MICHAEL QUINLIVAN had always wondered how Kilkenny’s hurlers found the drive to compete at the highest level year after year. Last Sunday, he found out.
Playing an All-Ireland semi-final in front of over 50,000 people at Croke Park was easily the highlight of the Clonmel Commercials forward's career so far and he doesn’t want last weekend’s clash with Mayo to be his first and last taste of the big time.
Quinlivan top-scored for Tipperary with eight frees, but the westerners held off their gutsy second-half rally to progress to the All-Ireland final on a 2-13 to 0-14 scoreline.
“It always intrigued me how the Kilkenny hurlers keep coming back, you don’t really understand it really until you play in a game like that yourself, how much it actually means and the experience itself,” he said.
“It does stand out, as a person and a player. There’s a lot of hurt in that dressing room after that game, hopefully we can bottle that and come back. We have a Munster semi-final to look forward to in June, we want to get back to a Munster final as well, so there’s things to build on and hopefully we can do that next year.”
Tipp’s run to the last-four, which included a win over Cork in the Munster semi-final and victories over Derry and Connacht champions Galway in the Qualifiers, has given football, previously a distant second to hurling, a much higher profile in the Premier county.
“We have been making strides over the last few years and it’s another step today,” said Quinlivan.
“I don’t know how many other teams would be applauded off the field in Croke Park after losing by five points by both sets of supporters. We must be doing something right and maybe we are giving hope to a new generation of footballers that might come behind us and, hopefully, that’s what we can do.”
Quinlivan’s pride was mixed with genuine disappointment because Tipp were in touching distance of a famous win. They had closed to within two points of Mayo deep in the second-half before Conor O’Shea’s goal finally killed them off.
“I’m bitterly disappointed now, to be honest,” he said.
“We saw a big opportunity there and the two goals killed us, the second one especially, because we were definitely on top in the second-half and that kind of saw them home.
“They are a top-three team, this is our first experience here. We’ll go away and learn from it and hopefully come back again. They got a run on us for about 15 minutes, but they are a quality side, so it can be hard to stem the tide.
"When they got the goal, they really did go for the kill then. We probably do have to learn to maybe slow it down in that sort of situation, but we really did enjoy our experience. We really are disappointed, so it is what it is.”
After leading 0-6 to 0-3 early on, Tipp were sent reeling when Mayo hit 1-7 to a single point to lead by 1-10 to 0-7 at the break. Many observers felt the game was over at that stage, but Quinlivan says there was belief in the dressing-room they could get back into the game.
“We didn’t feel we were playing too badly in the first-half, they got on a run on us and we were killing ourselves, so it was back to basics,” he said.
“We never thought it was away from us at any stage and I think everyone in the stadium could see that we always have that belief. When they were six points up with two minutes to go, we were still going at it, so it was just back to basics.
“Look, I don’t really know how to analyse a game like that when you are after losing it, but we’ll take a few weeks and look back on it maybe in October or November and see what we can improve on for next year.”