Westside column – May 22nd 2010

It was a weekend of football focus with Thurles in the spotlight as hosts to champions Kerry. No fairytale, though, for the home side despite a spirited effort in front of a sparse attendance. It remained competitive for three-quarters of the journey before Kerry’s class ultimately showed. The qualifiers now await Tipperary in six weeks.

Meanwhile the hurlers continued preparations with a challenge outing against Laois where Lar Corbett made a welcome return. There’s talk of a further game with Clare midweek. An injury to Tom Kenny adds to Leeside woes.

With something of a lull in the hurling action ahead of the championship, football hogged the limelight last weekend. Drawing the All Ireland champions in their first round was no picnic for Tipperary, especially when the kingdom came fully primed for any ambush. Forewarned perhaps by their U21 defeat the Kerry seniors were taking no chances and by the end there was inevitability about the outcome.

In fairness to Tipperary they put on a decent show for longer than some expected. Philip Austin’s smashing goal was an early highlight and they stayed in touch until the second half. Eventually, though, the effort took its toll and a yawning gap opened up as Kerry kept the white flag busy. Twelve points is a huge margin, especially so in football, and that’s the cruelty of sport as Tipperary’s best efforts were lost in an avalanche of points.

There’s no disputing the fact that Tipperary football under the influence of John Evans has enjoyed something of an upswing. Climbing the league ladder to division two was progressive and indeed the side was desperately unlucky to drop back one rung after a series of narrow defeats. The Munster U21 win was further evidence of a new confidence in the code.

Indisputable too, however, is the fact that Sunday last offered a reality check for anyone who might be tempted to get carried away. Against the best in the land we’re quite a distance off the pace and it has still to be seen if present growth will bear longer term fruit.

Tipperary football tends to be characterised by these little waves of optimism from time to time but they rarely come to much. You had it in ’84 following a Munster minor win and again in ’95. In each case the future was going to be bright. You could argue that the 1998 junior win was progress and the Tommy Murphy cup was welcome too but ultimately it’s senior championship results that count and in that regard we’ve been pretty static. Indeed both Clare and Limerick have out-shone Tipperary in past seasons. Even last year in the wake of all the excitement over winning division three of the league we faced a critical championship date with Limerick and once more failed to make progress.

Will present developments lead to better things? It’s seventy-five years since we won a senior Munster final and ninety years since the last All Ireland in 1920. If you want to bet on Tipperary bridging either of those gaps any time soon, most bookies will be very generous with the odds – might even let you pick your own digits. And ultimately senior championship is the only true gauge of progress in the medium to long term.

In all of this football focus John Evans has been a central player and seems destined to remain so even if Croke Park has red carded his appointment as director of football in the county. He’s a loquacious Kerryman – is there any other type? – and in fairness he has delivered enough thus far for people to keep the faith. His problem will be to sustain forward momentum, which won’t be easy.

You get very mixed views on his proposed appointment as director of football in the county, a salaried post for which I’ve heard a figure of forty-five grand being mentioned. Croke Park baulks at the idea, not because they see anything sinister in the Tipperary situation, but rather they fear that a similar move could be used by others as a subterfuge to effectively pay their county team manager a hefty salary. That sounds a reasonable objection until you realise that it comes with a coating of hypocrisy because Croke Park already knows that managers are effectively paid salaries anyway, under the guise of expenses. As a director of football the money would be an open, visible payment but Croke Park seems to be happier if it’s out of sight.

Within Tipperary there are mixed views on the Evans proposition. Football is already heavily subsidised by hurling within this county because hurling is the big money earner. Football is a minority pursuit with little public support – less than five thousand in Thurles on Sunday – yet the code gets huge, even disproportionate financial backing from the county board. Digging deeper into those funds to pay John Evans a salary is frowned upon by some, who I suspect were privately delighted by Croke Park’s refusal to sanction the position.

There is of course a contrary view which sees the director proposal as a cost-effective way of dispensing with the expenses payments and giving a salary to one who would then deliver an effective structure to promote the game countywide. No more mileage for those long trips from Kerry but instead a set annual figure. Of course to be able to make a judgment on which option is most cost-effective one would need to know how much the manager already gets by way of expenses – and that I’m afraid remains one of life’s big mysteries to most of us.

This whole issue of football and its promotion in a hurling county like Tipperary is a delicate, touchy subject anyway. In a recent interview John Evans was quite frank in his depiction of Tipperary football as the second game in the county, something he was very comfortable with. That’s an acknowledgment that you won’t hear much from the football fraternity within Tipperary, who spend a lot of time grousing and griping.

In a previous incarnation I spent a quarter of a century reporting on West Tipperary games, football as well as hurling. I remember one day at a senior football championship match where the attendance was so miserable that somebody joked, ‘Did they all come in the one car?’ There’s very little public interest in the game, even in traditional football areas the support is often lacking. Last Sunday we had the All Ireland champions in Thurles on a pleasant May day and with Tipp football supposedly on the up. Yet less than five thousand passed through the turnstiles. It has been suggested to me that close to half of that number was from Kerry. That’s quite an indictment of Tipperary’s football community. By contrast there’s a scramble for scarce tickets for Sunday week in Cork.

If John Evans asked my advice (Ya, pigs will fly!) on how to promote football in Tipperary I’d suggest that his first task is to change the mindset of the football community. Get them to dispense with the siege mentality, accept the reality that football is a distant second to hurling and then work on its strengths. That means promoting the game in the football strongholds, something I would readily support. If, however, their dream is to convert Toomevara to the dual-code or having Sarsfields in the Munster club football championship then their mission is doomed.

I have another suggestion too with regard to football in Tipperary: we need an honest debate on all issues involved. At present there is a culture of avoidance. Board officers tip-toe around the football issue fearful lest they be accused of discrimination, which of course some have in the past. As a result they make the mandatory appearances at football events, pay lip service to the great work being done etc. etc. It would be much more honest to face up to the realities. Hurling knows its place in Kerry; football knows its place in Kilkenny; But in Tipperary too many live in denial.

Meanwhile back to the number one game hereabouts and the countdown to Sunday week and the Cork clash. The Tipperary team travelled to Portlaoise on Friday last for a challenge with the locals from King’s County. Tipperary ran up another big score, 5-23 I’m told, but conceded a hefty amount too, 2-20. It sounds like one of those open, free-running challenge games with a score-a-minute.

I don’t have the Tipperary line out but it seems it was quite a strong formation. A notable inclusion was Lar Corbett, recovered now from that knee swelling and hopefully in sprightly form for Sunday week. Overall there appears to be no major problem on the injury front apart from Paul Kelly, in plaster at the moment, and Gearoid Ryan. John O’Neill it seems has resumed light training, which is good news. He seems to be making spectacular progress after that knee surgery at the start of the year. Incidentally Brian O’Meara wasn’t playing because his club, Kilruane, was in championship action at the weekend; they beat Moneygall by a point.

Cork have their injury problems with Tom Kenny now in doubt and Michael Cussen said to be out for the game. Eoin Cadogan is still recovering and doesn’t appear to have played in their challenge win over Galway at the weekend. They must be sick of playing Galway at this stage.

I understand Tipperary will play Clare at Semple Stadium midweek in what I assume will be the final game before Cork. Hopefully they steer clear of injuries.

Finally on the club front there are a few games this weekend that I’m aware of, ones that don’t involve county personnel. In the West Kickhams play Golden\Kilfeacle. The Dundrum club can’t afford another slip up after losing earlier to the combo’. In the Mid Boherlahan play Moycarkey in what is a crunch tie in that particular group. Boherlahan must win and hope then for a favourable result in the final match when Drom face Sarsfields. If there’s a three-way tie it will go to score difference, otherwise the winner-takes-all between Moycarkey and Boherlahan. One team drops to the ‘B’ championship. You’ll have to consult the fixture list for details of these games.

Leave a Reply