TOMMY DUNNE WAS Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning captain in 2001 and the Toomevara player won three All-Star awards during a glittering hurling county career.

In the following extract from ‘Tipperary: Game Of My Life’, he reflects on that 2001 All-Ireland final win over Galway.

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WHEN I WAS a child I used to say a prayer every night before going to bed that I’d be as good as Nicky English. That’s what it meant to me when I was a kid.

Hurling was everything, and Nicky was the player I wanted to ‘be’. I didn’t want to do anything else with my life only hurl.

One of my earliest memories is of the 1984 Munster final between Tipp and Cork in Semple Stadium. I was hugely affected by that and can still feel the colour and the
excitement of the day, the sense of atmosphere and above all, the passion of the
players and the crowd.

I will never forget it. I was very young that day in Thurles but even before that I’d have given anything to hurl with Tipperary.

Fast forward to All-Ireland final day in 2001 against Galway and that’s the game for me. We hadn’t won an All-Ireland since 1991. In those days there was one chance only in May or June, so it was a harsh environment.

Quality teams were often knocked out after the first game.

Nicky English was in his third year in charge and the team had been knocking on the door for a few years without ever reaching the final, but that year we went on a run and were unbeaten in every game, league and championship, right up to September.

Nicky English celebrating after Tipperary’s 2001 All-Ireland final win.

Source: INPHO

It was the day that shines brightest from my 14 or 15 years hurling with Tipp. Being the captain of the team made it extra special but it was a long, long road to get to that day.

Babs Keating brought me onto the Tipp team for the National League at the end of 1992. I came on as a sub against Offaly, marking the great Brian Whelehan, so that was my first introduction to county hurling!

I really came onto a Tipp team that was full of superstars, so I had to wait to get established. I was a sub for the Munster final win over Clare in 1993 and started in ’94 when we were beaten by Clare. Then Limerick, led by Ciaran Carey and Gary Kirby, beat us in Munster in ’95 and again after a replay in ’96. That powerful Clare team beat us in the provincial and All-Ireland final in 1997, so there was a lot of hard luck stories. In 1998 we were beaten in the first round, so I spent some time that summer hurling in Chicago.

At times I thought it would all pass me by and that the team of our time wouldn’t win an All-Ireland at all. We tried as hard as we could but it was tough because so many other counties were strong then. We just had to get on with it. Some of those years I found it challenging to mix work and hurling. I can recall working nights with Intel in Kildare, where I went to work at 7pm on a Saturday and finished at 7am on Sunday morning, then travelled home to train with Tipp.

That was just the way life was at the time.

When Nicky English came in as manager for the 1999 season he asked me to be captain. You never forget those kind of things. Being asked to captain Tipp by the person I had looked up to when I was a child was a dream come true. To develop such a close friendship with mutual respect… well, that was incredible. It was a massive honour to be chosen and I held the position until 2002.

I look back very fondly to think that people thought enough of me to make me captain of a team with powerful personalities such as Brendan Cummins, Philip Maher, Eamon Corcoran, David Kennedy and Declan Ryan. We had some extraordinary players so to lead that team on the pitch was really special. I really enjoyed those years from 1999 on.

Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins.

Source: INPHO

By then I was working day-time hours locally which aided my routine and allowed me focus on hurling. Progress was gradual year-on-year. There was a professional approach, new players were uncovered and the ante was upped as to what was required from players.

Jim Kilty was our strength and conditioning coach, with Ken Hogan and Jack Bergin in as selectors. We had cracking games at that time, particularly with Clare, and when we finally broke the Clare stranglehold on us, our world grew broader.

We pushed them hard in an outstanding drawn game in 1999, eventually beating them in 2000, then again by a point in the 2001 Munster semi-final. After that we beat Limerick to win Munster and then after a replay we overcame Wexford to qualify for the All-Ireland final.

It was an amazing time.

I really felt the buzz the week of the game. To have a Toomevara player as captain meant a lot locally and there were visitors to my home with relations, friends and neighbours coming over. I liked it but I was always superstitious coming up to big games. I’d chat away about everything bar the match. I only liked talking about the match with the people I was training with and those in the backroom team.

That was just my way of preparing mentally for it.

I was very particular about my hurleys.

Phil Bourke of Upperchurch was an absolute genius who made special hurleys that just fitted me perfectly. He has a wisdom and an approach to life that made me feel grateful to know him. I felt in a good frame of mind that week and felt we had every possibility covered for the test ahead.

We travelled up to Dublin by train the night before the final and I remember waking up early on the Sunday morning.

On the day in Croke Park I remember wanting to be sure to introduce the players appropriately to President Mary McAleese. It all felt a little surreal once the moment arrived. When I look back now at highlights of it, I remember knowing there was a lot at stake.

You carry the hopes and the expectations of the people when you’re hurling with Tipperary, and more so in an All-Ireland final. It’s bigger than you. It’s a stand-alone day but at the same time you have to trust what you’re doing and ocus on getting the basics right, just as you do in every other game.

Tipperary’s Tommy Dunne and Galway’s David Tierney.

Source: INPHO

You have to grasp the opportunity.

Once the game started it was frantic. There was an electric atmosphere and we fed off the crowd. The Tipp supporters were vocal early on and we got some confidence from it. Both sides were trying to break the stalemate. A couple of minutes passed without either team scoring so there was a lot of nerves around the pitch.

Alan Kerins was wearing No 13 for Galway but playing out around the middle of the field early on. I remember making an early tackle in the middle of the field; he got on the ball but we turned it over and the ball broke high up in the air and I got a good touch onto it and into my hand.

Next I broke another tackle, ran down the touchline and suddenly found a bit of room to get a good strike on it and watched as it sailed over the bar. We settled and started to play then.

It felt like we made a statement early on which was important to us. While Galway had a good win over Kilkenny in the semi-final, they hadn’t won it since 1988 so they were as nervous as we were! Being tight all through, there were lots of scores and saves. We were probably dictating the game but we weren’t dominating.

Mark O’Leary got a great goal in the first half off a pass from Declan Ryan, so we were out in front. Declan was influential for us and was on top at 14, laying off some great ball. Eoin Kelly got a great score off his left hand side that lifted the crowd again. Coming towards half-time though, Galway closed the gap.

It was very seldom players spoke at half-time, even the captain. I don’t ever remember speaking at half-time during the year but for some reason I spoke that day. I remember reinforcing the message that I was sick of getting beaten with Tipp all my life and it wasn’t going to happen today.

I let that out. We knew we had the ability to win but we needed to make sure we did. That was the point I wanted to make to the team. Getting a good start again and not
letting Galway catch their breath kept us focused.

We were playing into a stiff breeze which was blowing into the Railway End. We got a boost when Mark O’Leary got an early goal, a scrappy enough goal and I pointed a ‘65’. Our play was measured but Galway were in the game all the way through.

Kevin Broderick, who was a really important player for them, got through one-on-one against Brendan Cummins who made a really important save. We got a bit of luck at times in fairness, but I thought we used the ball very well.

As the game wore on in the second half we could feel that we were getting closer to the finishing line. There was a fair bit of pressure in the closing stages. Micheal Ryan came off the subs bench and made a big difference, as did Paddy O’Brien and Conor Gleeson. The pitch wasn’t in the best condition as the Hogan Stand was under construction but it was the same for both sides.

As the clock ticked by I was taking it moment by moment and second by second, as I’d been through too many dark days with Tipp to get ahead of myself.

The frame of mind I was in was that if it went on for three or four more minutes over time, no problem… let’s play away! There was no shortcut. I was conscious that we needed to be smart and not do anything stupid. It was one thing drilled into us over and over again.

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‘Play smart.

‘Be smart on the ball.’

And we did that.

Two very special people came straight over to me at the final whistle which I clearly remember. My brother, Terry who was also on the panel that year, raced over. We had played on so many teams and soldiered together for a long time with Toome.

The other was Brian O’Meara from Mullinahone, who had missed out on the final through suspension. Brian and I had played with Tipp since 1994, sharing many disappointments and an odd good day!

He missed out on playing that day through a very harsh suspension which he picked up against Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final replay. It was incredibly hard on Brian to miss out on it and he was a huge loss to the team.

There was a motivational drive within the team to perform for Brian as he was missing out on the final. So in some ways he contributed, albeit in a different way than he had during the year. The three of us just locked into each other at the final whistle.

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With the Hogan Stand under construction the cup presentation was on the pitch but we didn’t care where it was once we had the cup in our hands! I often drift in my mind back to those moments of lifting the cup and sharing it with the people around me.

Some family and friends got in through the security and onto the pitch. The joy that win brought was immense. We took the cup to the supporters and then sat on the pitch for a long time after. To finally win something that was so elusive for so long stands out and when I reflect now, certain people were there encouraging all along the way, people like my parents, Recie and Tony as well as my uncle Jimmy.

Also Neil Williams, who was over juvenile teams in Toome was a huge source of learning about the game for years as were John Costigan, Jody Spooner and Willie Butler in school at Our Lady’s, Templemore.

I met my wife, Deirdre in Templemore too and had a brilliant time hurling in Our Lady’s, winning a Kinane Cup and a Rice Cup medal. While I did well at soccer and badminton in school, hurling was the be-all and end-all, so captaining Tipp that day meant everything.

When you play for Tipp you feel the history.

Maybe I didn’t understand it fully, but I know it’s there. It’s a really exciting, powerful brand from way back in time right through to the present day.

Periods of dominance are exceptional; we’ve no right to expect to win all the time but just like the success, the years of failure and famine are part of Tipp hurling too. The 1987 breakthrough was special because of it.

There will be lulls again and, hopefully, Tipperary hurling will come through it stronger. The challenge is to keep the lulls short and stay competitive. Our win in 2001 is proof that you can reap what you sow.

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Tipperary Game Of My Life is written by Stephen Gleeson and published by Hero Books. More information available here.

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