They’ve captured the imagination of sports followers all over the country with their exploits this year and now they’re trying to go all the way and claim ownership of a rare All-Ireland football title for their county.
Tipperary go into Sunday’s All-Ireland Minor Football Final at Croke Park (throw-in 1.15) as the 11/4 outsiders against a Dublin team that’s rated at 11/4 on. However, since they’ve been upsetting the odds all season, the outsiders tag will sit comfortably with a team that has the potential and ability to cause yet another upset.
Tipp have blazed an impressive if unlikely trail through this year’s championship. Now they’re just an hour away from causing another major shock.
Tradition weighs heavily against them. Although they were All-Ireland Minor champions in 1934 the county has yet to win a Minor All-Ireland Final. Two of their three previous appearances in All-Ireland Minor Finals have seen them defeated by the Dubs, in 1955 and 1984 (they were beaten by Mayo in the 1935 decider). Yet those events of many years ago will hardly matter to this talented class of 2011.
They don’t respect reputations, as their defeats of heavyweights such as Kerry, Cork and Meath have already shown and nothing would give them greater pleasure than to tear the form book to shreds once again this weekend.
They were the outsiders of the four teams remaining at the semi-final stage, yet they’re still involved when more fancied teams Roscommon and Galway have fallen by the wayside.
Few could have predicted when they beat Limerick in Kilmallock in the Munster quarter-final on April 13th, a few weeks after the clocks went forward, that they would be still involved in the championship at the final hurdle, when the nights are rapidly closing in.
That 1-13 to 0-9 victory laid the foundation for a successful campaign. And even if it didn’t set the world alight, it was their next result that made people sit up and take notice. When they were 11 points behind Kerry on two occasions in the first half of the Munster semi-final in Thurles, and 10 points behind at half time, they seemed to be on their way out of the championship.
However a second half revival secured a sensational 2-12 to 3-8 victory. Goals from Michael Quinlivan and Colman Kennedy (both Commercials) sent the comeback into overdrive and when captain Liam McGrath (Loughmore/Castleiney) broke through two challenges before curling a superb effort between the posts in additional time their joy was complete.
Under the guidance of manager David Power (Kilsheelan), his selectors Tadhg Duggan (Arravale Rovers), Fergal McDonnell (JK Brackens) and Pat Murphy (Kilruane MacDonaghs); physical coach Alan O’Connor (Cahir) and the backroom team, which includes Senior and U-21 coach John Evans, they advanced with confidence to the Munster Final against Cork in Killarney.
The famous victory over Kerry would have been worth little if they didn’t go all the way in the province and they duly obliged in the final. This time the margin was much more convincing, an 8-points victory helping to secure the county’s 6th Munster title and their first since 1995.
Two second-half goals proved crucial. The first was scored by Killenaule’s Greg Henry, who was prominent throughout, and then a penalty converted by Michael Quinlivan 9 minutes from the end of normal time moved them into the comfort zone.
From there it was onto Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Portlaoise on the August Bank Holiday. On the back of their provincial success they entered the game as favourites and duly justified that rating with a hard-fought 4 points win (0-11 to 0-7).
On the day they had solid performances from Philip Quirke of Moyle Rovers, centre back Dylan Fitzell (Cashel King Cormacs), Colin O’Riordan of JK Brackens, full-back John Meagher (Loughmore/Castleiney), Ballina’s Stephen O’Brien and Kilsheelan’s Bill Maher.
One of their best players, Rockwell Rovers corner-forward TJ Ryan was left out of the starting line-up that day because of illness but was restored to the starting fifteen for the semi-final.
The semi-final against Roscommon brought them to Croke Park and they were undaunted by the occasion. They were the better team for long periods but they came under pressure when they lost highly influential midfielder Ian Fahey (Commercials) to a second yellow card 10 minutes from the finish, which meant that the closing stages were more uncomfortable than they should have been.
However they held their nerve and ran out deserved winners on a 1-11 to 0-12 scoreline.
Throughout the season they’ve played with confidence and style and on Sunday they’ll be looking to maintain the form that has seen them win five successive matches en route to the final.
Dublin, managed by former senior Dessie Farrell, have impressed throughout the championship, although they were pushed all the way by Galway in the semi-final before emerging with a 1-11 to 1-9 victory.
They had a first half goal from corner forward Scott Fulham to help them lead at the break by 1-5 to 0-4. They were rattled by Galway’s strong start to the second half, which saw them score 1-4 without reply inside the opening 10 minutes, before centre forward Ciaran Kilkenny scored 4 late points to seal the win.
They’ll have the advantage of strong home support ahead of the Senior Final against Kerry, although that expectation will bring its own pressures too.
Tipp have just one Minor All-Ireland, won in 1934, but no final was played that year. They beat Mayo in the semi-final and were awarded the championship after Dublin and Tyrone were disqualified for “illegalities”.
That title wasn’t won on the field of play, so 77 years later the current generation has a great chance to put the record straight.