"The minute it left my boot, I knew it was going over" - Tipp's 2020 pilgrimage began with a challenge 1 month ago

"The minute it left my boot, I knew it was going over" - Tipp's 2020 pilgrimage began with a challenge

In a locked-down world, the footballers of Tipperary found divine inspiration.

Backs were to the wall when the League shut up shop last March as for all intents and purposes, the team had two games to save their season.

Lose to either Offaly or Leitrim in the restart and they were heading back to square one, back to division four. A challenge can propel lads out of their skins though and as Conor Sweeney recalls on Thursday's GAA Hour, the mood in the camp was good.

"I smelled something in the air during the first lock-down, I just got this feeling that it was going to be one of these years," he recalls almost prophetically.

"I said it to a couple of people, even to a member of management. We put a massive emphasis on individual training during the first lock-down, getting a good fitness base so that when we returned, that at least we'd be good to go to focus on the football side of things.

"We had two winnable games with Offaly and Leitrim in the League. I just found that when it came to the final quarter of those games, we were just fitter and stronger...The work during the lock-down, the focus as well, so it was a number of factors..."

Tipperary preserved their Division Three status and the rest as they say, is in the book. The winning streak continued as Clare and then Limerick were overcome in the championship. The Munster final that followed was one of those games that had hairs standing even on neutral necks as the Premier reached the promised land on Bloody Sunday's 100 year anniversary.

"You just couldn't write it," says Sweeney now.

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Of all the memories, the captain's clinching free-kick in the semi-final against Limerick will live as long as any though, with this man was too inspired to start doubting. Confidence was high and if there's a lesson for free-takers out there, it's that you must back yourself when the moment arrives.

"I can remember it very clearly. I remember the referee awarding the free out by the sideline.

"I just went over and said 'I'm having this.' I remember looking at the clock, there were about 30 seconds left and I fancied it. I had no intention of going short or passing it.

"The conditions were favourable with the wind at my back, so I knew if I put it far enough right, that the wind would take it in. It really was a matter of inches because it came off the post. I was really happy with it, struck it really well and the minute it left my boot, I knew it was going over..."

"You talk about fine margins in sport. The width of the post kept us in the championship! I wouldn't have taken it on if I didn't feel I was able to score it. It's not something I'd be practicing a whole pile but I just felt really confident at the time and could see myself putting it over, it's mad what a bit of visualisation can do..."

The pilgrimage ended in a first half at Croke Park and while Sweeney admits the dressing room at half-time was one of the worst places he's ever been with a team, that the journey hasn't been tarred.

"The dressing room at half-time was a tough place to be. Probably one of the toughest places I've ever been with a team. It doesn't put a dampener on the year, but when you look back at that specific game on its own, it's definitely an opportunity that has slipped by, but there is plenty to be positive about..."

Perched in their hearts and etched in their minds, nobody can ever take that 2020 miracle away from the Tipperary footballers.