Sports

Tipperary Face Louth In Division 3 Final At Croke Park

Thursday, 6 April 2017

TIPPERARY Gaelic Football is enjoying great times at the moment. Just eight months after reaching the All-Ireland semi final when they bowed out gracefully to Mayo, they find themselves back in Croke Park for a Division 3 Football League final tilt with Louth.

This will be the fourth league final appearance for Tipp in the last ten years with success coming twice in 2009 and 2014.

John Evans took on the job as manager in 2008 and took little time in putting Tipp on the right road and they earned promotion to Division 3 that year. They also reached the Divisional final but lost to Offaly at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise.

One year later, Tipp gained promotion to Division 2 and with it a place in the Divisional final against Down. That was an evening many Tipp supporters will remember with fondness as Pearse Park, Longford saw Tipp earn a much deserved win following extra time.

Sadly Tipp's stay in Division 2 was short lived and they quickly descended Division 2 to Division 3 and down to Division 4 by 2013. But the stay was just two seasons long and they gained promotion to Division 3 in 2014 accompanied with a Division final win over Clare at Croke Park.

 

The Story So Far

At the outset many Tipp supporters held high expectations of gaining promotion to Division two. In the end they succeeded but not without the odd hiccup or two.

Their opening game on February 5th produced a five point win over Antrim at Semple Stadium. Goals by Philip Austin and Michael Quinlivan in the last quarter helped pave the way for victory.

The second round was played a week later when Tipp played host to Sligo but didn't play all that well. Wing back Jimmy Feehan was red carded and Philip Austin went off injured and despite a late comeback, they were denied by the narrowest of margins.

Thankfully Tipp got back on the winning track again with a big win over Laois at Portlaoise in round 3. Liam Kearns' side was short a number of key players but they had too much class for Laois who were managed by Peter Creedon a former Tipp manager, who had earlier succeeded John Evans as manager of the Tipp side. Although always in charge, the Tipp side could not rest easy until Kevin O'Halloran's lengthy free deceived the Laois defence and crept over the line to help them win by six. The Tipp team included newcomers Jack Kennedy, Liam Casey and Emmett Moloney.

Longford were visitors to Semple Stadium for the delayed round 4 clash but Tipp held out for an impressive eight point win where Conor Sweeney scored 2-7, including three points from placed balls.

Offaly were next at Tullamore but Tipp staged a great recovery to win by four after outscoring the homeside 1-9 to 0-2 in the final quarter. Michael Quinlivan scored a brilliant goal.

Promotion was in sight but things took an unexpected turn when Tipp suffered defeat at the hands of Louth in round 6 at Semple Stadium. It was not part of the plan. This meant a must win game for the visit to Armagh last Sunday. It was not an easy task but Tipp defied the odds with Michael Quinlivan's injury time goal paving the way for victory. Quinlan in fact scored 3-1 on the day bringing his goals tally to six. He is the team's second highest scorer on 6-5, with Conor Sweeney out in front on 2-33, including 2-15 from play.

 

What Of Louth

On the other hand, Louth went four games unbeaten with wins over Laois, Longford, Offaly and Antrim. Their wins over Laois in round one when they had twelve points to spare and Offaly in round three (five to spare) impressed most. Under-21 player Ryan Burns scored two goals that day at Tullamore.

The wheels came off in round five as the Wee County were beaten by fourteen points by Armagh. However they got over their defeat very quickly with a round six win against Tipp at Semple Stadium. Eoin O'Connor was the leading scorer with 0-5 (0-1f) at full forward. The win assured Louth a place in the Divisional final and a promotion and in their final game against Sligo was a dead rubber assignment which resulted in a win for Sligo.

Both sides finished the league with five wins but Tipperary has the better points difference on nineteen with Louth on eight.

But as both teams are through the final, the memories of the recent league meeting won't be far of the minds of the players. Tipp will want to forget it. That day in Thurles was to be the day that promotion would be signed and sealed. But things didn't run smoothly. Tipp shot thirteen wides (ten to Louth) with eight in the second half. They led at half time 0-8 to 0-6 but a paltry return of four points in the second half was never going to be enough. Tipperary manager, Liam Kearns was critical of Louth's cynical play by fair or foul but they were prepared to get over the line no matter what.

Louth full back, Patrick Reilly took a black card for the team and wing forward Declan Byrne later hauled down Jack Kennedy who was a source of danger to Louth at the time.

Tipp must not lose a player with the quality of Michael Quinlivan again. He is Tipp key player along with Conor Sweeney and Brian Fox. Indeed Tipp have a reliable forward line with plenty scorers. Jack Kennedy is fast becoming a leader at midfield and he will partner the reliable Liam Casey.

It was interesting to note that George Hannigan lined out at left wing back last Sunday in Armagh. He replaced Jimmy Feehan who has been a steadfast member at left wing back. If Feehan is fit he will be back in the company of Robbie Kiely and Bill Maher. That trio played tremendously in last year's championship campaign.

Spare a thought for Louth. The open space of Croke Park will suit them too. Team manager Colin Kelly has moulded a nice team since taking over two years ago. And while the return from his forwards might not be as big as that from Tipperary, he has nonetheless a talented forward line with players like Ryan Burns, Eoin O'Connor, Paraic Smith, Declan Byrne and Bevan Duffy to call on. Tommy Durnin is a hard working midfielder while Patrick Reilly, James Stewart, Kurt Murphy, Dean Maguire and John Bingham will shore up the defence.

Ryan Burns is Louth's leading scorer on 3-17 (0-12 frees, 0-1 '45'). Centre forward Paraic Smith is second on 1-12 (0-1 free).

Indeed both defences have done well so far but Louth have five clean sheets in terms of conceding goals with the concession of three against Armagh the worst day.

However Tipp have the best goalkeeper in the land and he could well be the match winner in a low scoring encounter. We should know by 6.45p.m. on Saturday evening.

 

Paths To The Final

Round 1: Tipperary 2-12 Antrim 0-13 at Semple Stadium; Louth 2-16 Laois 0-10 at Portlaoise.

Round 2: Tipperary 1-16 Sligo 2-14 at Semple Stadium; Louth 0-11 Longford 0-10 at Drogheda.

Round 3: Tipperary 1-16 Laois 1-10 at Portlaoise; Louth 2-13 Offaly 0-14 at Tullamore.

Round 4: Tipperary 3-17 Longford 0-18 at Semple Stadium; Louth 2-10 Antrim 1-11 at Drogheda.

Round 5: Tipperary 2-15 Offaly 2-11 at Tullamore; Louth 0-11 Armagh 3-15 at Armagh.

Round 6: Tipperary 0-12 Louth 0-16 at Semple Stadium;

Round 7: Tipperary 3-8 Armagh 0-16 at Armagh; Louth 1-11 Sligo 0-17 at Drogheda.

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