‘I told them we were going to make our own tradition’

Liam Kearns reflects on his Tipperary team’s famous quarter-final victory over Galway

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns with Peter Acheson at the end of the game. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns with Peter Acheson at the end of the game. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Liam Kearns is still standing. At the table in the media room. We all sit in the flip-out chairs. No seat needed for this Kerry man. He will stand all night if needs be.

“Are you shocked?” he begins. Are you? “Not at all.”

A huge smile at the mention of 1935. Last time Tipperary footballers reached an All-Ireland semi-final.

“No, I didn’t mention 1935. I told them we were going to make our own tradition.”

Towering over us, he gets down to the business of explaining this remarkable destruction of Galway.

“People were saying the tradition of Galway was going to wipe us out in Croke Park. But we didn’t think that. We felt they were two new teams. They hadn’t been here in 13 years and we had not either.”

Losing so many players to America, Australia and the hurling panel makes this achievement seem astonishing. Colin O’Riordan is the best footballer in the Premier county but is away making a living with the Sydney Swans.

Liam Casey, Jason Lonergan and Kevin Fahey are spending a summer in the United States while Seamus Kennedy and Steve O’Brien focused on hurling. Some veterans retired too.

It all seemed like the crippling of an inter-county football panel especially in a land where hurling is king. But grown men from the 2011 All-Ireland winning minor side and last year’s Munster winning under-21s quickly filled the void.

Elite level

Kearns also commends others, like Ian Dowling, the former Munster winger turned physiotherapist, for not only keeping the same starting XV healthy over four games, in quick succession, but for the winning mentality he brings from professional rugby days.

“He understands what it takes to play at the elite level.”

Respect comes slowly. Not even after putting Cork away did Kearns feel it was given.

“How could Cork lose? They have so much talent. To lose to Tipperary is a disgrace. We got no credit at all for that game. Bit more for the Derry win but we were boxed off as the romance, ourselves and Clare. But as I said to the lads, ‘The script here is we are to drift away after today and be happy for our day in the sun but we are not going to read the script’.”

Kearns is still standing. Big, imposing Kerry man who has been on the merry-go-round of inter-county management since 2006. Laois, Limerick, Tipp now. Never his own county but he might be a contender now. A wily tactician, they may start calling him after unpicking Galway’s defensive system.

“Galway were playing a system and we felt if we broke it down they would have to come out to us. They did. Once they did we figured we would get more chances.”

Turnout

The paltry crowd gets a mention. “There was only a small band [of supporters] there. We could do with a bigger band. Tipperary is a big county. I hope the players will get the support they deserve because they are putting in a massive effort . . . and doing the county proud. I think they deserve more support.”

Tyrone or Mayo up next. He has no problem, standing above us all, edging towards the next opponents being that “dangerous” looking side Mickey Harte has rebuilt into Ulster champions. He can enjoy next weekend in what is expected to be a sold-out Croke Park.

“It’s only a personal opinion but I feel that Tyrone are very dangerous - and that’s no disrespect to Mayo, I’ve no doubt Mayo will give them loads of it next weekend.

“But let’s be honest, that’s a heavyweight clash - the winners of that be overwhelming favourites to beat us. And I’m just delighted that we have three weeks to let this sink in and prepare ourselves.

“We’re not saying we’re going to win the All-Ireland, that’s not what we’re saying. But we are saying we’ve a decent team, we have decent footballers, and they deserve respect and credit for what they’ve done.”

Because, just like their manager, after all these years of failure, Tipperary are still standing in August.

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