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Hurling figures bolster Tipp's football options for life in Division 2 after absence since 2010

Tipperary got off to bright start with a win over Cork on Saturday night.

After defeating Cork, Tipperary now go forward to face Roscommon next Sunday.
After defeating Cork, Tipperary now go forward to face Roscommon next Sunday.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

HURLING MAY COMMAND the hearts and minds of plenty in Tipperary but Saturday night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh saw the county’s footballers benefit from a few hurlers that have drifted over to their side.

For the first time since 2010, Tipperary are plying their trade in the second tier of the football league this spring.

They have been presented with assignments against last year’s Munster finalists Cork and last year’s Connacht champions Roscommon in their opening encounters.

The first hurdle was successfully negotiated with a six-point success away to Cork with the recognised core of their side proving important as Alan Campbell and Robbie Kiely anchored their defence while the influence of the attacking duo of Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney grew notably in the second half.

But for Tipperary manager Liam Kearns in his efforts to expand the range of options available to him, it was the displays of new additions that will please him most.

After spending the last two campaigns based in the Tipperary hurling camp, Steven O’Brien returned for his first senior football outing since July 2015 and had swept a point over the bar within 13 seconds of his comeback game at midfield.

Steven O'Brien in action against Ronan McNabb Ballina club man Stephen O'Brien last featured against Tyrone in July 2015. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

2011 All-Ireland minor football winning captain Liam McGrath has previously been on the fringes of the hurling squad but was involved with the footballers last summer.

He was in prolific form on Saturday night as he weighed in with 2-5, scoring 2-3 from play. That landmark minor final success over Dublin seven years ago saw McGrath scythe through the rearguard for a goal with only two minutes on the clock. His penchant for hitting the net surfaced again with his brace of second-half finishes against Cork.

“He shot the lights out in an A v B game last weekend,” revealed Kearns.

“That is how he got his place. I am delighted he brought it onto the pitch today and kicked 2-5, it was great clipping. It was an open game. There were no sweepers. We both played the game man-to-man, it was a throwback to the old style. We both backed our teams.

“It was all about the middle of the field. We lost it in the first half and won it in the second half. We were a little bit more clinical than they were.”

Away from the starting fifteen, Tipperary’s list of replacements was interesting. Like McGrath, John Meagher is another Loughmore-Castleiney player that has been pushing for senior hurling inclusion of late but the successful 2011 minor full-back has been recruited by Kearns.

Liam McGrath and Sam Ryan Liam McGrath's second-half goals were crucial for Tipperary. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

When Tipperary won the Division 3 league final in 2009, Sean Carey punched over the winning point in extra-time against Down in Longford’s Pearse Park. A year later he was part of a star-studded Tipperary team that lifted the All-Ireland U21 hurling title, had some run outs on the senior hurling stage for the county and subsequently spent a few years in Australia.

Moyle Rovers player Carey was number 25 on the list of Tipperary’s players with Stephen Murray, a player from a more recognised hurling club in Burgess in the north of the county, alongside him on the bench.

“You are going to need a panel this year,” outlined Kearns.

“We have strengthened our panel, we don’t know by how much yet. Certainly, we were able to make some changes and we got the job done. We were missing Philip Austin, Kevin O’Halloran and Paddy Codd. But other than that we had a clear enough bill of health and so we knew we were in pretty good shape coming in here.

Liam Kearns Tipperary manager Liam Kearns. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Sean (Carey) is a good addition. We are trying to get him into shape. I was very pleased with John Meagher. He came in and did a good job. Ruairi Deane was causing us problems in the first half.

“When John came on, he nullified that. It is great to have the likes of John Meagher, he’s had a lot of problems with injuries. I am delighted he has got on the field and has got a run and done so well.”

Tipperary’s most recent spell in Division 2 was brief as they suffered relegation. Kearns admitted they had targeted their opening matches in order to hit the ground running but given the personnel available to both sides, he couldn’t figure out Cork’s status as favourites before last Saturday night.

The Cork team Cork players before their game with Tipperary on Saturday night. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We’ve targeted the first three matches because we have a very serious prospect next Sunday against Roscommon. They are the Connacht champions and favourites for promotion in my view. Cork were favourites, we were told, for this match and they were favourites for promotion.

“In fairness to Cork, they are missing all the Nemo guys, they are missing Aidan Walsh. They are missing a handful of players whereas we were at full strength so the onus was on us to go and win the match. I couldn’t understand how pundits were saying they were going to win the game. If they did, we were in big trouble.

“We have four games on the road. That is our first one. We have a very tough schedule. We have to pick up points away from home. We’ve picked up two today and we’ll need another two. Our goal is to consolidate our status in Division 2. The last time Tipperary were in Division 2, they were relegated straight away afterwards. We prepared well for this and came here expecting a result.”

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