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'The last few weeks have been difficult. When you lose you question everything'

After a stunning 2020, Tipperary suffered relegation to Division 4 and open their championship against Kerry on Saturday.

Tipperary's Conor Sweeney after the defeat to Longford that relegated them to Division 4.
Tipperary's Conor Sweeney after the defeat to Longford that relegated them to Division 4.
Image: Ken Sutton/INPHO

CONOR SWEENEY AND his Tipperary team-mates have experienced plenty of highs and lows over the past two seasons. 

They delivered the Premier County’s first Munster SFC title in 85 years after beating Cork, before Sweeney collected his first All-Star for his outstanding performances in the 2020 campaign. 

But 2021 has been a far more testing year. Down a number of last year’s team due to injury and travel, David Power’s side suffered relegation to Division 4 after losing three out of four games in the league.

“It was really tough, it definitely wasn’t part of the plan for sure but that’s the way it goes,” Sweeney admits.

“You just need to get on with it. We’ve definitely processed it and put it to the back of our heads by now, but I tell you one thing it was tough. It was a tough few days after it.

“You talk about the highs and lows of sport between here and six months ago, but that’s sport and it’s why we love it. It can be great and it can be cruel at the same time. Listen, we got ourselves there so we need to get ourselves out of it.

“That’s for next year, the league is done now and there’s a big test coming up around the corner so we need to get our heads straight for that one or else we could be in for a tough day. Training is going well which is a major positive.”

a-view-of-the-scoreboard-at-the-end-of-the-game A view of the scoreboard at the end of the Longford defeat. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

For a side that were 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final appearance just six months earlier, the corner-forward said even the simple act of picking up the gear bag and heading to training was tough in the days after their relegation to the basement tier.

“Listen you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t find the tough times tough. Getting relegated to Division 4 was probably one of the lows because I’d been there before. I know how hard that division is. I know how hard it is to get out of there. It’s been tough.

“The last few weeks have been difficult. When you lose you question everything. You start pointing the finger at different people and different things and question what’s going on but like I said, we’re probably not as bad as we think.

“We’re just going through a rough period and we haven’t been playing well but we were down a lot of personnel as well. They’re gradually coming back. It just so happens we have the best team in the country coming up which isn’t ideal from that point of view.

“There’s no back door this year so you don’t have the chance to build up a head of steam or momentum. You’re straight into. It’s tough, it has been tough, but you just need to get on with it. At the end of the day it’s only sport. There’s more important thing sin life. We’ll be ready for it.”

He lists out the names of players Tipp are down this year for various reasons: Colin O’Riordan, Liam Casey, Bill Maher, Robbie Kiely, Kevin Fahy or Mikey Quinlivan.

colin-oriordan Colin O’Riordan returned to Australia after winning his Munster SFC medal in 2020. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Those are seven big players that we were missing at the beginning of the league,” he remarks. “That’s nearly half of your team  and those are seven massive players for us. So that was a factor.

“We have players injured like everyone else, is it an excuse or is it a factor? It’s probably an excuse but it’s definitely something that played a part for sure. Other than that we just haven’t performed in the four league matches, that’s the bottom line.”

The condensed nature of the championship means there’s no qualifier system for beaten provincial teams to fall back.

Tipperary face kingpins Kerry in Saturday’s Munster semi-final, meaning their season will end this weekend unless they can pull off an upset of seismic proportions.

It’s a strange scenario for the reigning Munster champions to go into a game as such massive underdogs, but the Kingdom have won their last 43 championship encounters against Tipperary. 

“A lot of teams going in to play the top teams are probably beaten before they even take to the field,” says Sweeney.

“So we’ve a job to do mentally to prepare ourselves for what’s coming. You need to cling onto straws, to anything that’s going. We’re reigning Munster champions, that’s one thing we have.

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“Albeit it’s something new that we’re not used to, but you need to take that confidence into the game. It’s on in Thurles which is another small nugget, there might be a bit of a crowd in which might give us a lift.

“Other than that we need to drive home the message that we believe in what we’re doing in training, we believe we can compete against them. All we’re looking for is to give ourselves a chance to beat them.”

aib-gaa-all-ireland-senior-football-championship-launch Sweeney pictured at AIB’s launch of the 2021All-Ireland senior football championship. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

He’s been impressed with what he’s seen from Kerry so far this season.

“Kerry are probably playing the best football I’ve seen them play in a number of years and I just sense they have that bit of ruthlessness to their game at the moment.

“Some of the football they’re playing is absolutely frightening at the moment. They’ve got that bit between their teeth for sure this year.

“I think that’s all sparked from their early exit last year so they’re a wounded animal which is extremely dangerous and it just so happens that we’ve probably been playing some of our worst football which doesn’t help the situation either. 

“For a lot of people looking in you can probably only see one result but we have a job to do. We’re reigning Munster champions. We need to uphold that as best we possibly can and we just need to try and put in a 70-minute performance if we can at all.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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