Tipperary under 21 football manager Tommy Toomey had plenty to say at the recent press evening for Saturday’s All-Ireland final v Tyrone.
The Arravale Rovers man spoke on a wide range of topics starting with what he considers to be a real plus for Tipperary this season, the amalgamation of seniors and under 21s in training.
“We would have probably been preparing for Waterford in the senior but the amalgamation of the under 21 with the senior operation has opened up a lot of positive things for us.
“The amount of players out of the crossover, we under-estimated what was going to come out of it. At the very start we had pinpointed up to eight players but the contribution of the under 21’s to the pace of the senior game, and vice- versa, has been excellent.
“Every night we can have a very good A v B game which I know is the buzz word with Kilkenny in hurling, but it actually works and does so very well.
“You can’t get challenge matches and when you do the amount of stuff you have to do to get the players there so if you can get this high quality game into your training sessions, even only for a half an hour, that’s quality.
“I look at our senior players, quite a number of them have Munster under 21 medals, National League medals from Division 3, have played Division 2, the quality of footballers over the age of 21 is immense, the one medal they don’t have is the one we are going for on Saturday,” added Tommy.
A link to the Tipp operation that captured the Munster u- 21 title for the first time in 2010 under John Evans, Tommy explained how football is a continous learning curve.
“The learning experience of Tipperary going to Páirc Ui Rinn and losing to Cork in the Munster Final last year told this year because the same things were happening. We had injuries like when Philip Quirke got injured in the warm-up, and the captain John Meagher got injured five or six days before it. This year Colin O’Riordan, our captain, got concussed ten days before we played the Munster Final, and Ian Fahey was injured. So people were wondering how we were going to manage that but we learnt as a management how we can keep the players minds away from that kind of stuff and that every player has to continue to work and if something goes wrong that we are not going to lose. That’s not the way it happens, every county is going to have problems, be it fitness or sickness and you have to deal with and I feel we have dealt with it well this year,” added Tommy.
Asked about preparations for the Dublin semi-final?
“The plans we made for Dublin were to make sure that we didn’t let as much ball into the Dublin inside forward line as possible so we set ourselves up for that to happen. Maybe with Dublin playing with the wind in the first half that helped us.
“We were nervous, we lost a few balls early in the game we shouldn’t have, but thankfully Dublin didn’t take advantage of that and got our feet in the game. Kevin O’Halloran missed a few frees early in the game but it didn’t faze him, he got back on the horse in the second half and kicked over his points. I don’t think you can coach that type of confidence, you can help it but it’s within the individuals make-up and we have a few guys that are leader players and whatever knocks they get they’ll pick themselves up. That’s what sport is about,” he added
Asked about the special captain that this team has, Colin O’Riordan, Tommy answered...
“Colin is a legend to me. I could tell you a story about Colin when he came onto the senior panel first, we brought him on at Croke Park for the last 15 minutes of the National League Final against Clare; he came in and caught the ball and was fired up for his time on the field, he played well and it meant he was going to get his place on the senior team.
“We went down to Páirc Ui Chaoimh to play Cork in the Munster semi-final; in the dressing room you had all the senior players, the likes of Peter Acheson, Paul Fitzgerald, all in there but the man that was talking was Colin O’Riordan. He was the man who was leading the dressing room, he wasn’t the captain but he had his voice and you could see it in this lad that he could talk but he could also go out on the field and execute it and when you have that special type of player who can bring people with them, by example and words.
“I’ve never heard Colin only encourage people and drive himself. He is a tremendous example to young people, no matter what walk of life when you have characters like Colin O’Riordan in your operation, you aren’t going to go wrong.
“Colin has broad shoulders, we won’t over-estimate the weight he is carrying but he thrives on it.”
On the sometimes contentious issue of Tipperary and it’s dual code for hurling and football, the Tipp manager had plenty to say....
“It’s a subject that has come up in the press this week, with comments in ‘The Examiner’ around Colin (O’Riordan). That comment was unfair and doesn’t really help us a few days before an All Ireland Football Final that this stuff is coming out.
“I wonder where is the agenda there.
“As far as being a dual county is concerned, that has never been the issue.
“What has happened is that the strength and conditioning of 14, 15 and 16 year olds in the last eight or nine years has taken hold in a football sense. The hurling scene continued as it was but footballers were getting a similar strength and conditioning as the hurlers, and even more so as football takes more out of you, you need that bit of strength and conditioning to run and carry the ball.
“The players started to enjoy it and then you had the likes of Colin O’Riordan coming in, a football man all the way up along, I have seen him from 14, 15, 16, was playing in an All Ireland Final; there was no news of them lads playing hurling.
“Brendan Cummins made great press out of playing 13 senior championship games in football before he played his first senior hurling championship match for Tipperary. Imagine if he couldn’t hone his skills in hurling while he was playing football. Imagine if it was Declan Fanning, or Paul Curran, or Paul Kelly, who have won All-Ireland senior hurling medals for Tipperary, played football first; it did no harm to those players, in fact it made them better players in my opinion.
“They need to take off the blinkers a small bit, This is the Tipperary brand we are talking about, the more athletes we get fit through strength and conditioning going up along, will help both games.
“My father won an All Ireland minor hurling medal with Tipperary in 1947. I know nothing about hurling; people say it, I am a football man but I was brought up with hurling, I am a Tipperary man. I have no axe to grind with hurling, I want hurling to win.
“I admire Cork because Cork seem to give players an opportunity to do both if a player wants to. Taking Aidan Walsh as an example, has his football career helped or hindered him in hurling? He played a fantastic game last season in his first hurling championship match and everyone was talking about him as a brilliant hurler and a brilliant footballer and he then had a bad game (against Tipperary) and people began saying if he had been playing hurling all the time that wouldn’t have happened.
“People and pundits, in particular, can talk out of the two sides of their mouth when it comes to that, particularly from the hurling agenda. I don’t like it to be quite honest.
“I am only interested in sport, in Tipperary players being as good as they can be, if that means they commit to the regime of being involved with Tipperary senior hurling, then that has to be spoken out.
“You see the stuff that is going on in Clare at the moment, that’s not happening in Tipperary. We don’t have an issue. We’re not expecting that if Colin O’Riordan goes off and commits himself to Tipperary senior hurlers, he will get every help from us. But Colin is of the opinion that he may be able to do both but at the moment he would rather stay with football and see where that takes him. So I think that is a courageous decision from that man again. And you can see the fruits of it in Tipperary football if we get a few lads in that are willing to have a go, I see no difference between football and hurling as far as being a GAA person.
“I talk a lot of football. I talk a lot of sport but the one thing about it and the one worry I have is that people are trying to split the Tipperary operation to football and hurling and put some kind of divide through the middle of it. I don’t see any divide. I work very closely with Peter Creedon and we work very closely with the county board, the main county board as well as the football board. We work with Tim all the time, Michael all the time. I’ve never had anything only co-operation from the county board. We’ve never had a discussion about a player playing hurling or football or anything like that. We go, we get our players, we make them as good as they can be, we go out and we represent our county and that’s what’s happening with these bunch of lads.
And of what he knows of Tyrone prior to this final?
The closest in my time we came to meet was when we went up to see the Ulster minor football final between Monaghan and Tyrone in 2013. Monaghan beat Tyrone in the minor and by beating them, Tipp had lost the Munster final, it was Monaghan against Tipperary. Monaghan beat our minors in that All- Ireland quarter-final.
“We’ve a few players off that team. There’s four of the Tyrone team that came off that team as well. Young Lee Brennan was on that Tyrone team. Excellent footballer, real good forward. McShane was a sub. Burns the other midfield was playing as well, he was on that minor team in 2013.
As for personal satisfaction in reaching this final, Tommy answered...
I think if you go into any operation, you’ll have people, looking at yourself. Do I like to be in an All-Ireland final next Saturday? Yes, I’m delighted we’re there. All sportspeople, anyone involved in sport, the first thing you’ve to learn is you’re going to lose. The flipside of that you’re going to win.
“We’ve had some fantastic days in the last seven or eight years. I’ve had the honour to be in Croke Park watching from the sideline. Did video analysis for the Tipperary minor football team. I held the water for the team.
“We work very closely as a management team. This management team is tight. Peter Creedon senior football, Mickey McGeehan, Mike O’Loughlin, Eoghan Coo-ney, all the way, our physios, Marie Ahern, Niamh, Jimmy Cunningham, the whole lot, Kevin Stapleton and Tommy Fitz from Solohead. All that particular unit there, the expertise in behind the senior football team launched on to the U21 team.
“I’m proud of the whole lot of that. I’m proud to be involved in it and I’m very proud of this team in particular. To be up there having a go against Tyrone next Saturday, we couldn’t be in a better place,” he concluded