We’re a week out now from the All-Ireland semi-final so I guess it’s time to start thinking about Tipperary, focusing on how they’ve been getting on of late, our meetings with them and all that.
While the wider world may, in the context of the Premier County’s fairytale Munster title success last weekend, view our meeting with them next Sunday as a novel fixture, this isn’t of course the case at all. It’s only four years, after all, since we last played them at this stage in the Championship and, of course, our paths crossed in the qualifiers since then as well, when we met on a broiling hot afternoon in Thurles in the middle of the long, hot summer of 2018.
I’ll come back to those two clashes in a bit but first let’s have a quick review of who Tipperary have been playing over the last while and how they’ve been getting on. In doing so, it’s as well to take as our starting point the aftermath of that qualifier meeting in 2018.
After we’d halted their gallop in that year’s Championship, Tipperary started life the following spring in Division Two of the National League. An unhappy start to 2019 it proved to be for them too as, after just one win, combined with a draw and five losses, Tipp finished bottom of the division and, along with Cork, they dropped to Division Three.
Things then went from bad to worse for them in the Championship last summer. Heavily favoured to beat Limerick in the quarter-final of the Munster Championship, instead they slumped to 3-11 to 1-10 loss to a team that subsequently went out and got walloped 3-18 to 0-6 by Cork in the semi-final. The Rebels then lost the final to Kerry.
That certainly wasn’t the kind of form that hinted a breakthrough provincial success might be on the cards any time soon for the Premier lads. It was the same in the qualifiers, as they exited, at the first time of asking, away to Down in Round 1 where they lost by 1-13 to 1-10. So, after just two outings, an utterly forgettable Championship year was over for them.
Now in Division Three, this spring gave little hint of Tipperary’s coming renaissance either. The League campaign – which, of course, only concluded last month – was a disappointment for them, as they ended up in fifth place on seven points.
Their slate of matches started back at the end of January in Clonmel, where they had a reunion with Down, who’d knocked them out of the Championship last summer. This time the honours were even, the match ending in a ten points apiece draw.
The following weekend, Tipp travelled to Drogheda from where they came away with an 0-11 to 0-7 win over Louth. That win, though, was followed by three defeats on the trot before the action was brought to a halt by the pandemic.
The first loss was away to Derry, where they were beaten by 0-10 to 0-5, and then they were unlucky to lose out in a high-scoring tussle with Cork at Thurles, that one ending 3-13 to 0-21. Another game with plenty of scores followed, this time at Pearse Park in Longford, where the home team emerged the winners by 3-12 to 3-7.
Tipp were now staring down the barrel of potential relegation to the basement division and, no more than ourselves, were probably hoping during the long Covid-induced interregnum that this year’s National League would be scrubbed from the record. Unlike us, though, once the action resumed they secured their divisional status, beating Offaly by 1-16 to 0-16 in Thurles before grabbing a nervy 2-11 to 0-15 win over Leitrim at Carrick-on-Shannon in the final round.
So, even as recently as a few weeks ago, there was precious little evidence that might help to foresee the seismic events that were set to unfold in Munster this month. To be honest, once the provincial Championship got going down south Tipp were still slow enough to show their hand.
They opened their Munster campaign over Hallowe’en. Clare, operating out of Division Two in the League, were fancied to beat them but goals early in each half of this encounter at Semple Stadium – the first from captain Conor Sweeney and the second from wing-back Bill Maher – proved decisive for the home team. They won by 2-11 to 1-11 at the finish.
Limerick were up next for Tipp and this one almost proved fatal. It would have done but for Conor Sweeney’s wonder strike from a free out near the sideline late in injury time, which pushed this tie at the Gaelic Grounds into extra-time. Tipp finally emerged from this absorbing contest with a 1-15 to 2-11 victory.
With Cork, though, having sensationally dumped out Kerry in the other semi-final, the Rebels were huge favourites to win the Munster title last Sunday. On a day of high emotion at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, however, with the Tipp lads looking the absolute business in their commemorative Bloody Sunday centenary jerseys, it was the Premier County who prevailed by 0-17 to 0-14.
The win secured Tipp their tenth Munster title and their first since 1935. Their title victory last Sunday, coupled with Cavan’s shock victory over Donegal the same day, also ensures that the 2020 Championship has an eerie historical parallel with the one in 1920, featuring as it does the same four All-Ireland semi-finalists.
Tipperary won that Championship, in which the final wasn’t played until the summer of 1922, but we’re the favourites to prevail over the Premier a century on. The recent encounters between us have gone our way but in both games Tipp have given us a decent rattle.
We never, in truth, looked like we were going to lose the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final but Tipperary would have had some regrets about how that game went for them. Robbie Kiely was black carded early on for the kind of offence that refs seem to overlook every time the likes of Dublin or Kerry commit them and his loss was a huge blow to them. By the time Bill Maher was sent off late on for a striking offence the tie was already beyond them.
Tipp gave us another bellyful when we met them in Thurles in the qualifiers two years later. We were definitely ripe for the taking then – Kildare duly took us at Newbridge a week later – and the Premier lads proved a real handful for us on a stone hard pitch at Semple Stadium that June day.
Our cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Colm Boyle to a black card before half-time and we were further hobbled when Seamus O’Shea limped from the field early in the second half with a season-ending dislocation injury. With Tom Parsons having suffered his horror knee injury earlier that summer, this meant we had to see out the game without either of our first-choice midfielders.
It has been claimed by some here that it the flukey goal scored by James Durcan saved our bacon that day. That’s not wholly accurate, however, even if the Castlebar man’s effort was most likely an undercooked attempt at a point that dipped into the net. What that particular narrative ignores is the fact that we blew Tipp away with 1-8 without reply in the final quarter that day. We were fully deserving winners by eight points in that game, even if the lads had made us all sweat a bit before they got motoring properly.
But that’s all history now. And, as the teams head to HQ for Sunday’s behind-closed-doors meeting, it’s Tipperary who have the hand of history with them, even if they’ve opted to revert back to their usual blue and gold kit for the game.
While Tipp can look to the past for inspiration, we’ll go into Sunday’s match using our recent track record in All-Ireland semi-finals as our guide. This is our ninth semi-final appearance in the last ten years and while we’ve made it through to the decider four times, losing out four times as well, it’s worth recalling that only Kerry and Dublin have lowered our banners and on two occasions they only managed to do so after replays.
We’ve also beaten both of them at this stage in the Championship over the past decade – Kerry in that memorable replay win in 2017 – and, as well as Tipperary, we’ve also got the better of Tyrone in the penultimate round of the Championship over the past decade.
You have to go back a long way to find the most recent time that, in a year we won Connacht, we were knocked out of the Championship by anyone other than Dublin or Kerry. That year was 2009 when we punched well below our weight to lose out to a no better than mediocre Meath team at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
But that truly was ancient history. It was certainly before the consistently competitive era that James Horan ushered in for us in the years since then. We can, for sure, expect to be competitive once more next Sunday but will we be victorious? I’ll leave that one for you to vote on.
Will we beat Tipp?
- Yes (84%, 1,059 Votes)
- No (16%, 204 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,263