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Lambert's out to Tipp scales; Premier boys are ready to Munster their old rivals Clare.

THE story goes that a former Kerry player was in a Tipperary village one night when he was spotted some of the locals and beseiged.

As he sat quietly drinking a pint the questions flowed from an increasingly interested party around him who were keen to hear tales from the Kingdom about their football icons.

Finally, after swapping notes on the comparative greatness of Kerry football and Tipp hurling one curious observer, seeking some encouragement once his target had been softened by an additional chaser or two asked the Kerry great "what would ya think about football in this part of the country then?"

Without batting an eyelid the Kerryman, not Paddy Bawn Brosnan or even Pat Spillane, replied, "it would be a marvellous idea." So it is with Tipp football, the poor relations in a county where life revolves around hurling.

Football has, in the past, been a dirty word to the hurling fraternity who saw it as a threat to their prospects of Munster and All-Ireland glory.

But times are changing and not for the first time in the '90s the footballers have outlasted the hurlers in a championship season. Tomorrow they meet Clare at Limerick's Gaelic Grounds for what is effectively their big game of the year.

For Peter Lambert, it's another chance for him to grace the stage that his talents deserve. Lambert is one of Munster's top forwards, a scoring machine with a silken touch, that has already brought him All-Ireland glory with another county.

Lambert was one of Nemo Rangers stars when they landed the club title at the expense of Castlebar Mitchels in 1994. Since then he has moved back to his native Ardfinnan and has been central to Tipperary's latest push, under Laois man Colm Browne, to relive some of their past glories which have yielded Tipp four All-Ireland titles ( the last in 1920) and nine Munster titles (1935).

With a tradition like that, the strength of the GAA in Tipp, the size of the county, the recent under-age successes in the province at minor and Under-21 level and the sporting infrastructure which exists it's hard to see why Tipp have haven't been knocking on the door a lot louder in the past.

Lambert, now 29, sees improvement every year: "Colm Browne has come in and really brought us on to another level. He is carrying on the good work of Seamus McCarthy and Paddy Morrissey before him.

"Colm's training is superb, really professional and he has got a great response.

"We are well looked after with meals after training and as much equipment as tracksuits and playing and training gear as any other county so we can't complain and try to argue that we are the poor relations of the hurlers any more.

"Since the Friends of Tipperary football was set up in 1993 some excellent structures have been put in place," he admitted.

THE football strongholds in Tipp are deep in the south of the county from Clonmel, home of the Commercials to Tipp town where Arravale Rovers fly the flag.

Across the county football is more sporadic but Lambert laments the loss to the game of Michael Ryan "he would definitely have made it", Declan Ryan "centre-back on a Tipp minor team which kept Kerry scoreless in the first half of a Munster championship match" and John Leahy. In '94, just a few weeks after Tipp hurlers were crowned league champions, Leahy lined out for the footballers against Clare in the last championship in which the sides met, and picked up an ankle injury.

It forced him out of the Munster hurling semi-final which they lost to Clare and caused anger among the hurling fraternity who balmed football for Leahy's loss. "If we had him ourselves for our Munster final against Cork that summer we might have won," recalled Railway Cup regular Lambert.

As it was Tipp lost despite scoring three goals in what was potentially one of the upsets of the century. "Each time we got those goals if we had followed them up with points, if we had someone like Leahy to steady us, we may have progressed."

It was back to the drawing-board after Kerry thumped seven goals past them in '96 and the result was a lot different last year when they were only five points in arrears.

Lambert missed most of the action last summer as he got married and then sustained an arm injury. He is anxious to atone.

"Our aim all year has been to beat Clare in this match. We have to be looking to beat them and we this as a great chance.

"Clare's league form in the last few years has stood to them. They are always up there with the best," he suggested.

BUT apart from one McGrath Cup thrashing we haven't done too bad against them. "In '92 when they the Munster title there was nothing in it. We were lucky to beat them in '94 when Tom Morrissey dropped a free that I took and it ended up in the net.

"In April we beat them in a postponed league match to gain Division Three status. It wasn't an important game to Clare and they were just back from a week in the sun," he said.

"However it set us up nicely for tomorrow's match. This is the one we badly want to win," he stressed.

Lambert argues that Tipp have players to make any county team and singles out his attacking colleague Declan Browne as something special. "The secret is out now about Declan. He really is a special talent," said Lambert of the '95 Munster minor medal winner.

"It's a case of sit back and enjoy the show. Declan is a beautifully balanced footballer, tenacious and a young man that is bound to command a lot of attention."

Dual star Brendan Cummins and Foley are other names he throws into the equation and, as has been proved already, Brian Lacey, who has been such a hit with Kildare.

"I'm delighted for Brian and I wasn't one bit surprised to see him destroy Jason Sherlock. It's such a pity we don't have him this year because he really would have enjoyed it so far."

Lambert is hoping he can repeat his '94 form when he knocked in 2-4 in games against Waterford and Clare before grabbing five points against Cork.

"I'm a lot fitter than last year, I'm enjoying it a lot more and now we have some realistic goals. To beat Clare would represent a giant step in the development of Tipp football."
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:KEYS, Colm
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 27, 1998
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