Tipperary - All Ireland Minor Hurling champions 2024Back row: Billy O’Brien (Toomevara), Ryne Bargary (Boherlahan-Dualla), Adam Ryan (Arravale Rovers), Kieran Rossiter (Durlas Og), Leelan O’Donoghue (Durlas Og), Jack Marnell (JK Brackens), Patrick Hackett (Toomevara), Conor Grace (Burgess), Kyle O’Dowd (Durlas Og), Paddy McCormack (Moneygall). Middle row: Philip O’Dwyer (Upperchurch/Drombane), Conor Kennedy (Boherlahan-Dualla), Micheál Collins (Templederry Kenyons), David McSweeney (St Mary’s), Darragh O’Hora (Solohead), Cillian Minogue (Durlas Og), Aaron Cagney (St Mary’s), Billy O’Brien (Nenagh Eire Og), Toby Corbett (Upperchurch/Drombane), Sean Walsh (JK Brackens), Eoghan Doughan (Moneygall), Owen O’Dwyer (Killenaule), Evan Sherlock (Kiladangan), Dylan Hennessy (CJ Kickhams Mullinahone), Euan Murray (Durlas Og). Front row: Tiarnán Ryan (Holycross/Ballycahill), Shane Ryan (Killenaule), Patrick Ryan (Borris-Ileigh), Cathal O’Reilly (Holycross/Ballycahill, Captain), David Ryan (Arravale Rovers), Paul Cummins (Ballybacon/Grange), Killian Cantwell (Moycarkey/Borris), Jack Cahill (Ballingarry), Joe O’Dwyer (Burgess), Austin Duff (Toomevara), Daire English (Father Sheehys), Jake Donelan Houlihan (Nenagh Eire Og), Stefan Tobin (Carrick Swan). Photo: Bridget Delaney

KILLINAN END - Minors join illustrious list of victories against the odds

One thing about the more successful counties in the GAA is that they tend not to do great comebacks or ‘backs against the wall’ moments.

Kerry’s footballers have an extraordinary record, but it is usually on the front foot as that is the natural order of things. Likewise, Wexford’s comebacks against Tipp in the 1956 League Final (albeit in a storm) and the 1968 All-Ireland Final were always more likely to come from the Model County. Many of Tipp’s wins over that opposition were achieved from a position of strength, such as the All-Irelands of 1951 and ’65.

Yet, Tipp have a few in the back-catalogue. The 1991 Munster Final replay still takes some beating in any repertoire of days of adversity to remember. When Kevin Hennessey bulged the net at the town end to put Cork 3-13 to 1-10 ahead, a plane flew overhead with a streamer advertising the Galway Races.

At that point, more than a few believed that Ballybrit was a more likely venue for early August days than Croke Park. What followed was an exhibition of raw courage and commitment par excellence. This was ‘bodies on the line’ before the phrase was popularised.

That 1991 Munster Final had been against a Cork team that was defending All-Ireland champions with nine of them All-Star award winners between 1986 and ’90. Some 28 years later, Tipp found themselves in a dilemma against a Wexford team with far fewer garlands than the 1991 Cork team yet it was a team on top of its game, With some twenty minutes left it was also a team five points up, a man up, and with their dander surely up. What happened next was extraordinary as Tipperary dug to their deepest and delivered a victory which defied the odds. Looking back at the 0-12 to 1-2 outcome of that period it was nearly a rout for Tipp, but it is all about circumstances.

In 1991 Tipp outscored Cork 3-9 to 1-2 after Hennessy’s goal, but as with 2019, in real time nobody could take the turning of the tide as a given. There is something very human, very visceral, about a triumph against the odds - a show of defiance which reveals character and courage. No matter what success is garnered in a county those days will always hold a special place.

It is in this context the events of last Saturday’s Minor Final win must be viewed. It is one thing to expect a show of character from Bobby Ryan, Noel Sheehy, or Michael Cleary. Decades later Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher, Séamus Callanan and Noel McGrath, simply revealed what we would have expected. For a group of 16/17 year olds to go to Nowlan Park and find themselves two players down, and still have the courage and commitment to keep calm and carry on when all voices in the head must have been whispering excuses, was remarkable.

Credit is due across the board. The players held their discipline after the red cards and did not succumb to loose, defeatist hurling. It is a tribute to how the team was coached and drilled that this was their instinct. What happened in the dressing-room at half-time must have been special with Tipp bounding out onto the pitch with new energy. It would not require a Daniel O’Connell-style oration in that environment – more likely it was a restating of established principles. You do not, as my father used to say, “fatten the pig the night before the market.” A team might get five minutes energy from a hurley across the table in a dressing-room but in this case the appeal must have been to all the learned and practised methods.

The use of the ball was extraordinarily good in trying circumstances. Euan Murray’s scores stood out though scores sprouted from several sources in a complete team performance. The winning of ball in rucks with a Blue and Gold jersey emerging time and again was very much a case of beating an opposition at their own speciality. This was not just out-working an opponent but also out-smarting and out-hurling them.

The ultimate example of this was the winning goal where Billy O’Brien had options for a pass on either side despite being on team with two fewer players. Those players enabled him to sell the little dummy for the extra space for a brilliant winning goal. Those defenders will endure a long winter wondering how it all unfolded.

The Tipp manager gave an interesting post-match interview. He apparently had little concern about the venue. This certainly rings true in that, as a player, he always relished this opponent and this venue. Whatever the objective rights and wrongs or tossing a coin for a national final venue and ending up playing in the backyard of our opponents, the outcome will stand out in the annals of the county’s hurling narrative as a night to stand comparison with anything at any grade in any era.