‘I could easily have been watching from New York instead of winning the Munster final on the field’

THE ACTION HAD not even reached the first water break in Longford last Sunday but he knew his race was run.

After devoting a decent chunk of his life to the Tipperary senior football cause, Alan Campbell was entitled to hope for something positive to mark the end point.

But there he was in Pearse Park, forced to limp off in the early stages and watch on for the next hour before the home team nudged Tipperary towards the basement of the football league for 2022.

“My last-ever game for Tipperary and it ended in a hamstring tear.

“I haven’t really missed a game or a minute through injury, definitely in the last eight years.

“Under Liam Kearns I played every minute for Tipp, other than one game against Down  which was a dead rubber in the league.

“But then, the last game in your 10th year at it, and you’re gone off injured after 10 minutes.”

Not the parting shot he would have liked, but the one he had to accept.

Next Tuesday, the 29-year-old will fly to New York, starting a new chapter by living and working in Manhattan.

It’s not a kneejerk decision on the back of a disappointing league campaign, rather a plan that has been brewing in his mind for some time. Trying to make this move has been a protracted business ever since Covid-19 shut down the world 15 months ago.

“I only found out for definite a few weeks ago, that I’d got the green light.

“I got sorted with an emergency visa which is an exemption to the travel ban and that means I have to be gone by the 29th of June.

“So that’s why I can’t wait around for championship and it’s happening now.”

Any frustration he felt over the slow-moving nature of the process, is tempered by the realisation that he is fortunate.

That delay meant he was still around last November, as his ninth campaign as a Tipperary senior footballer yielded his first Munster medal of any description.

And the memory of being in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that day, will always be a cause for personal cheer.

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Alan Campbell (centre) celebrates with his Tipperary team-mates.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For Tipperary football in 2020, the pandemic brought disruption and uncertainty, but also a few unexpected benefits.

The delay to the inter-county season facilitated Colin O’Riordan’s return from AFL life in Sydney.

The barriers to travel altered the plans of Michael Quinlivan and Liam Casey, as they rejoined a squad that they had initially left.

And it kept Alan Campbell around. He didn’t publicise his travel plans but as the season unfolded, he knew he could easily have missed out on a historic moment.

He’s worked as a software engineer for Bloomberg in Dublin in recent years, based in an office at the top of Harcourt Street and aware there was one Stateside that he could look to transfer to.

“It was something I’d been putting off for a number of years and eventually the time felt right around the end of 2019. I put the wheels in motion but then obviously it was delayed with Covid.

“I wasn’t planning on being around last year. If the timing was a little different and my visa had come through, I could easily have been gone to New York before lockdown in March 2020.

“By late in the summer last year I knew I’d be around for all of the inter-county season. I don’t think people really knew my story, I kept it quiet.

“I was so far away from booking a flight, I didn’t say it to the Tipp management during last year. I only told them before the 2021 season started, that it was in the pipeline.

“So I could have been watching from a bar in New York instead of winning the Munster final on the field.

“I know there were a few lads who missed out like John Meagher going hurling, and Josh Keane and Liam McGrath had gone abroad. I’m sure their emotions were torn watching it. They’d want us to win as Tipp men and friends of ours but there’s a sense of what if as well.

“If I’d missed out after all that time, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow if Tipp won Munster and I had left.

“I was really lucky in that sense, it’s amazing how things worked out.”

Alan Campbell in action against Cork’s Brian Hurley.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He had put in the hard yards to deserve a break falling his way. When Tipperary’s 85 years of Munster hardship ended, a recurring theme in the post-match conversations was that this was the product of underage stars finally flourishing at the senior grade.

Campbell’s career path was different, more a testament to perseverance. He only ever played one underage championship game for Tipperary, a Munster U21 quarter-final against Kerry in March 2012, and that ended in defeat.

Two months later, he was making his senior bow against the same county. His starting point came at a time when Jack O’Connor was still manager of Kerry and their forward line was powered by Colm Cooper, Declan O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin.

Despite that Munster loss, that summer fired his imagination as to the potential of this way of life.

“I was completely new to the whole inter-county thing at any  level.

“Peter Creedon came in as manager that March and we went on a qualifier run, beating Offaly, Wexford, Antrim and then lost to Down in the last 12. They got a goal before half-time which was a killer.

“But that year gave me the hunger to keep going. The thought of championship days like that were the driver at those times in a year when I was questioning the whole thing.”

Alan Campbell with Antrim’s Michael Armstrong in 2012.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He began every game for Tipperary in 2012 before game time was more limited across the next two seasons.

In May 2015, he was in from the throw-in when Tipperary cruised past Waterford by 22 points in a Munster opener.

And Campbell has started every senior football championship game Tipperary have played since.

That’s a 22-match run, up to the meeting with Mayo in the fog last December when an All-Ireland final spot was on offer.

Mayo defeated Tipperary in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The constant through it all was having a commute from the capital. When he first joined the squad, he was finishing up in college in Limerick and was back home in Tipperary that summer, but since the middle of 2013, he’s been based in Dublin.

The travel heightened the commitment necessary to realise an ambition.

“I’ve medals for Division 4 and 3 league finals but Munster was always the aim. I wouldn’t say it was within our grasp, but it was something we aspired to or dreamt of. It’s more attainable than an All-Ireland, realistically for a Tipp footballer.

“But you almost settle into a sense that it’ll never happen.

“There was one spell a few years ago where Kerry were coming to the end of a great team and this current crop were young. Cork were going through struggles as well. We really targeted Munster then, felt it was our time and that passed us by.

“Kerry started flying and Cork started building again. I felt the ship had sailed.

“And then everything changed in 2020. Short pre-season, short season. You’re thinking we could catch someone on the hop here. Now I think we were deserving in the final against Cork, but not having to face Kerry was obviously a big advantage.”

It was hard to envisage a more surreal setting when the breakthrough happened.

“It was a really strange feeling. I didn’t have that big sense of euphoria because of the lack of a crowd. Like in 2016 after the Galway game in Croke Park, that felt like more of an occasion, even though it was only an All-Ireland quarter-final, just because of all the supporters. I got to celebrate with my parents after in the Hogan Stand. Moments like that add to the whole experience.

“I remember after the Cork game, a photographer on the day, Enda O’Sullivan, came running onto the field and he was shaking as he came towards me.

“ ‘You don’t realise what ye’re after doing. Thank you so, so much.’

“That emotion, it wasn’t until the weeks after when you saw what it meant to all the Tipperary football people, that’s when it sank in a bit more. I’m not sure I am still fully there about it all sinking in.

“But then again without Covid, it mightn’t have happened either. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosted last year’s Munster final.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There were a variety of elements at play that elevated the impact of Tipperary’s win.

That success arrived on the weekend of the Bloody Sunday Commemorations was the most poignant.

And Campbell realised that powerful symbolism as he wore the jersey with two on his back, the same number donned by Michael Hogan from Grangemockler a century ago.

“It was crazy. My brother in the two weeks leading into the game, said to me, ‘You realise Michael Hogan wore number two on Bloody Sunday.’

“I did know that but I hadn’t put it together that I’d be wearing that number. He spelled it out to me and I started thinking of the significance of it.

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“It definitely added to it, especially for my family in getting a lot out of it with that aspect.”

On the day, he was the sole Moyle Rovers player in the starting side. Liam Boland came on as a substitute to join him and they had another four representatives on the panel.

As a club, they have had plenty of figures synonymous with the Tipperary football struggle to rise to the top.

“It’s a huge source of pride. There’s a lot of big names have come out of Moyle Rovers. Obviously Declan Browne. Derry Foley, who played International Rules for Ireland. Peter Acheson, who was an All-Star nominee. So I was delighted to be involved on the day it happened.”

Tipperary football great Declan Browne.

Source: INPHO

He’s moving on from that football community too, planning to link up with Brooklyn Shamrocks for the summer.

Getting a long-awaited county senior medal in 2018 makes the cutting of that connection a bit easier.

“That was something I was chasing for so long. I wasn’t involved when we’d previously won it (in 2009). I was 17 then, did a small bit of senior training but think it was Junior B I played that year at adult level.

“So to finally get over the line, having lost three finals, it was a big moment.

“I remember a Tipp manager once in a dressing-room, shouting at us, ‘What have you achieved?’

“It made everyone think where we were going and what you wanted from a career.

“It was something I felt I needed to do with the club to win the county. I can travel with no regrets or what-ifs now. I would have liked to have won more but I am happy to say I have won one and being captain helped too.”

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If 2020 was the culmination of all the progress, then the 2016 journey to the last four in the country felt like the kickstart for Tipperary.

“When Liam Kearns came in that year, we’d such a bad start to the league. Important players like Mully (Brian Mulvihill) and Barry Grogan had moved on, we were missing a lot and things weren’t looking so well.

“Then it all just clicked in championship. Beating Cork for the first time and playing our first Munster final against Kerry, which we learned a lot from. Then the days against Derry and Galway were just so great.

“I remember after the Galway match, being on such a high for a couple of weeks. Obviously winning the Munster final is the highlight, but that day against Galway was really special. It almost felt like there’d never been so many Tipperary football people together the one place.

“Even the Mayo game, coming off the pitch after being beaten by five points, all the Tipp fans came around to the Hogan Stand and clapped us off. That was the year that developed a lot more Tipperary football fans and built the process towards what happened last year.”

Campbell had presumed he was done with his inter-county days last December and wasn’t planning any involvement for 2021.

Then the start of the league was pushed out and he got roped in for a few games as he was still knocking around.

A mid-season exit isn’t ideal but he’s enough seasons stockpiled in the bank, to feel content.

“With football and work, I never did head away. I didn’t do a J1 or take a year out to go travelling. It’s just something I’ve wanted to do.

“I was asked during the week, would you call this retirement? I said no, it makes me sound like an old fella.

“You never know. If I don’t like New York, I could be back in a year and who knows what could happen.

“But it’s unlikely I’ll play for Tipp again. I’m planning on being out there for a few years.

“Having that win last year really clarifies that there’s no regrets. It makes the 10 years really worthwhile and it’s such a nice way to have something to show for all the work and all the miles on the M7 and all the train journeys up and down.

“It’s a pity to have finished in relegation but I won’t remember that in years to come.

“It’ll be the Munster final win that I’ll be looking at, as the end of the chapter.”

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