Donegal man McGeever in the Tipperary camp

ALL-IRELAND semi-final weekend is almost upon us and Ulster is getting ready to support  the Cavan team as they take on Dublin.

Yet Cavan aren’t the only Ulster men interested in this weekend’s semi-finals.

Many people had expected Donegal to be the Ulster representatives in the All-Ireland semi-finals, yet while Declan Bonner’s men exited at the Ulster final stage, Tir Chonnaill  will be represented in Croke Park in the form of  Charlie McGeever, who has been plotting the downfall of Mayo as he is part of the Tipperary management team.

McGeever is well-known in sporting circles the length and breadth of the country and hails from Derryconnor in Gortahork.

He was a fine GAA player for Cloughaneely in his youth and also excelled at soccer.

McGeever played for Fanad United, Sligo Rovers, and Finn Harps, and had trials with Tottenham Hotspur.

He famously managed Finn Harps to the FAI Cup Final in 1999 only to lose after two replays against Bray Wanderers.

McGeever has been domiciled in Tipperary for 18 years, and while he was initially involved with a successful Clonmel Town team, it’s all about Gaelic football these days.

He has nurtured and developed many of these talented Tipperary youngsters, who won the county’s first provincial title in 85 years two weeks ago.

That was a triumph that will live long in the memory, and while he was busy preparing for Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor and co this week, McGeever is disappointed that Donegal won’t be in Headquarters as well.

“We had a brilliant win over Cork but it was a bit of a bittersweet weekend with Donegal losing.

“I always look out for their results and how things are going, and what young players are coming through.

“I don’t know if they were looking too far ahead to Dublin. I suspect that Cork were looking ahead to Mayo when they played us.

“We’re hoping that Mayo will be taking us for granted a bit this week, and will be looking ahead to the final.

“I can assure you that talk of the final, or who might be in it, has not surfaced with us at all this week.

“We’re completely focused on Mayo and you can see that in training.

“Things mightn’t necessarily go for us, and maybe Mayo will be the better team. But I definitely think that we will perform on Sunday, and I just hope that is enough to take us through to the final.”

McGeever and his family moved to the Premier county in 2002 and he was principal of Coláiste Chluain Meala.

He retired from that post two years ago, but is still a busy man, and now works at Mary Immaculate College in Thurles, where he is in charge of placement and does a ‘small bit of lecturing’ too. There is plenty going on outside of work as well, as he is the current senior manager of the Clonmel Commercials senior team, as well as a selector under Tipp bainisteoir David Power.

McGeever guided Tipp through to the All-Ireland Minor Final in 2015 where they lost to Kerry, and given his knowledge of the club scene and the young players coming through, it was a no-brainer for Power to get the Donegal man involved.

While many people wouldn’t be able to combine club and inter-county commitments, McGeever stayed on as manager of Clonmel Commercials this season.

He has a close affinity with the players having coached the majority of them since they were u-14.

He has since led them to four Senior County titles, including this year when they defeated Loughmore-Castleiney on a scoreline of 1-16 to 1-15. His son Cathal came on as a sub in that game.

“It’s been a great year so far.

“We won the County Championship with Commercials which was brilliant.

“We were pushed all the way in the final by Loughmore but we came through it by a point.

“We have nine players involved in the county panel. They were all in the matchday 26 for the Limerick game, but Jack Kennedy missed out the last day through injury, but we hope he will be back for Mayo.

“Those boys have had a brilliant season so far and they have the winning habit. They haven’t lost a game since we returned to playing during the summer. They are playing with great confidence and that is rubbing off on the whole team.

“They are playing with no fear and it’s brilliant to see.”

It is staggering that Tipp have made it to the last four of the All-Ireland Championship considering they finished fifth in Division Three of the National Football League.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak played into their hands.

Michael Quinlivan and Liam Casey were due to go travelling but were then forced to come home, and they committed to the footballers as a result.

They were key to their Munster Championship victories over Clare and Limerick.

With Kerry knocked out by Cork, Tipp could sense that things were aligning for them perfectly, and then they got word that Sydney Swans were permitting Colin O’Riordan to play in the Munster final and he had a telling influence.

“In all honesty, we would not be in this position if it wasn’t for Covid.

“At the start of the year, Quinlivan and Casey were going travelling and obviously we didn’t have O’Riordan.

“But things have fallen for us very nicely and we have a really strong team there at the minute.

“Michael makes a huge difference. He works so well with Conor Sweeney, and as a pair there aren’t many better than those two in the country.

“We were lucky enough to get past Limerick. Sweeney kicked an unbelievable free to bring it to extra-time.

“I was roaring at him to go short but he just said to Michael – ‘I’ve got this’ and he did.

“We were always confident of beating Cork. We had beaten them at underage level and we knew there was a big game in us.”

The Munster final was a special occasion for the Tipperary footballers, as it fell on the same weekend of the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday when 14 people were killed or fatally wounded and dozens more were injured during a challenge game between Tipperary and Dublin.

Tipp footballer Michael Hogan was among those killed on that tragic day.

Tipperary were given permission to wear a special commemorative green and white jersey to mark the occasion in the Munster final.

That could have been a burden on the team, but the management didn’t place too much emphasis on it.

Tipp were focused and composed and went on to win by 0-17 to 0-14.

McGeever said: “If things had gone to plan this year, we would have been playing Dublin in a challenge game last weekend.

“It’s funny the way things work out and David dealt with it superbly.

“It wasn’t mentioned until we beat Limerick and then it was decided quickly that we would wear the jerseys. Nothing was left to chance. We got them early and wore them in training to get used to the colours.

“We watched the commemoration on the Saturday night, which was great, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot.

“A bigger burden for these lads was trying to win a provincial title for the first time in 85 years.

“Most of them are in the 26, 27, 28-year-old bracket, so they are in their prime, but we know with the talent Kerry have coming through, that there won’t be a huge amount of opportunities.

“They went out and played with no fear and deserved the win.”

There is a lot to work on this week for McGeever and the rest of the backroom team as they look to get everything fine-tuned for the big game.

However, with Covid restrictions in place, there are more obstacles than usual in their way.

The team haven’t been using dressing rooms this year, and McGeever says it is a throwback to when he was breaking onto the scene himself.

“I go back a long time and I remember when I was 17 and togging out at the side of a ditch before going to play for Glenea United.

“It was the same when we were playing with PCC or Cloughaneely. There were not a load of dressing rooms around back then. They were simpler times.

“There’s so much work involved now with analysis and preparation and it could take up to four hours before a game to get everything sorted.

“A lot of that has been taken away this year. When we were playing with Clonmel, we got changed in the stand, and it was just a case of a 10-minute chat and throw the jerseys out.

“We haven’t been using the dressing rooms with Tipp either.

“We have got into a routine at training as well and everyone knows what is expected of them.

“To be fair, Tipperary has held quite strong in the face of Covid and our figures would be up there with the best in the country.

“It has been good for the players too. There are no pubs or socialising or holidays and they enjoy coming down to training.

“One thing that has helped us actually and I’m not sure if this happened everywhere in Ireland, but a lot of our boys took up golf, and that gave them a social outlet away from the training.”

Tipperary go into this Sunday’s match (throw-in, 3.30pm) as 4/1 underdogs.

The same sides met four years ago in the semi-final with Mayo winning by 2-13 to 0-14 after getting a scare.

It would be a huge shock if Tipp defeated the Connacht champions, but then this has been a season of shocks so far.

“It is going to be a very difficult challenge.

“I would have felt that Cork picked a strange team against us. It was young and inexperienced, and I felt that helped us as we had plenty of know-how on the pitch.

“It will be a different story with Mayo because they are obviously very experienced.

“We played them in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2016 but it was a closer game than the scoreline suggested. We had Bill Maher sent off and Robbie Kiely black carded and other things went against us.

“We played them in Thurles a couple of years ago and that was very competitive for a long time too.

“Mayo have introduced good young players like Eoghan McLaughlin and (Tommy) Conroy, but they have a core there that have been around a long time, and they beat a very strong Galway side.

“I think more and more of the game is becoming about kick-outs and who can win possession, so we will have to scrap and battle for everything that is going.”

By Ryan Ferry


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