As low as things have been for a decade
By Shane Brophy
Tipperary football has enjoyed some great days over the last fifteen years or so, but last Sunday was easily the worst.
It wasn’t just that they lost to Longford which sent them down to division four of the National League for the first time in seven years, it was also the lack of fight shown to avoid it.
It has similarities to the way the John Evans era came to an end in 2012 which also ended in relegation to division four, as the team looked to be going through the motions, playing very little spirit and energy, in comparison to Longford who were revved up for the game from the word go.
Why it has gone so badly wrong so quickly for the Premier County is hard to put your finger on. It is easy to point to the injuries to key players which forced them to miss large chunks of this shortened campaign, but there has been an energy largely missing from the team performances overall.
While all counties have had to adapt in how they get their players into shape with only a short pre-season, Tipperary certainly don’t seem to have hit on the right approach as the players were flat and heavy-legged throughout this contest.
Even when Longford struck for the crucial goal to go three points in front with over twenty minutes to go, there was still plenty of time to arrest the situation but there was never a hint that Tipp had the spirit to come back and that has to be most concerning for manager David Power and his selectors as they chew over the fat this week and try to put a plan in place for the championship, and to put up some kind of a strong defence of their Munster title.
For such a skilled group of players that thrive on the ability to express themselves, it was such a shock to see them play without any swagger. On the ball, they were lethargic and struggled to pierce a well-drilled Longford rearguard. A Tipperary team at their best has always had good support play when in possession but there was little of that in evidence once again as it was easy for Longford to defend them and even when they did create a decent opening, the home side were able to get back and put the pressure on.
Simply put, Longford just wanted it more on the day, however, they didn’t have to play that well and it wouldn’t have taken a very best Tipp performance to have gotten the result they needed, but it was a long way from even that.
In making six changes from the side that started against Offaly in their previous game, there was a sense of hoping for the best in terms of the team selection, including starting Michael Quinlivan, despite having not played a minute in the league so far due to injury. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off as not even an All-Star forward can work miracles in a struggling side, and when he did produce a moment of class in the 32nd minute, he ended up being sin-binned for dissent after the referee penalised him for an offensive foul in the lead up to what would have been a cracking score.
While not defending Quinlivan’s subsequent verbal reaction, it was certainly understandable considering the performance of the referee Seamus Mulhare upto then who left both teams scratching their heads at some of the decisions he was making. Indeed, I take no pleasure in saying it was easily the worst refereeing performance I have ever seen in any code at any level. While it might seem harsh, poor refereeing has to be called out as players deserve better with so much at stake in this game.
Thankfully, the referee wasn’t the decisive factor in the outcome of the game as Tipperary’s display put paid to that as Longford survive in division three for another year, where in full back Andrew Farrell, they had the games outstanding performer, totally snuffing out Conor Sweeney.
There was considerable anxiety amongst the locals when the half forward line of Daniel Mimnagh, Barry McKeon and Liam Connerton were all ruled out beforehand through injury, but it led to Dessie Reynolds being moved from wing back to wing forward and his contribution of 1-2 from play was key also, as was the performance of Darren Gallagher in midfield.
There weren’t many green shoots Tipperary could take from the game, apart from Evan Comerford in goals who made a couple of fine saves, while Paudie Feehan in a new midfield role brought the energy that largely the rest of his teammates were lacking.
As you would expect, Brian Fox was an assured presence when he came on at half time and it was no coincidence that Tipperary’s best period was in that third quarter when they managed to get back on level terms, however, from the kickout after Kevin Fahey’s equaliser, they conceded the goal that broke their will, a characteristic which has carried this group a long way, and one which needs to be fixed very quickly with a Munster semi-final on the horizon on July 10th against Clare or Kerry, and if the Tipperary players don’t find something to spark themselves into life over the next month, their first defence of the provincial title could be a very sobering one indeed.