Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien looking forward to Kerry test

Talented midfielder has an unblemished record against Kingdom at underage level

Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien in action against Waterford’s  Tommy Prendergast: “The target is to win a Munster title, whenever we win it.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien in action against Waterford’s Tommy Prendergast: “The target is to win a Munster title, whenever we win it.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Without a moment’s hesitation Steven O’Brien softly declares he’s never lost a championship match to Kerry. And that’s with the Tipperary footballers, by the way, not hurlers.

That bold declaration is tempered somewhat by the fact Sunday’s Munster semi-final marks the first time O’Brien will play Kerry as a Tipperary senior.

They’re not being given much hope of beating the All-Ireland champions, yet O’Brien has good reason to believe it will mark an important step towards eventually doing that.

Two years ago, Kerry played Tipperary at the quarter-final stage, and beat them by 16 points. O’Brien didn’t feature that day, as he was sitting his Leaving Cert. Yet called into the senior panel later that summer, he’s been rising to prominence ever since.

Sunday’s showdown

Speaking at that presentation, O’Brien agrees Sunday’s showdown against Kerry will be an important gauge of how far Tipperary football has come in the last two years.

“We’d like to think we’ve done the work to close the gap, year on year,” he says.

“If we didn’t, sure what would be the point in showing up at all? Everyone’s focused on this, and it’s easy to be focused, when the All-Ireland champions are coming to Thurles.

“And I’ve been lucky enough that we haven’t been beaten by Kerry, since I started playing, all through the underage. That goes back to under-14. I think we played them twice, at minor, and also under-16s. We were just lucky to come out the right side of it. So it’s all down to the seniors, now, hopefully we can drive it on for now, keep that streak going.”

Second Captains

Little naivety

“Yeah of course, and you have to learn something from every game. Every man, woman and child in Tipperary now realises this is what teams are going to do. You have to be able to take it, as well, at the same time. Just to be aware of it, but not get distracted by it.

“I think that’s what can happen to teams who have basically been sledged. They get frustrated. Now that we know it’s going to happen, mentally we’re prepared for it, and just don’t let it affect us.”

In the week after that game, O’Brien was studying for his end of term exams at DCU where he is still based for the summer.

“Yeah, that was very tough. I was trying to study that week, and left alone, after 10 minutes, all by yourself, all you’re thinking about is Tyrone the week before. But that’s life. You have to get through it.

“We were obviously devastated, but we got back with the seniors, and they were like brothers to us. They threw their arms around us. It helped us get through what was a difficult period for us. We knew we’d more to offer. We knew we’d a senior championship to come, and you just have to pick up the pieces again.”

Given that increasingly consistent underage pedigree, plenty of people in Tipperary believe it’s only a matter of time before they can challenge for a Munster title, or indeed something higher; the “2020 All-Ireland vision” has already been branded as a target, yet O’Brien sees no reason to put any timeline on senior success.

Munster title

“We’re not just there in Munster to just make up the semi-finals or quarter-finals. That day is long gone. So I don’t know if we set a date or anything, we’re just aiming to be contenders.

“And yeah, there is that ‘2020 vision’, that’s just something that the county board have put in place. But I don’t think we’ll hold off until 2020. We’ll hopefully get there before that.”

O’Brien, almost naturally given his Tipperary background, is an equally deft hurler (his club, Ballina, almost exclusively hurling).

Yet like team-mate Colin O’Riordan – who he expects will be fit for Sunday – there is no longer any strict preference for hurling over football.

“Hurling is still number one in Tipp,” he says, “and for the moment football is still second string but we are starting to turn a few heads. It’s amazing what success can do.”

For O’Riordan, who injured his hip in that comprehensive quarter-final victory win over Waterford, Sunday’s game should come just in time to see him recovered.

“Yeah I think so,” says O’Brien, “he has been taking part in training recently enough and he’s doing most of the sessions. I don’t see Colin missing Kerry, to be honest.”

Not with so much to prove, and so much going for them.

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