Looking on in either hope or despair

Talk about best laid plans going by the wayside. Anyone who saw my Twitter feed on Saturday morning will know that, in theory at least, I had the perfect day planned out. Encompassing watchling hurling, football, horse racing, rugby, soccer and darts.

It was an ambitious agenda. So that some of it – namely the soccer and the rugby – failed to make the cut is hardly jaw dropping. What certain events did necessitate was extensive editing of this week’s Drive Thru Sports Weekly. Operations which will hopefully be finished up today.

Look, I know nobody gave Meath a chance. True, too, that it ended up even worse than any of us could have foreseen. However, just because you know something’s coming doesn’t mean it won’t hurt and cause incalculable levels of upset when it does occur. Spirits dip so low after something like Saturday night’s game that gut instinct, in this corner at least, is to curl into oneself and try to isolate from the outer world.

In one sense, watching another game of football should be the furthest thing from your mind. Yet, whatever hold our national games command over a soul, once 1:00pm the following day came around, I couldn’t help but switch over to The Sunday Game to tune into what feel like bonus tracks on a long awaited, long delayed new album.

Whether I was looking on in either hope or despair has yet to be determined. On one hand, seeing Tipperary proving that toppling your much more highly vaunted opponents is indeed possible. Or, from another angle, despair at the reality that other counties have elevated their status while ours has stagnated at best.

Michael Quinlivan must be a strong contender for Footballer of the Year

Sadly, from our perspective, it would appear that it’s a case of the latter. Yes, I would still contend that the progress being made in Meath is indeed genuine. However, gut feeling is that Tipperary, and a few other counties, are further along on that developmental journey than are our lads. Whether that should be the case is neither here nor there. It just is.

On the other hand, why such are the prevailing circumstances is unfortunately much easier to decipher. As has been repeatedly commented upon here over the years, Meath, for a time a least, lagged behind other counties in terms of the production line of underage talent coming on to bolster them at the top level.

Now, for as long as this writer can recall, Tipperary have had good footballers. From goalkeeper Philly Ryan to Derry Foley, Brian Burke, Peter Lambert, hurling custodian Brendan Cummins, Davy Hogan and – of course – their rightly celebrated All Star, Declan Browne. Those gifted footballers never got the breakthrough they so valiantly strove towards. What they most definitely did, though, was inspire the generation which, a couple of days ago, eventually did reach that Promised Land.

Tipperary football legend Declan Browne

The first signs of which came at greatest expense to Meath when the typically officious and fussy Barry Cassidy scandalously disallowed a Bobby O’Brien goal. That, however, cannot detract from the magnificence of that Tipperary team who, lest it be forgotten, went on to defeat Dublin and claim the Tom Markham Cup. A Dublin ensemble which contained modern-day luminaries such as Ciaran Kilkenny and Cormac Costello, among others.

Nobody needs any elaboration as to how the Dublin players concerned progressed, but, for those under the stewardship of current senior Manager David Power in 2011 it has been a more incremental process. If memory serves me correctly, they had another talented Minor bunch fairly quickly thereafter. With the fruits of both combined, they made an All Ireland U-21 Final shortly afterwards where they were unfortunate to encounter a Tyrone team many of whom are well established stars now too.

Yours truly has never made a secret of the enthusiastic fondness there is in this seat for the International Rules Series. However, regrettably but perhaps inevitably, the Tests did act as a shop window for Australian Football League teams to scout and plunder some of the best young talents in Gaelic football. Something not helped by the unwieldy and corrosive influence of a certain Kerryman.

Moreover, as bad as that is for a perceived strong county, for those not in such a luxurious position – like Meath who have seen both Conor Nash and Cian McBride lured away in recent seasons – the impact can be shuddering and long lasting. So you can only imagine the huge blow it was to Tipperary football when the Sydney Swans came calling for Colin O’Riordan.

Colin O’Riordan’s departure was a huge blow to Tipperary football

To their immense credit, mind you, the departure of such a burgeoning talent didn’t stunt their steady progress as many – including this observer – felt it might. Indeed, O’Riordan himself admitted to having tears in his eyes seeing his erstwhile colleagues overcome Galway in the Qualifiers some years ago before putting in a mighty performance against Mayo. On a day when their efforts were unnecessarily stifled by the ludicrous sending off of Robbie Kiely by David Coldrick.

Anyone that has been following my output for long enough will know that there is a seriously superstitious streak herein. Which is why I am absolutely mystified as to how the significance of this year from a Tipperary football point of view escaped me. Because that trait would’ve had me convinced that they could achieve something substantial this season. Even if there was no logical reason or evidence whatsoever to back up the notion.

But then, there were extenuating circumstances pertaining to all of the above – and everything else in the world – this year. Poignant from all angles. Most relevant to the case in point here, though, the fact it was the 100th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Croke Park during a challenge game between Dublin and Tipperary.

Invading Crown Forces opened fire, killing 14 people. Including Tipperary corner back Michael Hogan. After whom the most famous the most famous stand in Irish is named. If you think my reliance on fate to make a point here is folly, consider that it took a mesmeric effort from a line ball by Conor Sweeney to take their Munster semi final against Limerick to extra time.

Michael Hogan (1896-1920)

To borrow a bit of horse racing parlance, ‘talking horses’ often have very little to say when it really counts. In no way is it being contended that Kerry are talking horses. Simply not possible given their record. Mind you, to paraphrase another famous man who I absolutely would love to see running the country, Kerry are not the next coming of Jesus Christ. They were, however, seen as those anointed to dethrone Dublin if and when that time does arrive.

That notion, predicated on Kerry’s annexation of five All Ireland Minor titles on the spin, was sensationally blown out of the water by that unforgettable smash and grab raid by Cork at the very end of their Munster SFC semi final. Furthermore, Kerry’s period of custodianship of the Markham Cup cannot mask the fact that, especially in light of the immediately aforementioned, The Kingdom’s record at U-21/U-20 in recent times has been utterly abysmal.

All the while, Tipperary have, slowly but surely, been inching their way towards closing the gap on the big two. Well, to be more accurate, the big cheeses in Munster, as it had become in the last decade, with Cork football in free fall. Though in fairness to them, in the last year or two, they have got their act together at underage level and are currently the defending champions at both Minor and U-20.

Miracle Worker? David Power

Like a lot of other counties – Meath absolutely included – have catching up to do. Not only on the so-called superpowers, but also those who have engineered betterment for themselves. Tipperary foremost among them at present. Such transformations don’t just happen, though. Time, resources energy and structures need to be in place for such a process to even begin. The lack thereof for far too long being among the main reasons certain teams are now so far adrift of where they should be.

From a personal perspective, undoubtedly the most eye-catching and pleasing part of Tipperary’s outstanding success was the brand of football they used to achieve it. That is to say, what the Brains Trust destroying…er revolutionising football no doubt would abhor as the old fashioned way. In other words, not being incapacitated by a fear of actually kicking the football other than within the D.

Granted, it is decidedly easier when midfielders of the guile of Stephen O’Brien and forwards possessing the exquisite repertoire of both Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney. Having seen how effective being “Out of touch” can be, it’d be great to see more teams throwing off the shackles and giving it a go.

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