The Tipp minors who beat Dublin's golden generation: the ones that got away
From the exciting first steps to a fork in the road.
Back in 2011, Tipperary football was a land of promise, hope and giddy potential.
A prodigious county minor team beat Dublin's golden age and the future was blinding. A reluctant hurling following was finally convinced that football was something the county could excel at and all was well.
Big efforts were put in at underage level. Tipp's under-14s would give Kerry lots of it and with the under-21s making an All-Ireland final in 2015 and the seniors only losing out to Mayo at the last four in 2016, genuine progress was made.
Tipp were on the cusp of it.
Ever since, however, the county have faded at underage level. They haven't made a Munster minor or under-21 final since 2015, while their seniors have fallen short. Last Sunday's qualifier defeat to Down and Liam Kearns' subsequent resignation represents the cross-roads they were a long time trekking to and the question is now whether Tipperary can get back to the big-time.
They certainly have the talent to.
We take a look back at the minor team who beat McCaffrey, Mannion, Small, Scully, Kilkenny and co. (A minor panel that Brian Fenton didn't even make) in Croker and, although six of them were on the county senior panel up to this year, the loss of some of these key talents helps to explain football's stalls in the county.
The talent of this bunch however could never be in doubt, with the majority of them going onto achieve impressive things across various sporting codes.
1. Evan Comerford (Kilsheelan/Kilcash)
Despite constant links with soccer, Comerford has become a mainstay for the Tipperary footballers.
A promising underage keeper in a previous life, he was heavily linked with a move to the League of Ireland after his suspension in the summer of 2017.
He stayed put though and was Liam Kearns' first choice net-minder the whole way through.
2. Niall O’Sullivan (Moycarkey-Borris)
O'Sullivan played for the same under-21 side that lost the Munster final to Cork three years later, but never really made his mark with the county seniors.
He played with his club up until last year but his season ended with injury and he hasn't since returned.
3. John Meagher (Loughmore-Castleiney)
Despite some tough luck with injuries, the highly-rated Meagher has still risen.
A number of knee problems held him back as a youngster, but the athletic defender got a good run of it recently and has cemented his place in the Tipperary senior football team. He started at full back against Down last weekend.
Unusually for Tipperary, it's the hurlers who are missing out here as Meagher - a dual county minor - is one of the most dominant club hurlers in the county.
4. Conor O’Sullivan (Galtee Rovers)
A sticky corner back, he later played for the under-21s and also made the Tipp senior panel in 2014. His focus is now on club football with Galtee Rovers and he was centre back, and a key man in their west championship win last year.
5. Colin O’Riordan (JK Brackens)
The single greatest loss to have hit Tipperary football.
At least the Premier knew it was coming. A prodigious underage talent, O'Riordan was only 15, and one of the star players in this famous triumph.
He'd go onto become a dual county minor before representing the Tipperary senior footballers in 2014 and 2015. He earned an All-Star nomination in his first year up but the murmurs wouldn't go away.
And in November 2015 he bit the bullet and headed Down Under. Tipperary's loss was Sydney Swans' gain and in July 2018 he made his senior debut for his new team.
His progress continues on the other side of the world but back in Tipperary they hold out hope that the JK Brackens man will return some time soon.
6. Dylan Fitzell (Cashel King Cormacs)
Fitzell was a dual county minor the following year and he'd captain the footballers in 2012. Was part of the Tipperary hurling squad that won an All-Ireland in 2016 but is no longer involved.
Still plays both hurling and football for his club.
7. Seamus Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials)
Just like O'Riordan, Kennedy has been another monumental loss for Tipperary football.
The Clonmel Commercials man was the most promising member of this minor team, a galloping half back and a real leader. He chose hurling in 2016 and that decision was justified when an All-Ireland medal arrived that September. Kennedy was a key player in Michael Ryan's team, hurling brilliantly at wing back the whole year long.
In the meantime however, he has fallen out of favour with the hurlers and has found himself an unused sub in Tipp's Munster championship campaign to date.
He'd be taken back in a heartbeat by the football fraternity.
8. Stephen O’Brien (Ballina)
Another who has flirted between codes, but for the most part O'Brien has remained a Tipperary footballer, his physicality and size a huge asset in midfield.
9. Ian Fahey (Clonmel Commercials)
One of the key members of the team, 17-year-old Fahey was held as a footballing prodigy in Clonmel and in Tipperary. His relationship with danger-man Quinlivan was telepathic and their link-up play was pure dynamite.
Fahey was an ever better minor the second time around and in 2015 he was the centre forward on the team that lost the All-Ireland under-21 final to Tyrone.
His role with the senior team has been more bit-part than key cog though. Fahey's star stalled due to a number of injuries - from persistent knee problems to a work accident, and he never really nailed a spot with the Tipp seniors.
He didn't join up with the panel this year but as he nears a return to full fitness, he's focused on getting back in with the club.
10. Greg Henry (Killenaule)
It was a tale of two sports with Henry.
A star of the minor team, he was still a part of the group three years later when they lost a Munster under-21 final to Cork.
Soccer was always pulling away though, and so after doing the league and cup double with the Cork City under-19s, he headed over to LaSalle University in Philadelphia on a soccer scholarship in 2014, along with teammate Colman Kennedy.
Henry returned home in 2019 and now plays with his football with Cobh Ramblers in the League of Ireland first division.
Both Killenuale and Tipperary await with open arms if Henry ever has a look back.
11. John McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney)
McGrath's exploits with the Tipperary hurlers need no declaration. Still has a soft spot for the football though and never lets the county's best dual club Loughmore-Castleiney down.
12. Bill Maher (Kilsheelan Kilcash)
A star at both, Maher stayed with the football. Has been one of Tipperary's most consistent players over the last few years with his direct running a huge weapon in the half back line.
13. Liam McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney)
The captain, and the star of this glorious triumph. Liam hit 1-2 in the final in an inspirational display. Though he has also spent time in with the Tipp hurlers, McGrath is primarily a footballer now and he still lines out on top of the left.
14. Michael Quinlivan (Clonmel Commercials)
From the moment Quinlivan cooly slotted a penalty into the Hill 16 end goals, Tipperary knew they were onto something special.
He hasn't disappointed.
The only member of the side to go onto win an All-Star. Quinlivan is a forward of true national class and though injuries have dogged him recently, he would make any team in the country at full fitness.
15. TJ Ryan (Rockwell Rovers)
Ryan was the Munster minor footballer of the year for 2011 but unbelievably, wouldn't start the All-Ireland minor semi-final against Meath.
He may not have been the most physical player but his speed and skill was never in doubt. The left footed forward was part of the senior panel in 2016 before he headed off to America.
Since his return, he's been burning it up on the Tipperary intermediate scene and in April he went to town against Gragemockler.
In Rockwell, they reckon he'd be well worth his place in with the seniors.
Philip Quirke (Moyle Rovers)
The one that got away.
Quirke was on and off the team up to the final, but was held in reserve in Croker. Super-sub doesn't even cut it.
The Moyle Rover came on for John McGrath at half-time and went onto turn the game upside down. The lanky 16-year-old kicked three gorgeous points off the left - each one as good as the next as he inspired Tipp's remarkable comeback.
That capped a wonderful year for Quirke, but unfortunately, he didn't get a fair chance at making it as a senior. Knee injuries hit hard and though he did everything within his power to get back for a few appearances for the senior team in 2013, they eventually took their toll. The very first game he played on his return from a torn cruciate led to another cruciate injury, and he no longer plays football anymore.
Colman Kennedy (Clonmel Commercials)
Kennedy will always be remembered for that late, great winning goal that sank the Dubs.
"Colman's goal there at the end was unbelievable, I've never seen anything like it in Croke Park before," said captain Liam McGrath after the game.
That instinctive left footed lasher wasn't his only contribution on the day day. He also kicked two points from play as Tipp clawed their way back from a 1-10 t0 2-2 half-time deficit to win on a scoreline of 3-9 to 1-14.
He went onto play again for the minors the following year before joining the senior squad in 2014. His spell was short-lived though as along with wing forward Henry, he headed to Philadelphia on a soccer scholarship, where he appeared to enjoy himself.
Upon returning home last year, he joined up with Limerick FC but his focus is on club football now and he'll be involved with the Commercials in the county championship later this year.
Adrian McGuire (Kilsheelan/Kilcash)
Started wing back on the under-21 team three years later and was a part of the senior panel in 2016. At the moment, he's concentrating on club football with Kilsheelan/Kilcash.
Jason Lonergan (Clonmel Commercials)
Progressed on to make that under-21 team in 2015 and has been a very active squad player for the seniors in recent years. Has pace to burn and a wand for a left leg.
He didn't play with the county this year but is flying with Clonmel.
John Martin (Ballyporeen)
Martin started a few games in the run-up to the final but played as an impact sub in the final. He still plays club football for Ballyporeen and hurling for Skeheenarinky.