County Secretary looks back on a year to remember for Tipperary GAA

County Secretary looks back on a year to remember for Tipperary GAA

Tipp claimed the All Ireland title with victory over Kilkenny in the final.

 

Tipperary County GAA Board secretary Tim Floyd says in his annual report that 2016 has been the most successful in his ten years in the job.

"I thought 2010 would not be surpassed with senior hurling and  under 21 hurlinig All Ireland titles plus the under 21 football Munster win but in 2016 achieving the senior and minor hurling  titlles plus the performance of our senior footballers  in reaching the All Ireland Semi Final marks the year out as very special. 

"This was a year when Tipperary supporters walked tall and proud as the country admired the manner of our success. 

"This was further borne out with seven All Star awards in hurling and a rare football All Star for Michael Quinlivan."

He charts the course to All Ireland senior success after failing to be involved in the conclusion of the league.

UNDER THE RADAR

"During this time Tipperary operated under the radar with “behind closed doors” training and challenge games. Whilst the club games exposed players to injury (like Barry Heffernan’s second concussion) it also threw up new player possibilities and resulted in John O’Keeffe, Donagh Maher, Stephen Cahill and Aidan McCormack all added to the panel. 

Cork under new manager Kieran Kingston despite having a poor League, ending up at the bottom of the table, still managed to avoid relegation with victory over Galway in a play-off. The Tipp selection showed four new championship debutants in Seamus Kennedy, Sean Curran, Dan McCormack and John McGrath which left a strong bench including Patrick Maher, Niall O’Meara, Kieran Bergin and Jason Forde. 

In the pouring rain at Semple Stadium Tipp raced into an early lead and were comfortable at half time 0-14 to 0-05 without reaching top gear. Cork had William Egan acting as sweeper to limit the damage but it did little to deter the Premier side from going on for an easy 0-22 to 0-13 victory and qualify for a semi-final against Limerick four weeks later. 

Once again the club championship filled the void as Waterford turned the tables on League champions Clare and were first to qualify for the Munster Final. Tipp’s starting line up for the Limerick game showed one change with Patrick Maher replacing Sean Curran. Once again the rain poured down in Semple Stadium but it didn’t deter a confident Tipp who raced into an early lead helped by a double whammy of goals by Michael Breen in the first ten minutes. 

This advantage proved vital following the dismissal of John O’Dwyer in the 14th minute resulting in a strong rally by the Treaty side before Seamus Callanan netted again in the 27th to give Tipp the cushion to see the game out. 

Tipp were very composed in the second half as they overcame the numerical disadvantage and despite a late goal by Limerick’s Tom Morrissey, held out for a deserving and impressive two point victory. 

MUNSTER TITLE RETAINED

Waterford threw down an early gauntlet by opting to play the Munster Final in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds rather than give Tipp home advantage in Semple Stadium. Sunday July 10th arrived and Niall O’Meara replaced the suspended John O’Dwyer as once again heavy rain was the order of the day.

 But the weather, the venue or the absence of John O’Dwyer did not deter Tipp from an outstanding Munster Final performance as the Premier side brushed the sweeper aside and laid siege on the Waterford goals from the start. 

A John McGrath goal in the ninth minute was the key score of the first half as Tipp led at half time 1-07 to 0-08 with Waterford driving ten wides during that period and falling to score for 20 minutes. Six minutes into the second half the floodgates opened as John McGrath added a second goal and secured his hat trick from a penalty in the 12th minute. 

Michael Breen scored a fourth goal in between and Seamus Callanan netted the fifth to close out the game in the final minutes. A miserable day in the Limerick rain for Waterford who saw their defensive system collapse around them as Brendan Maher collected back to back Munster trophies for the Premier County. 

Double double delight as the Tipp minors had earlier won their Munster title in the curtain raiser. 

So far so good but managing the next five weeks during the lead in to the All Ireland semi-final was going to be a major challenge for the new management team. It was during this period in 2015 the momentum was lost leading to the Galway defeat. For now focus turned back to Divisional club activity plus Tipp’s U21 hurling campaign as the County Senior footballers successful journey kept the focus away from the hurling during this crucial period. 

REVENGE ON GALWAY

August 14th arrived and management kept faith with the same Munster final 15 as John O’Dwyer was kept in reserve. The game started at lightning pace with points exchanged until Conor Cooney goaled in the 7th minute. This goal activated Tipp who showed great character responding by scoring seven points to Galway’s one, but the Tribesmen replied with six more on the trot. 

A highlight of the first half was a crunching tackle by Padraig Maher on Joe Canning resulting in both  leaving the pitch blood stained and returning to the fray before half time as Galway led  at the break 1-10 to 0-11. Joe Canning did not re-appear in the second half as he also picked up a hamstring injury but his absence inspired the other Galway players especially Joseph Cooney who goaled in the 8th minute to restore the lead. 

Once again Tipp rallied with points including two from the Maher brothers in the halfback line but crucially two goals from John O’Dwyer and John McGrath as the Premier boys hit the front with ten minutes remaining. In a hectic finish that had the 54,227 crowd gripping their seats, Tipp held out for a famous one point victory and a place in the All Ireland Final against old rivals Kilkenny.

 Old failings of poor finishes in the League were now forgotten as Tipp proved they could win a tight game by keeping composure when the real pressure was on in the closing stages. They also had the satisfaction of reversing the one point defeat of 12 months ago to the same opposition. 

The countdown to the All Ireland Final began with the added bonus of our minors on the same bill. Kilkenny’s record in recent years made them favourites but Tipperary were developing a steely edge to their game which gave them an air of quiet confidence and an inner demand for redemption. 

A DAY TO REMEMBER

All Ireland final day arrived and Tipp kept their usual routine and travelled by bus to the capital on the morning. The players and management took in the atmosphere in the stand for a short period by watching some of the minor game as Tipperary youngsters showed the way with a seven point victory over Limerick. Brian Gavin was refereeing his fourth All Ireland final having previously been in charge of the 2011 and 2014 final replay when Kilkenny came out on top on both occasions.

Brendan Maher lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup.

The game opened at a ferocious pace which enthralled the 82,016 official attendance. Seamus Callanan opening the scoring with a point in the third minute as Tipp forwards pulled the Kilkenny back line out of position to create plenty of open spaces. As Tipperary scored freely from play Kilkenny were relying on TJ Reid’s frees to stay in touch.

 By half time the Premier side led by 0-14 to 0-12 with all but two points coming from play. The Kilkenny reply after half time came as expected with two TJ Reid points followed by a Kevin Kelly goal as Kilkenny hit the front in the 41st minute. Tipp’s response was rapid and set the tone for the remainder of the game. Two points from Callanan and another from sub Jason Forde before John “Bubbles” O’Dwyer pounced for a goal in the 48th minute and another goal by John McGrath in the 60th minute after Darren Gleeson denied Kevin Kelly a second green, gave Tipp a 2-25 to 1-19 lead. 

Within two minutes Kilkenny responded with a Richie Hogan goal and it looked like a revival was on the cards but at this stage Tipp showed their true resolve and circled the wagons to deny Kilkenny any opening to stage a comeback. 

Patrick “Bonnar” Maher completed the scoring with a point after Tipp outscored their rivals four points to one in the final minutes and went on to claim the McCarthy Cup for the 27th time. 

Seamus Callanan picked up the “Man of the Match” award having scored 13 points with nine of those from play.

 But this was far from a one man show as every single Tipp player put their bodies on the line to secure this All Ireland. The celebrations began as the team and their families headed for the Double Tree Hilton Hotel (Burlington) for a banquet hosted by County Board and the Tipperary Association in Dublin.

 The homecoming in Semple Stadium the following night was a memorable occasion as 30,000 supporters gathered to welcome home their heroes. Another big reception the following Saturday night in the Manager’s home parish of Upperchurch completed the celebrations before the McCarthy & Irish Press Cups commenced their tour of schools in the County.

 Looking back, the 27th All Ireland title was the culmination of years of planning and perseverance in which Mick Ryan played an integral part. As a selector with Liam Sheedy from 2008 to 2010 he tasted bitter defeat before enjoying the sweet taste of victory. He teamed up with Eamon O’Shea as a selector from 2013 to 2015 and suffered the heartbreak and frustration with his manager as their team had most of the qualities but came up short when it came to delivering. 

MANAGER'S KEY ROLE

Mick’s appointment as Manager elect before the 2015 season began was not met with approval in a lot of quarters but surely it makes a lot of sense. At National level the President of the GAA is elected 12 months in advance and even in our county the Chairman serves three years apprenticeship as head of Co. CCC before he assumes the higher office. Mick Ryan truly served his apprenticeship and learned from working alongside Sheedy and O’Shea. When his time came he put his own stamp and cutting edge on the team which added to the flair and skill already there. The maturity of the players over the past six years also played a big part as they took responsibility and were very much self motivated. So well done to the management team, backroom plus all the players for a perfect year and we are looking forward to 2017 already.

MINORS MAKE IT A DOUBLE

Following heavy defeats to Limerick and Clare in 2014 our minors claimed the Munster title in 2015 and were defeated in the All Ireland Final by Galway. So unfinished business was the motto for this group as their low key performance in the Croke Park finale left them very disappointed. 

Once again the County was scoured to unearth new talent as only a few players like Brian McGrath, Cian Darcy and Lyndon Fairbrother of the starting fifteen were still underage. 

A tricky first round play-off fixture against Waterford away in Walsh Park was a big challenge. This was a repeat of our opening 2015 fixture when Tipp won by one point in Semple Stadium. This year Waterford had the benefit of a first round game where they lost to Cork. Tipp had a good opening quarter and led by three points thanks to an early Dylan Quirke goal, but the Decies physical power came to the fore as they took over to lead by two points at the break. 

Waterford’s use of the sweeper system paid them dividends as Tipp failed to break through for much needed goals in the second half and were very reliant on the accurate free taking of Fairbrother who recorded nine points from placed balls. A three point defeat was a big disappointment and really put pressure on all concerned as we headed for another away play-off game versus Clare in Cusack Park one week later. 

The Banner had also lost their opening game to Limerick but home advantage was a big bonus for them. For the losers it would mark a sudden end to their 2016 campaign but for the winners it meant an eight week break to re-launch their assault on a Munster and All Ireland title. 

Tipp lined out in Ennis with four changes and numerous positional switches and it all paid off as the Premier boys dominated the opening half to lead by seven points at the break. Clare rallied in the second half and brought it back to three but Tipp finished in a flourish with goals by Cian Darcy and Dylan Walsh in the final minutes to secure a nine point victory .

The reward was another away game, this time in Pairc Ui Rinn v Cork in the semi-final. The Rebels had an opening round victory over Waterford to qualify but with the losers’ group play-offs and exams it meant a ten week wait. 

The long layoff mattered little to Cork as they totally dominated the opening quarter and looked like the Rebels team for the future. Their full forward Josh Beausang was a real handful and scored a decisive goal before the break to give Cork a three point lead. This was extended to six points with three unanswered points after the resumption. Then Tipp clicked into action and gave one of the best performances of a Tipp Minor team in years as subs like Dylan Walsh and Cian Flanagan, combined with the positional switches, to drive on against the odds. Scoring 14 points in the final 25 minutes the Tipp boys romped to victory by five points and qualified for another Munster Final date with Limerick and our fourth game away from home. 

Tipperary carried the same momentum into the final at the Gaelic Grounds on a wet miserable July afternoon and dominated the opening half to lead 0-13 to 0-07 at half time. A Jake Morris goal minutes into the second half opened the floodgates as Tipp went on to win their 39th Munster Minor Hurling title and their third in five years. Brian McGrath lifted the trophy and Jake Morris received Man of the Match following his 1-04 contribution.

 In the semi-final Tipp faced Galway, their conquerors in the 2015 Al Ireland Final by six points and seven of the squad starting again under the same manager Jeff Lynsky. A tall order one would think five weeks later but a Tipp team gathering momentum is hard to stop and a ruthless streak now added as the Premier boys went for the juggler and bagged three goals in the first half from Cian Darcy, Mark Kehoe and Rian Doody to build up an eight point lead at the break. 

Three more goals were added from Darcy, Doody and Ger Browne in the first ten minutes of the second half while keeper Ciaran Barrett kept the tribesmen at bay at the other end. As the Galway sweeper system collapsed Tipp swept home with Cian Darcy completing his hat trick of goals to earn “Man of the Match” and Tipp’s place in the All Ireland minor hurling final for 2016. 

LIMERICK OVERCOME TO CLAIM TITLE

In the final Tipp faced a resurgent Limerick side who bounced back from a seventeen point Munster Final defeat to beat Wexford in the All Ireland Quarter Final by eight points and Dublin by six points in the semi-final. Managing the lead-in to this final was a big challenge as expectations, following two major victories, were high but Liam Cahill and Co. worked on the players’ mental attitude as well as game plans to keep every one’s feet firmly on the ground. 

Like the seniors the team travelled up on All Ireland morning stopping at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel for pre-match food before finally entering the Croke Park stadium for the greatest sporting day of their lives to date.

 Brian McGrath with the Irish Press Cup.

Limerick were prepared and set up a sweeper system which Tipp found difficult to break down early on. By the 23rd minute Tipp led 0-08 to 0-03 but Limerick dominated the last few minutes to only trail by one point at half time 0-09 to 0-08. The only goal of the game by Jake Morris four minutes into the second half was a decisive score as Tipp kept their composure against the wind to hold out for a seven point victory 1-21 to 0-17 with semi final heroes Cian Darcy and Rian Doody both replaced, as Jake Morris regained his Munster Final form while dual player Colin English scored four points and substitute Shane Neville scored three points. 

This proved the strength in depth of the panel as different leaders stood up on each occasion. Captain Brian McGrath was an inspiration and deserved to climb the steps to receive the Irish Press Cup and claim Tipperary’s 20th All Ireland Minor Hurling title. The victory was a massive achievement for Liam Cahill and his management team who shipped a lot of criticism in their first year following defeats to Limerick and Clare. 

The appointment of Michael Bevans as Coach was the catalyst that drove this group to two Munster titles and to contest two All Ireland finals. It allowed Liam carry out his managerial role by having the freedom to overview all aspects of preparation. Liam, Mikey, John Sheedy, Sean Corbett and TJ Ryan have the interest and future of Tipperary hurling at heart and over the past three years have developed a group of young hurlers who will lead the Premier County to further success. Congratulations to one and all who have made us so proud.

NEW ERA FOR TIPP FOOTBALL

The performance of our Football teams in recent years begs the question, have we entered a new era for football in the County. Since winning the Munster U21 Football title in 2010 the last six year years has placed Gaelic football at a new level. 

Capturing the All Ireland Minor title in 2011 was an achievement that surpassed all our expectation and then coming so close in 2015 to winning the All Ireland U21 Football title. But this year’s achievement by our Senior Footballers in reaching the All Ireland Semi Final proved that we can now mix it with the “Big Boys” at the highest level. 

Defeating Derry was in itself a milestone as it proved that we can now beat a Northern team, as they have been a major stumbling block with progress in both league and championship in recent years. Our immediate thoughts now turn to the Allianz League in 2017 and it is here that our real progress will be truly measured. In 2016, below average performances against Longford and Kildare cost us promotion from Division 3. Our cause wasn’t helped by the departure of key player’s midyear to the US which weakened our panel. 

Michael Quinlivan in action against Derry.

Having started the year minus at least six first team players it gave others an opportunity to step up to the mark which they duly did as many of the 2015 under 21’s grasped the chance to make an impact. We hope our panel has settled now although the loss of Peter Acheson is immense. But this group survived the departure of key players in 2016 and already ten new panellists have been announced for 2017. A strong panel is the key and 5 or 6 impact subs is vital when the occasion demands it. 

Management must insist on total commitment for the full season as we cannot invest time and money in players pre-season and during the league to see them depart at a crucial stage. At our November Co. Committee meeting the Árd Stiúrthóir told delegates that our footballers are actually a lot better than Tipperary people themselves think. He said this in the context of being able to compete in the last eight Round Robin series in the new football proposals which look like being introduced at Congress in February. 

Each year we plan that our Senior hurlers will be contesting All Ireland Semi-Finals and Finals, maybe now we should also have the same plan for our Senior Football team but to think at this level we must play in Division One or Two of the National League. 

When Barry O’Brien during his term as Co. Chairman predicted that Tipp would win an All Ireland Senior Football by 2020 very few would have shared that view. Six years later we were just one step away from contesting the All Ireland Final. 

A lot of good work has been done with football in recent years. We have been blessed with good managers over all our football teams who have pushed the momentum forward. The football development squads concept is now an integral part of our structures. As a county Board we invest our finances equally in football and hurling. The Friends of Tipperary football are now stepping up to the mark in providing that extra finance to assist Co. Board. I believe the one area that can be improved is the structure of our Co. Football Committee. We need to examine ways to make it more productive and innovative. 

Under our Bye Laws over one hundred delegates can be present at a monthly football committee meeting. Usually about 20 turn up as most clubs don’t send any delegate. Surely this needs to change as it’s very difficult to do business with such irregularity. We also need to draw up new terms of reference for the Co. Football Committee to define their role and purpose as there seems to be a lot of confusion in this area as we saw at their recent convention. I believe the Football Management Committee should examine all of this and bring forward draft proposals to County Board. A lot has been done and achieved by Tipperary Football in recent years but we now need to drive forward from a revised and renewed base.