Munster Semi Finals for Tipperary Minors and Senior by Big John

Over the course of a year I get to watch a lot of Gaelic Football matches….but I don’t let it get me down.

Every now and again I come across a team that makes me fall back in love with the game. This year’s Tipperary Minor Football team are one such team. In fact I believe the ship captained by John McNamara could compare favourably with any Tipperary minor team over the past 20 years.

After winning their first three games in the round robin series, they came away from Mallow last Thursday evening with the Daryl Darcy Cup and a 1:14 to 1:04 victory in the Phase 1 Final of the Munster Minor Football Championship. However, as good as Tipperary were, this was the least impressive of their four performances to date and they will know that the margin of victory flattered them.

The old saying “backs win games and forwards just decide by how much” was never as true as on Thursday evening. Having watched the midfield and forwards blossom in the first three games, it was the turn of the Tipperary backs and goalkeeper to step up and they were not found wanting. Robbie McGrath pulled off an excellent and important penalty save just before the break while on numerous occasions, especially in the first half, the Tipperary backs had the “thou shall not pass” sign up while at the same time demonstrating that long forgotten skill called the “block down”. With the Limerick resolve broken, the midfield and forwards were then allowed to go about their business and do what they do best.

They now face the losers of Cork and Kerry in the Munster Semi Final. There can be little doubt that they will have to improve again to win that game but there is also little doubt that this bunch of players have everything that it takes to find that improvement. If courage, flair and skill is what you like to see in a Gaelic Football team, then get yourself to Thurles next Thursday evening to watch these talented youngsters play. You won’t regret it.

The Tipperary Senior Footballers have their own Munster Semi Final on Saturday evening when they take on Limerick in FBD Semple Stadium.

At the start of this year, David Power and his cabinet looked to have a rebuilding job on their hands that even the Grand Design team wouldn’t have fancied but they have gone about their business calmly and professionally and have left no pebble unturned in their search for new players. Between the McGrath Cup and the National Football League they looked at over 50 players and have unearthed a few diamonds in the rough. Against Waterford, nine players made their championship debuts and one suspects that if Mark Russell had been fit then that number would have increased to ten. I expect two or three more players to make their championship debuts by the end of the game on Saturday night.

Of course the managements job has being made easier by the personalities and character of the players in their squad. Apart from being talented footballers, this group of Tipperary players are willing to learn and take on new ideas and philosophies. For coaches Charlie McGeever, Declan Browne and Paddy Christie, these players must be a dream to work with.

Tipperary footballers and Chicago Bulls basketball legend Michael Jordan don’t often get mentioned in the same sentence but I read a quote from Jordan in an article during the week and he could easily have been taking about the current Tipperary football team when he said “The best skill that I ever had was that I was coachable. I was like a sponge, and aggressive to learn. Being ‘coachable’ means being humble and vulnerable enough to know you’re not perfect. It means being open to honest and constructive feedback, even if it is tough to take. Being ‘uncoachable’ includes behaviours such as being arrogant, negative, judgmental, cynical, or pessimistic, unable or unwilling to self-reflect or self-critique. Being unwilling to learn new things, or to take on board constructive feedback, is a fatal barrier to development and improvement. You must work to develop the ability to listen, learn and reflect.”

It appears that the Tipperary football supporters are also coachable and seem to be buying into what David Power and his cabinet are trying to achieve. While we would all love to see our seniors play with the carefree abandon that our minor team plays with, in reality to do that at senior level with such an inexperienced team would inevitably lead to certain defeat especially when you meet the more seasoned teams and Billy Lee’s Limerick side are one of those teams.

Limerick have been building slowly over Billy Lee’s six years in charge and deservedly earned promotion to Division 2 football earlier in the year. Of course they also won their first round championship game against Clare after a dramatic penalty shoot-out. They are an experienced outfit and on Saturday evening we can expect to see as many as 12 or 13 of the team that lined out against Tipperary in the 2020 Munster Semi Final take to the field in Thurles.

Centre back Iain Corbett is a top player for a long time now and his powerful runs forward have caused Tipperary problems in the past. If Tipperary are to prevail in this game, how they deal with Corbett will be vital.

The man mountain that is Josh Ryan is a big addition (excuse the pun) to Limerick this year. A talented ‘baller” for a big man he is also an accomplished free taker who will punish indiscretions. On top of this he also offers Limerick the option of the advanced mark should they find the route to goal sealed off. Corner forwards Hugh Bourke and Peter Nash make up a potentially potent full forward line

Tipperary are without Robbie Kiely and Bill Maher who are out injured but player of the league Mark Russell returns and the 25 minutes and brilliant goal that Steven O’Brien got in Waterford will have brought him on nicely after a long spell on the sidelines. Limerick have the experience but Tipperary have home advantage which I always believe is worth a few points to a team. This is a game that really is too close to call but still I have a good feeling about it and have put a reminder in my phone for 9pm on Saturday night to look up the train times to Killarney on the 28th May.

A loss for Limerick will see them enter the Sam Maguire qualifiers whereas a loss for Tipperary will see them enter the Tailteann Cup. I wrote in this paper two weeks ago that the success or failure of the Tailteann Cup will come down to how the GAA market the competition. The draw hasn’t even been made yet and already there is controversy. Instead of the open draw which I think everyone was looking forward to, the GAA are looking at splitting it into two sections, North and South to cut down on travel time for teams. You’d swear we lived in a country the size of Australia. This is not what the Division 3 and Division 4 teams signed up for when the competition was first announced. In fact it was sold to counties as a round-robin competition but that format is set to come in next season with the overhaul of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Croke Park were given one  job to do and the somehow have managed to screw it up.