All Star forward Michael Quinlivan in action against Cork in last year's Munster semi-final win.
Eight weeks on from their National Football League Division 3 final triumph on Sunday, 10th April against Louth at Croke Park, Tipperary senior footballers begin their championship season with a Munster semi-final against Cork at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening next (at 5 pm).
For a number of reasons, this time round, compared to previous years, there is a different air about this Cork v Tipperary fixture. There is, no doubt, an increased expectation on Liam Kearns’ side, a price of success, perhaps, but there is now also a greater national focus on the Premier County’s footballers after their exploits of last year.
Besides coming to this year’s championship opener as Division 3 champions - they will play in the same Division as Cork next year - there is also the “small matter” of last year’s result at the same stage of the championship to factor into account.
Then, on an unforgettable day at Semple Stadium, Tipp recorded their first championship victory over Cork in all of 72 years, on a 3-15 to 2-16 scorline. It was the seismic breakthrough that football in Tipperary had craved for decades and it was the catalyst that gave them the belief to go on and achieve even more before a super summer of football eventually ended in a brave defeat to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.
This year's captain Brian Fox who had a stormer in the win over Cork twelve months ago. Below Robbie Kiely whom Tipp will look for to help with attacking options from defence.
The clash twelve months ago between the sides in Thurles was a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride for Tipperary and their followers. A superb first half by Tipp rocked ‘The Rebels’ and the home side went in at the interval seven points to the good. Following Tipp’s third goal from Brian Fox (after Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan had earlier goaled) Tipp would lead by a staggering nine points with eight minutes remaining.
Disastrously it looked like it would all count for nothing other than glorious defeat when Cork levelled the game as the clock went into time-added on. However, phoenix-like Tipp once more rose and two placed balls, both scored by Kevin O’Halloran, wrote the Peter Acheson led team into the history annals as Tipp’s first conquerors of Cork since 1944.
As good as it is to recall now - and will be for years to come such was the magnitude of the achievement by one of football’s also-rans - it all took place last year and time moves on.
Tipperary’s National Football League campaign throughout the spring mixed the good with the bad and a lot in between before eventually Tipperary gained promotion.
A seven game campaign yielded five wins and two losses before a play-off final against Louth saw Tipperary lift silverware at Croke Park; they were crowned Division 4 champions two years earlier with victory over Clare.
The lows of the campaign were home defeats to Sligo and Louth, the latter the more so when victory would have guaranteed promotion.
The zenith moment, strangely wasn’t the Croke Park final against Louth (as welcome as it was) but rather the last of the regulation league games. That day Tipp travelled to Armagh as rank outsiders for a winner-takes-all clash against Kieran McGeeney’s side. Having lost the previous Sunday at home to Louth who had been well beaten previously by Armagh, few gave Tipp a real chance. But superbly they rose to the challenge, none more so than All-Star Michael Quinlivan who bagged his third goal deep in injury-time to secure what seemed an unlikely promotion to Division 2. The 3-8 to 0-16 scoreline silenced the large partisan Ulster crowd as Tipp’s most loyal supporters celebrated.
Over the course of the league campaign manager Liam Kearns has used the eight games as a means of trying and testing new talent. From last year’s championship game against Mayo he has had to re-adapt without two hugely significant players in Ciaran McDonald and last year’s captain Peter Acheson.
And now Tipp have to cope with somewhat of an injury crisis with the following ruled out due to injury: Philip Austin, Colm O’Shaughnessy, Jack Kennedy, Kevin Fahey, Ian Fahey and Willie Connors, while serious doubts cloud the availability of Paddy Codd and Emmet Moloney
The loss of Evan Comerford (Kilsheelan/Kilcash) due to a 12-weeks suspension imposed following his club’s game with JK Brackens two weeks ago is also a savage loss to the county at this late juncture in the preparations for the Cork game. After Comerford’s failed appeal last Friday night Ciarán Kenrick (Moyle Rovers) will fill the void created by his suspension.
It will be a huge ask of Tipp to emulate last year. We travel more in hope than expectation.