GAA Football

'Dream come true is strong terminology, but it's not very far off it': Paddy Christie relishing Tipp fairytale

Tipperary captain Conor Sweeney gets the party started after the Premier's Munster Championship success. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

WHEN Paddy Christie was asked to come on board with Tipperary in late 2019, the only talk was of the building project that lay ahead. Years, rather than months, is what new boss David Power and his backroom team were looking at.

Just over 12 months on they are Munster champions for the first time since 1935, crowned on the 100 year anniversary weekend of Bloody Sunday, and in five days’ time will face Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final.

All of a sudden, nobody is talking about groundwork. Through his involvement with the Ballymun success story, Christie knows just how much work goes into becoming an ‘overnight success’.

Yet while plenty of hard graft has been put into helping the Tipperary footballers step from the shadows of their small ball counterparts, what has unfolded in the 2020 Championship caught everybody unawares.

“Dream come true is very strong terminology, but it’s not very far off it from my point of view,” says the former Dublin full-back, whose mother Kathleen hails from the Premier County.

“It would have been a very long-term approach with Ballymun, trying to change a culture there and trying to get standards up to a level where Ballymun were a force every year, one that people respected and were afraid of.

“When we spoke at the start of the year, we were constantly talking about how this might take two or three years, and how it might even be a case of setting up a platform for people in years to come to benefit from.

“It just so happened it has worked out the way it has, but it wasn’t – as far as I’m aware – part of any great master-plan. If it was, they never told me!

“At one stage we were looking at possibly relegation to Division Four, and then Clare were favourites in the Championship, so your season could’ve been over having been relegated to Division Four and gone out of Munster in the first round.

“Instead we stayed up, and now we’re Munster champions looking at an All-Ireland semi-final. It’s dream-world sort of stuff, and for it to happen on the weekend it did… just incredible.”

Christie had just finished up a year working with Down club Burren when Power called last October. The pair had got to know each other through underage roles within their native counties and, with fond memories of summers spent in Tipp growing up, Christie needed little persuasion.

Having witnessed at first hand what makes the cogs in the Dublin machine turn, the value of every corner of the operation is not lost on him, and Christie found a unique collective already in place in Tipp.

“You’ve Charlie McGeever there who has been there and seen it all, Tommy Twomey does video analysis but is also a selector – along with David I call them the three wise men of Tipperary football because they’ve been at the coalface for years, they’re stalwarts of the whole thing.

“There’s the kitman, a guy called Murt Kennedy, who has been there for years, Amy McGuire looks after the nutrition side of things, Pat O’Callaghan who opens up the dressing rooms and maintains the pitches at Dr Morris Park is always in great form.

“People talk about work-rate and application on the field, but it’s being mirrored off the pitch. It’s lovely for these people because, while they work away behind the scenes, they are at the very core of our whole group.”

The challenge now, of course, is to pick up where they left off on Munster final day.

Aussie Rules outfit Sydney Swans have given Colin O’Riordan the green light to continue with Tipp, retaining his services a huge boost ahead of Sunday’s clash with James Horan’s Connacht kingpins.

Some ghosts were laid to rest at Pairc Ui Chaoimh but, as Christie knows from his own playing days, it can take more than one big result to escape the demons of the past.

“Eighty-five years is a long time. You don’t just magic confidence out of nowhere. If you were to say to a Tipperary fella six months ago we’re going to win a Munster Championship… that’s a leap of faith.

“Faith, to me, is a belief in something you have no proof of. Yes there was underage success but they still had psychological scars from years gone by - last year Limerick gave them a walloping in Semple Stadium.

“I played in a Dublin team that lost so many big games in Leinster, the ’99, ’2000, ’2001 finals, all equally shit… by 2002, you were beginning to wonder. Tommy Lyons came in and he was telling us we were going to do this and that, but there was no real evidence to back that up.

“When you’re constantly losing massive games, it does create doubt. That’s probably why in the last five minutes against Cork, even though we were the better team, we limped over the line.

“History was against us, and fellas were nearly looking over their shoulders. That’s natural, because that’s what had happened. With us, we finally won Leinster in 2002 and after that, I was a different player.

“Hopefully it’s the same for these lads. It’s always great for the underdog to have their day, and that’s what’s happening here.”

DUBLIN DEPTH WILL SEE THEM BEAT BREFFNI BOYS SAYS CHRISTIE

HE is hoping for at least one fairytale this weekend – but Paddy Christie believes Dublin’s sheer drive and depth will see them past surprise Ulster champions Cavan on Saturday evening.

The Breffnimen battled to a first provincial title in 23 years when they defeated red hot favourites Donegal to set up an All-Ireland semi-final crack at Dessie Farrell’s six in-a-row chasers.

The Dubs are rated 1/100 to progress to the December 19 decider and Christie – a former Dublin U21 boss who is now part of the Tipperary backroom team preparing for Sunday’s other semi-final – believes it is their bench that continues to set them apart.

“Even if someone’s under-performing, Dessie can whip off somebody so fast and bring on somebody as good, if not better. That’s a serious embarrassment of riches there.

“You saw how they went about the Meath game [in the Leinster final], even when they were so far ahead. Part of it comes from the training environment but there’s also the more powerful motivator of ‘if I don’t do this, I’m going to be taken off’.

“That’s the carrot and the stick, because you know that if you don’t perform, not only might you not be on the starting 15 the next day, you might not be in the 26-man panel. That supercedes all other motivational tools, and that’s what has kept them at the top for so long.

“That said, Meath were particularly shocking so that should give Cavan a boost. A bit like ourselves, they’re going in with their tails up, in a good place and with momentum behind them.”

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