Thank God we don't have to make up Tipp football

Sunday at Croke Park was a joy to just bathe in the bliss of footballing improbability

At the end, with the place bubbling and people wiping wet eyes everywhere you looked, the Tipperary team came to the sideline under the Hogan Stand to smile and wave at faces in the crowd.

While they did so, all around the stadium you could see conga lines of supporters making their way around from the Cusack and Davin Stands to see could they get in on it.

Instead of the players doing a lap of honour, the lap came to honour them.

Liam Kearns reached across the advertising hoarding to shake hands with whoever wanted a piece of him.


He’s only been in the job for eight months but he’s able to put a name to most of those hands by now. Following Tipp football is a niche pursuit, like bee-keeping or Latin. It doesn’t take long to get used to the roll-call.


Exhausted players collapsed into puddles of stupefied delight, adjusting to life as All-Ireland semi-finalists.

They put Galway away with such life-affirming verve that the only bone to pick was the fact they didn’t have a gaudier scoreline than 3-13 to 1-10 to show for it. They won by nine but should have scored another five goals. Tipperary in the last four. Imagine.

Here, remember, is a squad missing 13 players from last year through one reason or another. Who got told there was no room at the inn during the league and had to play games in Tipp town and Clonmel while the county's hurling princes were let keep their games in Semple Stadium. High up in the Hogan Stand, the boys from Tipp FM roared "THE DOUBLE IS ON!!" at the final whistle. As if anybody had a thought to spare for hurling just at that moment.

They are a team who quietly and grimly made their way through life this summer, making waves as they went but not exactly the sort that surfers coo over. Wins over Cork and Derry came and went with more ink spilled on the travails of those counties than on the joys of Tipp. Kearns noticed.

Damn right he noticed.

“Nobody gave us any credit for beating Cork. It was all about Cork and how could Cork lose and they have so much talent and so much behind them and they’re winning All-Ireland under-21s and to lose to Tipperary is a disgrace. We got no credit at all for that win.

Script was written

“We got a bit more for the Derry game but again, we were boxed off as part of the romance, ourselves and Clare.

“I told the lads that the script was written here and we were supposed to drift away off after our day in the sun. But we weren’t going to go with the script, we’re here to win and that was the bottom line. That’s it. We fell we’re due a bit of respect now.

“There’s only a small band [of supporters] there. We could do with a bigger band, Tipperary is a big county and I hope the players will get the support they deserve in the semi-final because they are putting in a massive effort on behalf of the county. They are doing the county proud, they’re playing great football and I think they deserve more support.

“But we’re delighted to share it today with the ones who are here – they’re the loyal supporters, they know them all by name and I’m just delighted they’ve got a day in the sun. As I say, the script was, we were supposed to drift off after this but we’ll come around again in three weeks.”

Tipp had heroes everywhere. Peter Acheson was monumental in centre field, Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney were languidly ruthless in front of goal. Josh Keane was playing his third game in eight days and looked so fresh he could have come straight from a health spa; wing back Jimmy Feehan exploded onto the national stage.

It was their first win in Croke Park since the 1920 All-Ireland final, which was actually played in 1922. It was their first win over Galway since 1904. It will be their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1935. They are, as Kearns asserted afterwards, creating their own tradition.

“If you put odds on us, it would have been 1,000/1, 2000/1 after the lads dropped off the team,” said Acheson “We were left with a very young squad – I’m the fourth oldest player and I am only 26. The young fellas are just brave out and go for it, which suits our type of play.

Older lads

“Jimmy Feehan and Colm O’Shaughnessy are only 19, 20 years of age. They just drive at lads and it is brilliant to see. It suits our style of play. Everyone stepped up to the plate, even the older lads have given that extra 10 or 15 per cent at training. We are fitter, faster, and believe in ourselves more than we ever did. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise!”

They are the story of the summer, no ifs or buts. There was another game here yesterday but we needn't detain you any longer than to say Kerry mopped up a 2-16 to 0-10 win over Clare and will face either Dublin or Donegal four weeks from now.

But that’s for again. For here and for now, there is nothing to do but bathe in the bliss of improbability. Tipp football. You couldn’t make it up.

What a joy it is not to have to.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times