Liam Tully is a great Roscommon football man. The Kilbride club man has quietly steered this Roscommon team into the final of this inaugural competition with little fanfare.
However, after excellent wins against Galway in the Connacht final and the mighty Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, he is looking forward to his team pitting their wits against another football powerhouse, Tyrone, in Sunday’s final. At last Thursday’s press briefing he put it all into perspective.
“We’re trying to keep our feet on the ground and get our heads right. We’re really looking forward to it. To get to an All-Ireland final is a mighty achievement. It will be a massive challenge. We know that Tyrone are the top county when it comes to developing underage players. They’re going to bring a style of football that we haven’t encountered so far. This week will be about settling down, getting focussed and concentrating on what we have to do,” he said.
Liam Tully has been with this group of players for a few years and has watched them develop. He is very aware of the importance of every member of the Roscommon back-up team too.
“I came in two and a half years ago. Peter (Carney) was there and he had a couple of more people with him. One of the things I would have said to them is that each day they come to training, they should pick up something from it and that (they) would learn a little every time. Over a long time, you end up learning a lot.
“I suppose the rest of the coaching team, including Peter, would have the same attitude. Last year’s manager Stephen Sheeran would have been very positive with them. David Duignan is a very good lad with the players. We brought in John McHugh and Billy Morris this year. David McNamara was a student and he has done some strength and conditioning with us. We had some injured players that needed some attention and we’re very lucky to have our physio, Adrian Fitzpatrick. When they’re recovering and they need someone to help them along, Brian Tully helps us out.
“So it really is a team effort. It’s not about one person. We share the workload and get on very well together. The management and the players believe in honesty. If some fella can’t come training for a good reason, that’s okay. A lot of the lads have jobs and we work around times that suit them. We haven’t put a massive demand on them. As a management team, we have been reasonable but the players, in return, have been honest. You can’t ask any more of young lads,” he said.
Memories of 2016 when there were many ups and downs as U-16s have also contributed to the development of the team according to Liam. Winning the Fr. Manning Cup final after being behind in the game by nine points was a huge landmark for the group.
“We wanted to get into the Ted Webb ‘A’ final last year and we didn’t achieve that. We were disappointed but there was still something left to play for. So we wanted to get into the Fr. Manning Cup final.
“We played Louth, Offaly, Westmeath and then Kildare in the final. There were a lot of tight matches but the game against Kildare was one of the days that the players stood up and were counted, they didn’t panic. You could see that they were growing in confidence. They were nine points down after 19 minutes. There weren’t too many people giving them much hope, apart from themselves and the people with them on the line. They turned things around and took huge belief from that victory.”
Liam says that in 2017 it has taken Roscommon a while to reach their best form.
“Getting over Leitrim was crucial. A lot of people put us down to win that match but we knew that it was going to be a very tough game. I still believe
that they were a right good Leitrim U-17 team. It took us a while to get going. We developed a way of playing, a plan that would suit our lads. Things like that work when you win. When you lose, you’re out and you can’t develop any further.
“Galway (in the Connacht final) were a big challenge but we had the ambition to beat them. They had defeated us a year previously. When you’re beaten like that, you learn and come back the next year better. On the day, things worked out against them and we achieved what we set out to do.”
Liam felt that the team as a group were ready to take on Kerry in the semi-final.
“As a management team, you get huge satisfaction out of seeing these lads competing against teams like Kerry. The Kerry jersey didn’t bother them. It didn’t matter who they were playing. You work hard with players to get them playing a certain brand of football. Some days, you get caught out but the players believed what they were doing against Kerry.
“Some things went against Kerry on the day. They kicked more wides than usual but I wouldn’t underestimate the value of beating Kerry. It’s a day that will always stay with our lads but there’s nothing won. We’re no different than we were this time last week. We’re Connacht champions and the match against Kerry was a stepping stone to get into an All-Ireland final.
“The unknown can be daunting sometimes buy you can always look at it as a positive. If you’re not in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park, you’ll never know what it’s like. But we are there and it’s a situation that we’re looking forward to dealing with.”
Finally, Liam is typically down to earth talking about Sunday’s final. He says that it’s very important that the Roscommon players go out and enjoy it.
“No matter how they do on Sunday, they have achieved something an awful lot greater than most people would have expected. It’s a game we’ll be encouraging them to enjoy but it will be a massive game. Tyrone will be very hard to beat because of the type of football they play. They’re a class side and they tend to break from the half-back line. But we’re there too and hopefully we’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of it,” he concluded.