Tipperary set sights on All-Ireland Final after ending provincial wait
THE ALL-IRELAND Final is obviously on his mind, but Tipperary's Brian Fox knows he will never forget the fabulous feeling of finally becoming a provincial football champion.
The Premier County's moniker is dubious enough in hurling, but in football they'd gone 85 years without winning Munster – and Kerry had sat out that 1935 championship.
"It wasn't even a famine, it was just non-existent as far as we were concerned," admits Fox. "Look I probably don't appreciate it fully yet but in time, I will.
"I got some really nice messages from people who said what it meant to them – even [what it would have meant] to people who have passed on.
"I know one man told me about his father-in-law, who actually died back in 2015 at the under-21 All-Ireland [Football] Final in the stand, and how much it meant to him. He would have been around, probably he would have been a young lad in 1935 so it meant a lot to a lot of people."
His uncle Pat Fox was among them, a man who won five Munster hurling crowns and two All-Irelands with Tipp, those latter two in 1989 and 1991.
"He rang me on the Sunday night. I'd say he was delighted. They were all trying to contact me.
"He has experience of having that huge success himself and he just wanted to wish congratulations and he said 'Hey, enjoy it,' because it's only when he looks back now he says, when he fully appreciates it for what it was."
In the immediate aftermath Fox and his Tipperary colleagues relished their achievement, "just really trying to enjoy it. I don't know how you describe it, the whole atmosphere around the county, there's just a big lift around the county, the mood has changed from one of depression and shadowed by Covid to one of real sunlight."
There was a marvellous moment on the Monday morning after the final triumph over Cork, a moment the Eire Og, Annacarty clubman admits he might have missed, when pupils from the school he teaches at gave him a guard of honour:
"Sure, if I'd had my way I'd probably have taken the day off, I was wrecked. I said I'd go in. It was a really nice moment. The school is very supportive of me, I'm teaching in an all girls' school here in Tipp town, and it's sports crazy. We have easily 70, 80 girls training football most evenings.
"It was a really nice touch, I really appreciated it; that's the community environment we have here at St Anne's. Teachers, students, whatever's going on, everyone just wants to help each other out."
Indeed they'd provided him with inspiration of sorts before the decider, he recalls with a laugh: "The school actually won a Munster medal in Pairc Ui Chaoimh before Covid, back in February so they were slagging me before, saying they'd won a Munster already so it should be no bother doing it."
The task now is to overcome Connacht champions Mayo in a repeat of the last four meeting from four years ago, when Tipp were surprise semi-finalists – eventually they lost by 2-13 to 0-14.
The westerners will be favourites again, but Fox believes Tipp have the talent to succeed at this level, drawing inspiration from the Minor team which won a football All-Ireland in 2011, a team which included Evan Comerford, Colin O'Riordan, Steven O'Brien, Bill Maher, and Michael Quinlivan:
"Yeah, definitely. It's not that underage success directly translates to senior success but, definitely, we realise the calibre of players we've had. To win a Minor All-Ireland in 2011 and being in an U21 All-Ireland in 2015, for a county of Tipperary's standing in football in the country, is huge – because you have to beat the best to get there.
"It's a mental thing to get over, that these [other] counties are always at the top table. So we do draw on that. The fact that [manager] Davy [Power] has been involved with those teams, when we won the Minor in 2011, he does draw on the fact that we are competing.
"When we won in 2011 - I say 'we', although I wasn't involved - but we have had all those players and we should have no fear of any team going forward. We are capable of playing really good football and competing at that level."
Whatever the near future holds, Fox hopes that the provincial championships remain in the football format.
This year was supposed to bring a second tier championship back to football, the Tailteann Cup, for teams from Divisions Three and Four once they exited their provincials - although Tipp (and Cavan) would have avoided that because they reached their respective finals, never mind winning them.
Yet grading has long been the way in Tipp club football, Fox points out: "I do love the provinces, in Tipperary I suppose we have the same situation where we have divisions, and the divisions are linked to the county championship. You'd have war in the county if they were broken, because it means so much to so many clubs. It's aspirational, and it's more realistic than winning 'Sam'.
"So from that point of view, I do see some value in the provinces and, having won one now, I really see the value in the provinces," he says with a smile.
Indeed he argues that change had to come to they football format: "Yeah, look, I definitely think the system could be tweaked. There has to be some sort of an alternative, because probably the qualifiers have run their course.
"That's not a bad thing to say that, I just think that things can be altered or changed for the good of the game. In 10 years you could be saying 'Well, look, we gave that a go, it worked for a while.'
"I don't think anyone disagrees that the qualifiers were brilliant when they first came in and everyone was really into them and everyone could see the value in them.
"But now we have gone to another stage where people are maybe not seeing as much value because the same teams are knocked out every time and the same teams are knocked out early and the top teams seem to be getting stronger. If they lose their first round match, they use it to build momentum as Mayo did for the previous four years."
At least this year is different – and Tipperary intend to continue shaking things up.