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'It was just utter joy' - The former Tipperary captain supporting an All-Ireland bid from Qatar

Peter Acheson captained Tipperary for their previous All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo, he’ll watch on next Sunday from afar.

Peter Acheson in action for Tipperary against Mayo's Aidan O'Shea in 2016.
Peter Acheson in action for Tipperary against Mayo's Aidan O'Shea in 2016.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

BY NEXT SUNDAY evening in Doha, Peter Acheson will have himself settled in good time before throw-in and ready to be glued to the footage from Croke Park.

The first day of the working week will have to completed first, the thoughts of Gaelic football likely consume him all day.

At least the throw-in time is more favourable, it’ll be half six in Qatar when Tipperary and Mayo collide to determine who is bound for the All-Ireland final decider.

The earlier start for the Munster final was a bit trickier but his bosses in Hydroserv are from Kerry and Carlow, he didn’t have to remind them of the magnitude of the occasion for Tipperary football and the scale of the achievement in winning the province for the first time in 85 years. The allowance for TV viewing of such a big match from back home was always going to be made.

Four years ago when Tipperary and Mayo played at this same stage of the championship, Acheson was his team’s midfield heartbeat, a driving force as captain that summer as they embarked on a memorable run.

It was his last game in Tipperary colours. He moved to Dubai soon after and onto Qatar this year yet the emotional bond formed with his county left him on edge as he watched them create history in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday week.

“Nervous is probably the wrong word, I was actually quite comfortable during the game, I think Tipp had the upper hand for the whole thing. They started to slack, there was a few mistakes and Cork got a few points in a row, started to get a bit nervous then. Thinking it was the usual underdogs, playing well for 55, 60 minutes and then just can’t get that extra step. They kicked on and it was brilliant to watch.”

tipperary-players-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Tipperary players celebrate after their win over Cork. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There was no major conflicting feelings about not being involved on a landmark day. Enough time has passed for Acheson since his departure and his life is in a different place now.

“Before the game I was thinking in my head that I’d be delighted for them but I would be a bit envious. But as the game went on, that just went out the door altogether. It was just utter joy, I felt like I was a supporter myself.

“The fact is that I am gone four years now. If it happened one or two years after, I might have been a little bit more envious but I think I’m a supporter of Tipp football now. Having a group of friends there too, I couldn’t be envious at all, I’m just absolutely delighted for them.”

It is the older Tipperary crew that Acheson thought of most. He soldiered through some barren times with them. When the Munster draw was made for 2020, Tipperary were stowed away on the opposite side to Kerry and Cork, the creators of a long-running duopoly, Acheson knew that a huge opportunity had been created.

He made his senior debut for Tipperary back in 2010. For his first four years straight, they lost to Kerry in their provincial openers. Then Cork dumped them out in 2014, Kerry pushed them to the exit in 2015 and when there was a breakthrough against Cork in 2016, it was Kerry again who were present to hand out a Munster final beating.

peter-acheson-repares-to-lead-the-team-during-the-pre-match-parade Peter Acheson preparing to lead his team during the pre-match parade of the 2016 Munster final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

When Tipperary at last did receive the acclaim of silverware, it was Conor Sweeney who was their leader in every sense. Captain and top scorer. Acheson has a strong link to the Ballyporeen man, going back to their days in Rockwell College.

Back in 2008 Sweeney captained the school’s rugby team in the Munster Senior Cup from out-half, a position he also enjoyed that year with the Tipperary minor footballers from corner-forward.

“Conor’s been a man of consistency for a long, long time now. We were in school together, the rugby was maybe getting in the way of the football a small bit but since the rugby’s been gone, he’s been all football.

“You see him improving every single year. I think 2016 was his peak and since then he’s just been consistently at that level ever year. I was just delighted on a personal note that he captained the team and got man-of-the-match in the final too. It must have been an unbelievable feeling, I can’t imagine how buzzing he was.”

Acheson feels other compatriots are deserving of special mention. He received the man-of-the-match award on a momentous night for Tipperary football back in March 2010 when they saw off Kerry by a point. Sweeney and Robbie Kiely were on the Tralee pitch to share in that first Munster U21 title win, a year previously Brian Fox had been the star turn on a side that were only caught at the line by Cork.

“The likes of Foxy, (Philip) Austin, Sweeney, Robbie, Alan Maloney still being there now, delighted for them after their hard work. Austin and Foxy could have packed it in a few years ago easily if they wanted to but they still have the drive. To see Austin come on and get a point, it was probably my biggest shout of the day. Alan Campbell as well, it was great for him to play so well. I think he’s been phenomenal in all the games, he can mark anyone in the country.

“From that U21 team Foxy captained (in 2009) there was serious players. Ciaran McDonald was unfortunate with injuries, he would have been immense obviously. We had a bit of success when we were younger but it was hard to keep all the guys together.”

philip-austin-celebrates-with-brian-fox-after-the-game Philip Austin celebrates with Brian Fox after the Munster final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Acheson went off on a different direction himself. After seven seasons he reasoned it was time to make the move to Dubai in late 2016, having toyed with the idea on a couple of occasions before. He commuted back and forth in 2018 for the knockout stages of the club championship, a level of commitment that paid off when Moyle Rovers became Tipperary football kingpins.

But the 30-year-old is settled in the Middle East, this year bringing about a new chapter.

“Myself and Roisin came over to Doha in January. I got a promotion with the company, it was contingent on moving to here. I flew over and back for about four months doing a bit of work to see if we liked it. So we made the move, it’s been a bit strange as Covid hit in March so we haven’t seen Qatar properly but the restrictions have been lifted the last few months, we’re starting to enjoy it big time.

“Not an awful lot of difference from Dubai, the nightlife is probably not as good. But we’re at that stage where we’re both in our 30s, the nightlife isn’t the be all and end all, work is going well for both of us. We’re going to stay here for a few more years for sure.”

There’s a good-sized Irish community out there. Donegal’s Ryan Bradley is a current work colleague and another 2012 All-Ireland victor Paul Durcan was previously. Acheson is still following Gaelic football avidly just not kicking around as much as he used to.

“I played an awful lot in Dubai but I actually haven’t gone down this year. They only went back training two months ago, it’s non contact and just drills with no games in the forseeable future. The soccer match is league and full on matches so playing that constantly with a team called Parkhouse. Playing plenty of golf, end of November was 26 degrees, so overall it’s hard not to enjoy it to be honest.”

That last dance with Tipperary still plays on his mind. They were outsiders for that game four years ago against a seasoned Mayo team yet it was no emphatic beating that they sustained.

donal-vaughan-with-peter-acheson Donal Vaughan and Peter Acheson in opposition in the 2016 semi-final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“There was a few things that didn’t go our way,” recalls Acheson.

“The Kiely black card, obviously Robbie was massive for us and still is. He was a huge loss. The two goals, one was a hand pass and they counter-attacked, the second one dribbled in. Looking back it was an opportunity missed.

“Imagine we had Stevie, Colin, Seamus Kennedy, Liam Casey back then. It definitely would have been a few points advantage to us but look we have lost McDonald and a few other players that were as good. It’s hard to know.”

He compares and contrasts Sunday’s likely sides. There’s no massive gulf separating them in quality in his mind.

“For Mayo they need to be beating Tipp and getting to the final. For Tipp it’s just go out there and express themselves. I honestly think they’ve a really, really good chance.

“Obviously Mayo have likes of Keegan, Durcan and Aidan O’Shea. I think it’s all about match ups. Campbell can mark anybody so think he can go on Cillian O’Connor. Jimmy Feehan is looking very steady at full-back and you’ve the three guys around midfield that will match anybody.

“Then Conor and Mikey up front, I don’t think there’s anything to hold us back. I think the half-back line will be the winning of the game for either team, theirs is obviously very strong but I feel ours is our biggest strength with Bill, Kevin Fahey – who was unreal the last day – and Robbie Kiely.”

With Munster silverware secured, 2020 is already enshrined in Tipperary football. But Acheson thinks back to previous trail-blazers, the work that has gone in during unfashionable times and senses how much of a launchpad All-Ireland final qualification could be.

“Even saying those words that Tipp aren’t happy with an All-Ireland semi-final, just shows where we’ve come from and where we are at the moment. We’ll say starting from Deccy Browne and Liam Cronin’s generation, when people were laughed at playing football, they all stuck with it. They passed that onto the next generation of Cracker – Paul Fitz, George Hannigan, Brian Mul, Ciaran McDonald, those guys passed it onto me and Conor Sweeney.

peter-acheson-and-brian-mulvihill-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Peter Acheson and Brian Mulvhill celebrate after Tipperary's 2012 qualifier win over Wexford. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think they passed it on again to Mikey and the lads who won the All-Ireland minor. This is our time now so I know they won’t be happy with a day out in Croke Park. They want to get to that final and if they can get through Mayo, you just never know. It would be a massive step forward again for the minor and U16 teams now who aren’t having the best time at the moment. But I think an All-Ireland final would be just a massive push for Tipp football.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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