Fate and faith still conspiring in the fortunes of Tipperary football

Veteran Brian Fox is fully focused on Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo

Brian Fox has his own take on the conspiracy between fate and faith in the recent fortunes of Tipperary football and for now at least it doesn't go anywhere beyond Sunday.

With so much already made of the stars and planets aligning for the county footballers in 2020, it may well be tempting but all that matters for Fox is the here and now and Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.

In getting there, however, Tipperary have been teasing destiny too, winning a first Munster title in 85 years on the centenary of both the county’s last All-Ireland and its role in Bloody Sunday, wearing the special commemorative jerseys to boot.

That also played a part in aligning the same four provincial champions, for only the second time in GAA history, also exactly 100 years on. Fox won’t need reminding of what happened then: Dublin beat Cavan in the first semi-final, Tipperary beat Mayo in the second, both those games delayed by the War of Independence, before Tipperary went on to beat Dublin in the final, played in June of 1922, and the rest is Tipperary championship famine history.

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“I was aware of it, saw something on Twitter the week before, and I know there were huge odds on it happening,” Fox says of the four same provincial winners in 2020, exactly a century since they last met.

“But I don’t think it affected our psyche. Some people do buy into that, and maybe for the opposing team, when things start to go wrong, they think this is not going to be for us. It only matters though if people allow it to matter, in their mentality.

“We also knew it was 85 years (since Tipperary’s last Munster title), but honestly it really wasn’t talked about. When you haven’t had any success, you can’t really call it a famine. Before last Sunday week, there was no one alive in Tipperary with a Munster football medal. Now there are 41 lads alive. In time of course you’ll appreciate that, but that’s all it is now, it’s history.

“And we just want to keep progressing and see can we make more history and that’s only done by refocusing on what we can improve on against Mayo.”

Fox is speaking from considerable experience too, and might have believed fate and faith should have conspired in other ways before 2020. A teacher in St Anne’s secondary school in Tipperary Town, now aged 32, a member of the senior panel since 2008, the only one with young children, the influx of the 2011 All-Ireland minor winning team (a title they last won in 1934, you do the math) was meant to help alter his senior fortunes, and while they did make the All-Ireland semi-final in 2016, nothing had been won.

Instead, while that Tipperary minor team delivered the likes of Evan Comerford, Michael Quinlivan and Colin O'Riordan, it was the beaten Dublin minor team in 2011 which ultimately flourished. Delivering players such as John Small, Jack McCaffrey, Cormac Costello, Ciarán Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Niall Scully, and also managed by one Dessie Farrell.

Fox also had the experience of losing five Munster finals before that breakthrough over Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last month (one at minor level, three at under-21 level, and one senior loss to Kerry).

So whatever about stars and planets aligning, and the pure chance or otherwise of having players like Quinlivan (who was meant to go travelling before the pandemic) and O’Riordan (who would have been playing AFL in a normal season), Fox prefers to put the emphasis on the faith the players themselves discovered after they first beat Clare, then got past Limerick after extra-time.

“Against Clare, they’ve nearly been our bogey team the last few years, we always have a huge battle against them. Then when [Conor] Sweeney kicks the ball over the bar against Limerick, that told us something, that ‘hey’ we’re not going to lie down’. That was often a game we would have lost.

“All that really did build our confidence, and momentum. And momentum is a huge thing in sport, I don’t think people realise that enough. It doesn’t matter of you’re the strongest team, or a middle team, if you can momentum behind you, you can really challenge for honours.

“After beating Limerick, I really do think we started to believe this might be our year. We saw Cork beat Kerry, and we’d be some familiar with Cork, we just didn’t have that fear of them that some other counties would, we’d respect and know what they’re about, but really all these things came together over time, so there wasn’t one moment.”

Only faith, and fate.