At Parnell Park, Dublin, on Saturday last, Tipp under 21 footballers’ super human effort to win a first-ever All-Ireland title fell, heartbreakingly, just short.
An heroic bunch of players performed magnificently giving their all and leaving nothing behind in their trail only admiration and pride. That they came up one point short, having one hand almost on the cup towards half-time, was undeserved and harsh in the extreme. Understandably, at full-time, depleted physically, mentally and now with a dream shattered, they were inconsolable.
One-point defeats in sport are the hardest of all to come to terms with. Time heals but the “what ifs” and “if onlys” always linger. At the final blast of Fergal Kelly’s whistle, Tipp were left to rue a multitude not least Kelly’s handling - or lack of - certain issues.
The extended half-time break - as a result of a man’s death and to whom sincere sympathy is extended to his family - certainly did not help Tipp’s cause. They went in at half-time buoyed up by a superb performance against the wind and with the momentum in their favour. Why they were allowed out on to the field, prematurely, to be hauled back in again while Tyrone stayed in the dressingroom begs an answer. It handed the Red Hand County an advantage of sorts.
But the hardest pill for Tipp to swallow will be the fact that they had a glorious opportunity in their own hands to capture the Tim Clarke Cup for the first time but like the slippery ball on the day, it passed through their hands. They went in two up at the break and it could, and should, perhaps have been four. Had it been a wider margin, would Tyrone have recovered? Also in the second half a few more definite chances - and a couple of scoreable frees - went abegging and with it went the dream of All-Ireland glory.
Under a low grey sky and a constant heavy drizzle it had all started positively enough for Tipp who were 0-2 to 0-0 ahead after six minutes from a Kevin O’Halloran free and a great point from 35 metres by Ian Fahey.
Tyrone had kicked four wides in this period (10 in the first half) as the Tipperary defence led by Luke Boland stood firm. The Ulster champions were level by 10 minutes with points from Bradley and Moyler but Tipp were doing well against the elements.
It was 0-3 apiece by 18 minutes with Josh Keane’s point matched by a second point by late replacement Bradley.
Josh Keane put Tipp in front again and after Colin O’Riordan was fouled O’Halloran’s free gave Tipp a two point cushion after 20 minutes.
Forced to shoot from distance due to the great cover work by the Tipp defence Cassidy from 45 metres scored a huge point for Tyrone. Tipp were getting on top it seemed at this stage. A poor wide by Liam Casey was followed by Bill Maher’s 24th minute point after great defending by the Tipp forwards in not letting the Ulster backs out. Another free by O’Halloran had Tipp leading 0-7 to 0-4 with half-time approaching.
For once then Tipp found space in the middle with an overstretched Tyrone defence and the opportunity to force a score or a free was lost. The ball was turned over, Tyrone came downfield, won a softish enough free, and when McNulty converted was just 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time. It should have been even better.
The in-out, back-in and back-out ordeal for the Tipperary team at half-time over a period of 45 minutes was unfortunate in the circumstances but life is always more important than sport. The distruption did not help Tipp’s cause.
When the game eventually resumed almost three quarters of an hour after the end of the first half, Tyrone started the better with three of the first four points to level at 0-8 apiece on 40 minutes.
Lee Brennan’s opening free was responded to by O’Halloran’s 35m free after Bill Maher was fouled. Worryingly half-time sub McGlone stole in from the corner to blast wide of Evan Comerford’s goal as Tyrone adopted more direct hard running tactics for the second period.
Kavanagh’s point and another Lee Brennan free restored parity but Tipp were determined not to let go and two frees, by O’Halloran and Keane, put the Premier two up at 0-10 to 0-8 on 45 minutes.
It all changed utterly then. A wide by a Tyrone forward was called back for a free against Bill Maher which McNulty converted. From the kick-out Kavanagh gained control and ran at the Tipp defence setting up McShane for the game’s only goal. A huge swing of four points against Tipp in a minute. Definitely the game’s defining moment.
With their noses in front for the first time now, Tyrone introduced a win-at-all-costs brand of football, with off-the-ball tackling, time-wasting and almost deliberately breaking protocol with substitutes as if to confuse matters. Most of it slipped by the referee’s (and his officials) notice. Tyrone came with a health warning and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Kevin O’Halloran’s fifth free of the day in the 50th minute narrowed the deficit briefly to a point. However, Tyrone with a McNulty free and a second point by Kavanagh, stretched it to three with two minutes of normal time remaining. In between these two scores O’Halloran missed two scoreable frees, just when Tipperary needed them most.
Like a man on a mission the never-say-die captain Colin O’Riordan pointed from 45 metres on 59 minutes and followed it up with a superb 40 metre free a minute later to peg it back to one.
A long ball played in by O’Riordan ended up in the back of the Tyrone net but the referee was quick to disallow for an infringement on the goalkeeper.
The fairytale ending to a game and to a terrific campaign by Tommy Toomey’s side wasn’t to be. Not for now at least but you haven’t heard the last of these boys!
Tipperary: Evan Comerford (Kilsheelan/Kilcash), Jimmy Feehan (Killenaule), Colm O’Shaughnessy (Ardfinnan), Ross Mulcahy (Moyle Rovers), Luke Boland (Moyle Rovers), Bill Maher (Kilsheelan/Kilcash, 0-1), Steven O’Brien (Ballina), Colin O’Riordan, (JK Brackens, Captain, 0-2, 0-1F), Jason Lonergan (Clonmel Commercials), Ian Fahey (Clonmel Commercials, 0-1), Liam Casey (Cahir), Kevin O’Halloran (Portroe, (0-6, 0-5F), Josh Keane (Golden/Kilfeacle) (0-3, 0-1F), Paul Maher (Kilsheelan/Kilcash).
Sub: John Maher (Loughmore/Castleiney) for Paul Maher (52 minutes).
Tyrone: Sean Fox, Ruarí Mullan, Padraig Hampsey, Michael Cassidy (0-1), Ciaran McLoughlin, Ruairí Brennan, Kieran McGeary (Captain), Frank Burns, Cathal McShane (1-0), Conor Meyler (0-1), Mark Kavanagh (0-2), Matthew Walsh, Lee Brennan (0-2F), Daniel McNulty (0-3F), Mark Bradley (0-2).
Subs: Ruairi McGlone for Walsh (half-time); Ruairí Kelly for McShane (58); Peter McKenna for Lee Brennan (60).
Referee:Fergal Kelly (Longford).