Classy Display by Tipperary Minors by Big John

If courage, flair and skill is what you like to see in a Gaelic Football team, then I suggest you get yourself along to watch this years Tipperary Minor Football team play.  They have all of the above in abundance. 

For too long now, football fans in every nook and cranny of the island have had to endure games with endless hand-passing and blanket defences. It’s rare these days to come out of a match in better form than when you went in but that was certainly the case for Tipperary fans last Thursday evening after the first round of the Munster Minor Football Championship against Limerick.

The opening paragraph of this game gave us a hint of what was to follow. Tipperary captain, Charlie King had a point on the board after 30 seconds but referee Eoin Morrissey decided he had over-carried in the build up. Limerick take a quick free kick, move the ball expertly down the field but the shot from corner forward Diarmuid Hynes drifted wide. Less than one minute gone and already both sides have had a shot at goal.

By the third minute the Treaty men led by two points with a quick brace from full forward Stephen Young. A minute later Tipperary full forward Daithí Hogan is fouled and Conal Grogan pointed the first of his eight successful frees on the night. By any measure that’s a serious return from the Galtee Rovers corner forward.

In the seventh minute, wing forward Tommy O’Connor epitomised the spirt and work-rate of this Tipperary team. If he was a jockey, Tommy would be entitled to claim the full allowance but that didn’t stop him getting stuck into two of Limerick’s biggest defenders and turning over a ball that he had no right to win. After stealing the loot, Tommy was fouled as he made his getaway  and Grogan levelled the game from the resultant free.

Tipperary have a very simple game plan. Work hard, win your own ball, move the ball quickly and if you find yourself one v one take on your man. It’s genius in its simplicity and Tipperary look to have a panel of players willing and talented enough to carry out all aspects of that plan.

A fine run from Joe Higgins at the end of the first quarter draws a foul and Grogan pops over the free. A minute later Daithí Hogan chips in with one of the scores of the game with a fine point off his left from the shadows of the new stand. The St Patrick’s man was as lively as a cricket and as sharp as a hawk in spring all evening.

Limerick were back on level terms by the 20th minute with two fine points from Bobby Smith and Michael Kelbridge but 60 seconds later Tipperary midfielder Paddy O’Keeffe is fouled as he is about to shoot and Conal Grogan does what Conal Grogan does by tapping over the free. Shortly after the hard working Paddy O’Keeffe pointed from out the country. 25 minutes gone and Tipperary lead 0:06 to 0:04.

This really was entertaining stuff from both sides and even a whistle happy referee who by the end of the game had awarded 37 frees couldn’t take from the enjoyment.

As we approached half time, Eanna Ormond, whose father Michael is not unknown to me showed that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree with a fine point from a tricky angle. Joe Higgins wins the resultant kick-out and five seconds later Ormond turns provider to set up the impressive Paddy O’Keeffe for his second point of the day. Limerick pull one back on the stroke of half-time and the teams headed for the bananas and Jaffa Cakes with Tipperary leading 0:08 to 0:05.

Half Time behind the new stand in Semple Stadium is where the experts and non-experts gather to begin the preliminary post mortem. It is usually not a place for the faint hearted but Thursday night was different. Every Tipperary supporter had a smile on their face and looked as excited as a group of monks who had got news of a second coming. All were in agreement that it was refreshing to see the game being played the way Michael Cusack intended when he codified the rules of Gaelic Football.

Tommy O’Connor extended Tipperary’s lead 5 minutes into the second half and if Paddy O’Keeffe had scored from out the country in the first half, he wasn’t even in the country when he landed his third point of the game to make it Tipperary 0:10 Limerick 0:05 after 37 minutes.

By now Tipperary fans were looking forward to a score fest but Limerick are a decent side and were not going to roll over and have their belly tickled. At corner forward Diarmuid Hynes hadn’t been given an inch by the impressive Jamie Bergin but now operating at wing forward he began to show just how good a player he was with a fine point on the run. Limerick win the resulting kick-out. Centre forward Aidan O’Shea feeds Bobby Smith and from 15 yards Smith fired a bullet to the corner of the net. 0:10 to 1:06 and it’s “game on Ger” as Cyril Farrell would say.

At the end of the third quarter a Diarmuid Hynes free had the game level and the dream appeared to be turning to a nightmare for Tipperary. Limerick now had all the momentum. But this Tipperary team is made of solid stuff. The athletic Thomas Charles gets his hands on the kick-out and the ball is worked up the field to Daithí Hogan who is fouled and Grogan points the free.

The trick is repeated 30 seconds later when Hogan is again fouled and Grogan scores the free. Ben Carey slotted over in the 49th minute to extend the lead to three points again. This was an impressive response from Tipperary and they weren’t finished yet.

No doubt if you spoke to Tipperary Manager John McNamara, he would be at pains to point out that every member of the panel is vital and on match day, football is a 20 man game. As if to emphasise that point, it was three substitutes who combined for the all-important score of the game, the Tipperary goal. Charlie English did brilliantly to turnover Limerick possession and get the ball to Darragh Landers. Landers drove at the Limerick defence before releasing to Fionn Fitzgerald who gave the keeper no chance by punching the hopping ball to the net.

Two late Conal Grogan frees sealed the deal for Tipperary and they left the field as 1:15 to 1:08 winners. They now move on to play Waterford next Thursday night in Lemybrien before heading to Miltown Malbay on the 28th April to play Clare in what could well be the deciding game to see who plays the losers of Cork and Kerry in the Munster Semi-Final.

There were heroes in every line of the field last Thursday night. Goalkeeper, Robbie McGrath was cool and confident in his distribution. He looks like a man who would be difficult to overawe. The full back line of Alex McSherry, Ciaran Byrne, Jamie Bergin would make good adverts for Super Glue. They didn’t give an inch all evening long. A strong half back line is the engine room of any team and in Eoin O’Connell, captain Charlie King and Thomas Charles, Tipperary have three players who can defend every bit as well as they can attack.

Sometimes in midfield you can see players who are only there because of their height. Joe Higgins and Paddy O’Keeffe won’t be stopped getting on any of the rides in Disneyland but more importantly than that, they are proper “ballers” who both gave an exhibition of how to play the midfield role. It’s always a good sign when you are looking forward to watching these two play again.

In the half forward line Eanna Ormond operates like a quarter back in American football and is always available to take a pass and link the play. Ben Carey and Tommy O’Connor are all action forwards any defender would hate to mark. All three half forwards scored from play and you don’t see that too often in the modern game.

I genuinely don’t know how you would go about marking Daithí Hogan at full forward. I suspect if you fed all information you have on him into the most sophisticated computer, you still wouldn’t come up with an answer. His work-rate as much as his skill is what makes him good. Of course it helps his cause that he has two fine players on either side of him. Conal Grogan and Dylan Fogarty are a joy to watch playing football.

Add to this that all substitutes used looked right at home when they came on and it’s not too difficult to see why Tipperary Football supporters are excited by this team.

John McNamara and his cabinet can be very happy with their evenings work but they will also know that bigger challenges lie ahead.