Austin calls time on inter-county career
By Shane Brophy
Philip Austin will go down in history as one of Tipperary’s longest serving footballers as the Borrisokane clubman called time on his inter-county career after fifteen seasons.
Making his debut in 2006 when Tipperary were struggling as a footballing entity, ‘Stone Cold’ Philip Austin went onto enjoy great success, as part of one of the premier county’s most successful periods in football in almost a century, winning three National League medals in divisions 3 (2009 & 2017) & 4 (2014), culminating in last years Munster Championship success, which provides a fitting end to his inter-county career.
He is also going out on his own terms, having come through injury free after the first training session after lockdown at Dr. Morris Park in Thurles last Monday week. Austin has struggled with persistent hip problems in recent years, but he admitted his “body was in great shape” after the long layoff due to the third lockdown.
However, his mind was telling him something else and after getting married over Christmas to Maggie, and having more time than usual to evaluate things in the recent lockdown, what turned out to be his final training session with the county only served to confirm what he had been thinking since the turn of the year that now was the right time to call it a day, despite the best efforts of Tipperary manager David Power to change his mind.
“I rang Davy (Power) beforehand, and I said I won’t be able to train on Monday, probably not Wednesday and probably not Friday, and he was like, oh right! He said, come over and have a chat so I went over, and didn’t I have the boots in the car and he coaxed me into training and two hours later I was walking back off the field after training a full session. “I got wise to it then and rang Davy on Tuesday and told him I was calling it a day.”
He added: “It was a lovely evening coming back from Thurles and your head should be saying, I can’t wait to get over to Thurles again, but the head and the heart weren’t matching up.
“When I had the hip injury in 2016/2017, I had a good think about it (retiring) then and could have pulled the plug, but I stuck with it. Now, I get to go on my own terms and since I made the announcement I have no regrets.”
Wasn’t his decision to stick at it a couple of more years worth it as he was part of the crowning glory of his and his teammates careers as Tipperary won the Munster senior championship last November, for the first time in 85 years. While Philip felt he had a couple of more years left in him at inter-county level, now was the right time to exit stage left.
“I didn’t want to get greedy,” he admitted.
“I want to spend some time back with the club and give them four or five years before I stop playing altogether.
“If you stay playing away you could lose two or three years with the club, and I wouldn’t be a county player without the club. I probably had two more years left but you don’t want to come off finishing up on the scrap heap.”
It brings a seventeen-year involvement with Tipperary to an end, having begun as a minor, and was also a dual player at under 21 level, winning a Munster hurling medal in 2006 and played in the All-Ireland final replay defeat to Kilkenny.
He first joined the Tipperary senior football set-up in the winter of 2005 under manager Seamus McCarthy and it is fair to say that Philip has seen both the good times and the bad, from a struggling division 4 team to playing in two All-Ireland semi-finals.
“We rarely broke fifteen for many of those sessions,” he said of training numbers in the early days, however he paid credit to all of his teammates over the years, as well the managers he played under, through John Owens and onto John Evans who really got Tipperary moving, to Peter Creedon, Liam Kearns and now David Power, whom he is hugely impressed by.
“Tipperary football is in a safe place,” he said after seeing the 46 players on the training panel going hammer and tongs last week to make the league panel which helped make his decision to retire a lot easier
“For the previous couple of years, you’d be thinking about staying on to keep the young lads going and keep the thing afloat but now the youngsters are taking over the whole thing which is great.
“When you know the state of football in the county is solid is the time to move on. I know things are difficult at underage level, but at the present time there are loads of young fellas in there that want to be there. They are not just in there to get fit for the club campaign or just to pick up gear, they are there because they want to play football for Tipperary.”
Philip calculated that he has played and trained with over 300 players in his time with Tipperary, playing in 41 championship matches, scoring 4-35, the final score of which was a point in last years Munster Final victory over Cork which sealed the first provincial victory since 1935.
For over a decade, Austin was an almost ever present in the starting line-up, with his lung burst runs in the half-forward line a notable feature of his play, as his pace caused great problems for even the best defences, including Kerry whom he burned for a terrific goal in the 2010 championship.
He will leave the inter-county scene with fond memories, topped off by last years Munster Championship success, the medal from which he has still to receive because of Covid restrictions and from which he will get to meet his former teammates again.
“For someone that plays with the (Tipp) hurlers or the Dubs in Leinster it might not mean much to them, but the Munster title justifies why I stayed there so long,” he said.
However, it was the 2016 season which gave Philip the most pleasure, beating Cork in the Munster championship for the first time in 72 years, from there going onto reach an All-Ireland semi-final in front of over 50,000 fans at Croke Park.
“2016 would have been my best year,” he reflected.
“We had a really good young team and lads were playing at a serious level. The whole year just took off. We had the crowds following us and the one thing we didn’t have last year were the crowds. You can imagine after winning you are standing in the middle of the field and there is no one running on and it is a surreal experience.
“While we didn’t win any silverware in 2016 you got a sense off the supporters what it meant to people. We had beaten Waterford and Cork but didn’t show up against Kerry in the Munster Final, maybe nerves got to us and they stuffed us.
“We knew we had one chance to get to a quarter final and the Derry game was it. We weren’t playing particularly well and were behind a struggling and then the whole thing just took off, we managed to win it at the death with two late points and it took off from there.
“If we had lost that game against Derry, there would have been no All-Ireland quarter final, no All-Star nominees, no All-Star for Mikey, the recognition they got came from the Derry game.
“Then onto the Galway game where we knew from five or six minutes out that we were going to win so that was very enjoyable as it never happened before.”
While he won’t get a chance to have a send off he deserved, Philip is thankful for the support of the loyal band of Tipperary football supporters whom he now counts as his friends.
“Our core support would be very small in number, but they would be as fanatical as the hurling supporters. We all know them on a first name basis as they nearly go to every game, they are brilliant,” he concluded.