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Hurling roots, learning from Wilkinson and O'Gara - the unlikely rise of Tipp football attacker

Kevin O’Halloran’s rise has been meteoric.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

BEFORE THE 2015 Munster U21 football final, Kevin O’Halloran had never started a competitive game for Tipperary.

He hails from Portroe in the hurling heartland of North Tipperary, a club that has produced an All-Ireland winning hurling boss in Liam Sheedy and an Allstar hurling goalkeeper in Darren Gleeson.

O’Halloran has never played an adult football game for his club, Portroe have only entered a junior football side for the first time this year.

And that’s all to facilitate O’Halloran, an attacker who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to be a key component of the Tipperary forward line that will contest next Sunday’s Munster senior final in Killarney.

He was plucked straight from left field to make his Tipperary football mark.

“It’s not your usual underage footballer coming up along,” admits O’Halloran.

“I had a club game last year with Portroe in north Tipperary which wouldn’t be known for its footballing skills.

“But we played Shannon Rovers the same day and things kind of went my way. I got a good few scores and kicked a few frees

“The chairman of the supporters club was over the team at the time and he was asking Joe (Hannigan) if ‘young O’Halloran was in with the (U21) footballers’.

“Joe was like, ‘No, he’s not’. He was like, ‘you want to get onto the management to have a look at him’ so Joe rang me on a Tuesday evening at 6.40 wanting to know if I could go down for training at 7.30 below in Thurles.

“Thurles would be 40 minutes away from me and I said, ‘Joe, I’ll never make training tonight, I’ll be late. I don’t want to be late my first night at training’.

“He said, ‘Put me onto your father, so’. I put him onto my father and he said, ‘Joe will pick you up in Nenagh in 10 minutes’. So Joe picked me up and he had me in training below in Thurles at 7.45. The rest took off from there since.”

O’Halloran’s scoring totals demonstrate his prowess.

Tipperary U21 2015

  • Munster U21 final v Cork – (0-6, 0-5 frees)
  • All-Ireland semi-final v Dublin – (0-4, 0-3 frees)
  • All-Ireland final v Tyrone – (0-6, 0-5 frees)

Tipperary senior 2016

  • Munster quarter-final v Waterford – (0-2, 0-2 frees)
  • Munster semi-final v Cork – (0-7, 0-3 frees, 0-2 ’45)

2016 Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships Launch Kevin O'Halloran at the launch of the 2016 Electric Ireland GAA minor championships. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

His freetaking prowess has been a valuable weapon for Tipperary to draw upon and he points to both soccer and rugby influences for aiding his technique.

“It’s just technique that I’ve worked on. I’ve read a few books, I’ve listened to a few rugby lads.

“I played a lot of soccer in goals, so (it was a) short run-up and getting the ball down the field.

“I adjusted that a small bit to get more accuracy more so than distance and I found the right technique.

“I’ve read Jonny Wilkinson’s (book), I’ve read Ronan O’Gara’s. I’ve listened to Jonny Sexton a few times on the radio and looked at him in the paper about a few pressure kicks that he’s had.

“You learn from them, lads from experience, the way they block out the pressure on such important kicks. That goes into the memory bank and you bring them out on the days you need them.”

Those skills were utilised expertly when O’Halloran nailed the injury-time ’45 that restored Tipperary’s lead after Cork had wiped out a nine-point advantage in the Munster semi-final.

“It’s like going into a Leaving Cert exam – you have a task in front of you. You have to concentrate on yourself and not everyone around you.

“I just said ‘listen, I have a task here and I have to block out everything that’s going on here at the minute and just get the ball over the bar’.”

Tipperary’s success is all the more admirable after the drain of players they endured earlier in the year.

“The signs weren’t good but we’re like family below in Dr Morris Park when we’re training. There are 30 lads there.

“Lads are after leaving, lads went off to America, lads were choosing hurling but there were positions up for grabs.

“I think everyone upped their game by 20%. They pushed for those places that were up for grabs and it’s after bonding us together even more.

“We went into the Cork match with nothing to lose.”

And O’Halloran has no qualms with the decision of former U21 teammates like Steven O’Brien to pursue a hurling career.

“I consider him one of the best (football) midfielders in the country. As Liam said and we’d all say, the door is always open to anyone who wants to come back to us, which is only right.

“We’re not really a big footbalL county and any player is welcome to come back. We can’t tell them what sport they’ve to play.

“It’s their own mind, it’s what they want to do and we have to support them in what they want to do and where they want to go with their sporting career.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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