HE HAD NEVER scored a hat-trick for Tipperary before and recalling games at all levels for Clonmel Commercials, Michael Quinlivan can’t remember reaching that feat at club level either.
He timed his first such goalscoring spree to perfection then yesterday at the Athletic Grounds.
There was only 20 seconds left when goalkeeper Evan Comerford took the kickout deep in injury-time, as Tipperary trailed 0-16 to 2-8 in the Division 3 promotion shootout.
14 seconds later, Quinlivan was on hand at the other end to drill a shot to the net for his third goal of the game. With the final whistle sounding seconds later, Tipperary’s smash-and-grab triumph had yielded the major prize of Division 2 football.
“The way it happened was obviously unbelievable,” recalls Quinlivan.
“I don’t think anybody in the whole ground would have seen that happening. Evan’s kicking the ball out, The ball just breaks and the two boys are running at goal.
“The only thing in my head at that point was to try and get out of the way. I just wheeled out and went back in and Josh popped it to me.
“We were by miles second best for most of the game but leave us with a sniff and there’s a danger that we’ll pull it out. We’ve adapted that to our arsenal over the last number of years.”
It’s not the first dramatic last gasp goal he’s scored and not the first he’s fired home with his weaker left foot either. There were shades of his match-winner in the rain in Mallow that saw Clonmel Commercials crowned Munster champions in November 2015.
“I’m not sure how many more left-legged goals I have in me,” laughs Quinlivan.
“I think I might be putting that into storage for a while. We led for six seconds in the whole game. Jesus, it was mad.
“You do have to feel for Armagh. It was 16 scores to 11, it would definitely lead you to suggest that they dominated the game, which they did I think.”
“They never really got out of sight from us. Then off the bench kicked two wonder scores, Liam Boland and Alan Maloney put us into position to win a game. As I said, as long as we have a sniff, we will go for it.”
The post-match euphoria was in stark contrast to the sombre mood in Semple Stadium a week previously. A loss to Louth had dented their promotion hopes but as they travelled north yesterday, they were grateful to still be in control of their own destiny.
“A couple of years ago, we had lost two games going into the final round of games in the league and we didn’t have a chance,” says Quinlivan.
“Armagh pipped us up there that year, Fermanagh beat us as well. We had a fighting chance yesterday.
“It was the one bright aspect of a very dark weekend last weekend against Louth. We left ourselves down and they were deserving winners.”
Manager Liam Kearns described Quinlivan’s display as ‘sensational’ after his prized haul of scores that wrecked Armagh’s league hopes.
For the 2016 All-Star winner, it concluded a league campaign where after a spell travelling in Thailand in the New Year, he felt he’s had to work to regain his best form.
“It’s taken me a while to even get back to feeling a small bit of fitness. As Liam (Kearns) politely put it to me, I’d put on a bit of condition over the winter!
“It’s been a slow enough league for myself to be honest. I’m only just about feeling somewhere back to fit at this stage.
“I think the travelling (from Dublin) adds to it as well, so it was great to get away. It meant when we came back, you’re looking forward to getting back training and getting back into it. You never thought it was chore like sometimes you can do before Christmas.”
Tipperary have a quick turnaround now as a league final beckons next Saturday against Louth. Their squad won’t complain though about the next game looming large in six days time, as opposed to the ten-week wait until championship if they had lost yesterday.
“We wanted to get back to Croke Park, that’s where we showed our best football last year.
“It’s good to have another day up there, that sort of stuff will stand to you. While we had a great year last year, we didn’t put any silverware on the board and it’d be obviously fantastic if we were able to get a cup.”
“We haven’t played at our best but to come out the far side of it with promotion is massive. We’ve been playing in Division 3 now for three years. It’ll make the winter a bit shorter for us to have the new challenge of Division 2 next year.”
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