Munster will be represented by an outstanding side in the All-Ireland series. I would like to pay tribute to the people who have worked so hard for football in Tipperary, perhaps they are a small few and maybe against the odds. I wish you well in Croke Park and we will be behind you 100%”.

MICHAEL O MAHONEY (NEWPORT)

 

“It is a great moment for us and one we will always cherish. We felt all along that we had a special bunch of lads. They were very committed and determined. They deserve all the honour they get”, he said.

 

Michael who had been involved with the nucleus of the side since their under-16 days said that the team’s great self-belief had really stood to them.

 

“We knew we could beat Cork before we came down here today. Goals are always a big help in football, in fact they were vital today” he said.

NIALL KELLY (KILADANGAN)

“Eamon Owens, our coach, told us to go out and play as if all the crowd were behind us. I felt that the two goals we got early on were well taken. They were a great boost to us”.

 

In fact, the Nenagh Guardian were so impressed with the performance of Niall that they awarded him their Player of the Week accolade.

 

            “One of the greatest chapters in the history of Tipperary football was written in Killarney on Sunday last when the county’s minor side defeated a highly fancied Cork outfit to claim the county’s first title in the grade for 11 years.

            Each of the 17 played a part in the victory but the performance of Niall Kelly was paramount to the success.

            Time and time again he stifled Cork attacks and his intelligent clearances out of defence always found colleagues which took the pressure off the Tipp backs. He was ably assisted by Ballina’s Brendan McKeogh who can be well pleased with his performance at corner back.

            Niall Kelly receives this week’s accolade ahead of team mates Paul Ormonde, Brian Maguire and Declan Browne”.

 

The Guardian’s praise for Kelly was echoed in the Tipperary Yearbook by Noel Dundon: “When people look back at the minor team of 1995, though, they will remember it for the very tight and physically strong back line which was evident throughout the campaign. Niall Kelly and Ben Walsh were solid down the middle while McKeogh, Keane, Cummins and O’ Dwyer flanked them very well to give cover to Paul Fitzgerald in the goal”.

 

On that minor team was one of the all-time greats, not just in Tipperary, but in Gaelic football in general. Declan Browne announced his arrival to the world in this campaign so much so that Cork’s Seán Óg Ó hAilpín commented in his autobiography that “a little fella from Tipperary beat us on his own, almost, down in Killarney. Before the game we thought they’d sent out a fourteen-year-old, but we knew who Declan Browne was by full-time. He was outstanding.”

All-Ireland minor semi-final

Tipperary 0-10

Westmeath 1-14

20-8-1995

Croke Park, Dublin.

Tipperary had a disastrous start in this match with the Leinster champions notching up a 1-4 to 0-0 lead inside the opening quarter and Tipp just could not recover. Indeed, things could have been a lot worse for the Premier when Paul Fitzgerald deflected a John Deehan shot in the first minute. The Westmeath goal was controversial in itself as the linesman had signaled for a Tipperary lineball in the lead up but was overruled by referee Michael McGrath and the Leinster men, after some fine movements, fed possession to wing-forward Deehan who beat Fitzgerald with an unstoppable shot.

 

Tipperary then began to settled into the game and created a wonderful goal opportunity for the Declan Browne but his shot was expertly saved by Aidan Lennon. We did score three fine points to leave it 1-5 to 0-3 at the interval.

 

Mark Ryan was introduced into the forward and he helped spark the Tipperary attack into life. By the 40th minute Tipp had reduced the arrears to a goal (1-8 to 0-8) when the decisive moment came. Mark Ryan hit a pile driver that seemed destined for the back of the Westmeath net but Lennon again justified his selection with another top save. Westmeath rallied again, opened out the gap and with that ended Tipperary’s hopes.

 

Gerry Slevin, in the Nenagh Guardian, did acknowledge Westmeath’s superiority but also was highly commendable in “the workrate of keeper Paul Fitzgerald, full back Niall Kelly and Tomas Keane instilled confidence in those in other sectors”. Mark Ryan, Declan Browne, Brian Maguire and Mark O’ Meara were also highly praised.

“There was an understandable air of depression in the dressing room after the game, because the players felt they did not do themselves justice” Slevin went onto report. “There is so much character in this Tipp squad”, “they fought the good fight throughout the season but on Sunday their luck ran out”.  The mood in the dressing room was “somber” as “there were thoughts of what might have been” “and the inevitable gloom and depression taking precedence”, “their football dream had come crumbling down around them”.

 

Sean Mockler summed up the sporting mood among the Tipperary team after: “I don’t begrudge Westmeath their win. They are fighting hard to earn a bit of respectability in football and I sincerely hope they go on and win the final. Because if they do, they will be striking a blow for the weaker counties and it will give us a bit of confidence when next season comes around”.