Football at senior level is at a cross-roads
By Michael Dundon
Tipperary football is in a dark place following yet another drubbing – this time at the hands of down in the Tailteann Cup senior football championship on Sunday in Thurles.
With the exception of two wins over Waterford in the McGrath Cup and the Munster championship, Tipp have failed to record a success of note this year and in the process have been relegated to division four of the National League for next year. Could it get any worse?
The most frustrating thing about Sunday’s loss to Down was the manner in which they succumbed. They limped out tamely, never really landing a telling blow on opponents who were so much more energetic, athletic, and positive in their approach.
Down were operating in a higher gear to Tipp. They pinned Tipp down in their own half, pressing high up on the Tipp kick-outs and their movement when in possession stretched Tipp to the limit. It is fair to say that the winning margin flattered the visitors but their superiority was never in question, and even if Tipp get the result they need against Waterford – and that’s a big if – it is hard to see them making further progress, things are at such a low ebb at present.
With a minus twenty-nine points scoring difference, Tipp would have to rout Waterford to have any chance of qualifying for the closing stages. A glance at Tipp’s scoring record this year suggest that that is most highly unlikely.
Where has it all gone wrong for a Tipp squad that annexed Munster senior honours so recently and who looked poised and equipped to challenge the “big guns”? Tipperary’s injury problems have been well-documented with the absence of team captain Conor Sweeney and Steven O’Brien in particular a huge loss to the squad. The unavailability of a number of other regulars, particularly Michael Quinlivan, has aggravated matters further. But there is more to it than that.
Tipperary do not have the strength in depth to cope with such losses, a situation which has not been helped by the lack of young talent coming through to challenge for places in the senior panel. The county’s record in underage competition in recent years has been poor but there is some light at the end of the tunnel in that the county’s minor team gave a good account of itself in this year’s championship though it will be some time before those lads are ready to step up to the senior side.
It has to be acknowledged that this slump in the county’s standing is not for the want of time, effort, and commitment by those in charge of the terms. Current senior manager, David Power’s record as a manager, with an All-Ireland minor success and a Munster senior title in his CV, surpasses that of any manager in recent years so one has to ask what is happening, or not happening, at development level, to explain the dearth of young talent coming on stream.
Tipperary hurling is benefitting from the quality of the hurling development squads. Why is the same not happening in football? Other weaker counties have addressed this situation to the point that in Munster now, Clare and Limerick can get their change out of traditional football strongholds. If it can be done in Clare and Limerick, why not in Tipp?
This is an issue to be confronted at county senior board and football board level. It will be accepted that Tipperary is primarily a hurling county and that youngsters who are talented in both codes will generally opt for hurling if they have to make a choice. Tipp is not the only county in that situation, but others seem to manage.
The indications are that Tipperary’s inter-county footballing year is nearing a close. Now is the time to set up a high-profile committee to examine the state of football in the Premier County and to put forward proposals to address the crisis without further delay. Morale may be low just now but with the right approach and the backing of those at the helm the situation can be reversed. Unless this kind of action is taken, Tipperary will continue to languish in the lower echelons of the footballing fraternity.