Only a character like Brian Fox would look on the 667 crowd that attended last Sunday’s Tipperary-Fermanagh game as a positive. Small number, you point out.
“Not really no, in fact I played in Division 4 and Division 3 when we only had 200 or 300, so 600 looks brilliant!”
Those who know how mischievous Fox can be wouldn’t expect any other answer. Two years ago, Armagh GAA social media had come up with a #pipthetipp hashtag ahead of the counties’ Division 3 promotion clash in the Athletic Grounds. After Tipperary claimed the win to jump into Division 2 at their expense, the then Premier captain took to Twitter to deliver a tongue-in-cheek response: “Someone call the PSNI there’s been an orchard raided by @mikeyquinlivan #pipthetippmyarse #goingup”
With the hurlers on a rest weekend, more should turn out for the visit of Donegal to Thurles tomorrow but if they don’t, the 31-year-old isn’t too worried.
“No, it’s not a big thing, we have our supporters, they are the same supporters we have had since day one — they’re always there. I suppose maybe a year or two ago when we were going very well there were probably more people but they were probably more the fair-weather supporters. It’s not a big issue for me, doesn’t influence how we play or doesn’t influence the mentality of the boys.”
Semple Stadium may seem pretty vacant on days like last Sunday but there’s nowhere else he would prefer the county to host league games.
The expanse of the hallowed turf suits this Tipperary team royally.
“My first year, we played all our home games in Division 4 in Ardfinnan. I think then when we were in Division 3 in 2009, that we got to play in the stadium, and it’s where you want to play. If you are playing football or hurling for your county, you want to play in your home stadium, and Semple Stadium was always a dream to play in for any young lad in Tipperary so I’m delighted to play there every time.
“It (Semple Stadium) does suit us. We still feel we have the players who can do that. We like space, we like an open game, we want to move the ball fast and get it into the boys who have pace and can finish.”
Mention that 2016 run to an All-Ireland semi-final and it’s obvious Tipperary haven’t truly pushed on, even if they almost put back-to-back promotions together last year. With one point from their opening two games, it’s been an awkward start but then Tipperary are no longer an unknown entity. With respect comes scrutiny but it wasn’t always that way.
“After we had that success in 2016, we were kind of a marked team then as well, teams probably looked at us a lot more, trying to tactically dissect what we were doing. I suppose last year maybe we still had that explosiveness to a degree but teams were just better at shutting us down and probably exposing us at the other end. So we needed to have a look at ourselves to make sure that we are playing in a way that gives us the best chance of winning. That might not be explosiveness all the time, but we have it in the locker, the boys can do it.
“It’s probably just because I’ve been here so long but there were often times you’d go out on the pitch and know the other team knew nothing about you. I’m not saying every team, but a lot.
“(Opponents) wouldn’t know what leg you kick off, which to me is the first thing you need to know. He wouldn’t know if you were right-legged or left-legged, like. That to me shows a total lack of interest in what the other team is about.
“I would say credit Kerry, Kerry would always know everything about you, no matter how much they think they’re better than you. Whereas other teams mightn’t give you that respect. I do think since 2016 that teams would be putting a lot more emphasis on targeting players to stop or whatever, I can’t see that happening again.
“Now, fair enough, if some team just thinks ‘look, we’re just going to focus on ourselves.’ But I just think football has gone so far that you have to do a lot of work on other teams, studying their attacking styles, how they set up defensively, their kickouts and that.
“That is the way inter-county football has gone, it’s very comparable to NFL with how everything is broken down to minute detail.”
Donegal arrive in Thurles with two wins from two but Fox isn’t daunted.
“If Donegal win they are sitting on six points and we’d be on one, it’s a big gap already, like. But we can’t look at it like that, you just want to get points wherever you can. They have four points but they haven’t been, as they’ve probably said themselves, hugely impressive. Meath could have beaten them and so that kind of shows there is very little between any team in the division so we’ll be going out on Sunday to try and beat them. If we beat them then next thing we are on three points.”