WEST Cork has always felt like a home away from home for Tipperary footballer Robbie Kiely.
Even before he transferred from his club in Tipperary town, Arravale Rovers, to Carbery Rangers in early 2015, his connection to West Cork was already strong as he had been living locally since 2010.
His mother, Carmel Kiely, is from Courtmacsherry, and he has lots of relations living locally, too.
While his father, Michael, is a Tipp town man, and Robbie and his brothers – Eoin, Damien, Alan and David – all grew up in the Premier County, those childhood trips to West Cork were always something to look forward to.
‘We used to travel down from Tipp a lot, to see granny and the cousins, and we’ve a big enough family as well,’ Kiely explained.
‘It was always something to look forward to, it was like a holiday when we headed down.’
It went from being a holiday destination to being home when the Kiely family moved to Courtmac and took over the Golden Pheasant café and craftshop in the village. These days, it’s one of the go-to spots locally.
Even though he was based in West Cork, Kiely made the trip from Courtmac to Tipp for club training before in 2015 – and by now an established Tipperary senior footballer – decided to transfer to Carbery Rangers, one of a number of clubs who had approached him in the years before. His time with Ross was productive and he helped them win an historic first Cork SFC title in 2016, but he closed that chapter when he transferred to his local club, Barryroe, at the start of the year.
It’s a switch that ticks a lot of boxes for Kiely, given his links locally and that two of his brothers, Alan and David, also play for Barryroe.
‘The move was in the back of my mind for a few years,’ Kiely explained.
‘It’s made my football a bit more enjoyable and it brought it back to what the GAA is all about – community and family.
‘It’s the small things, too, like having a discussion after a game with my brothers, what went right, what went wrong, and the brothers are very honest too, they’ll say it straight to my face what they think!’
The Barryroe GAA WhatsApp group was also a fun place for the Kielys after Tipperary’s recent – and deserving – Munster senior football final win against Cork.
‘The brothers are milking it as much as they can and they’re rubbing it in, in our Barryroe group chat,’ Tipp defender Kiely laughed, but he knows too that a pocket of West Cork will be cheering him and Tipperary on in this Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.
That was the prize that Cork also had in their sights but while the Rebels fluffed their lines, Tipp didn’t. Instead, they grabbed their big chance and made history by winning the county’s first Munster senior football championship title in 85 years.
Echoing the pre-match comments of Tipp manager David Power, Kiely explains why they fully believed they’d beat a Cork team that had taken out favourites Kerry two weeks’ earlier.
‘That belief has built over the last few years, to be honest,’ Kiely said.
‘In 2016 when we beat Cork in the championship that was a big breakthrough for us. In the few years after that we came close again, there was a game in Páirc Uí Rinn that Cork won with a last-minute goal from Luke Connolly. Two years ago we were hammered out the gate, but we’ve played them regularly in the national league and there’s never anything between us so you just have that belief that there is nothing to fear.
‘We know we are able to put it up to them, they are on the same footing as us. We were both in Division 3 this year and I know they got the better of us in the league in Thurles but we thought we were just as good as them. We knew we had to tighten up a few areas, which we did.’
Now, the next challenge for Kiely and Tipperary is to stay grounded ahead of their huge All-Ireland semi-final – but there’s no fear they’ll get carried away. Four years ago, it was the Connacht men who knocked Tipp out at the same stage.
‘The group itself is very determined and we know that the job isn’t over,’ said Kiely, who now lives and works in Cork city, making the commute to Thurles for Tipp training a two and a half hour round-trip.
‘We have an opportunity now and we don’t want to let it behind us. We got to an All-Ireland semi-final in 2016 and then the following year we fell flat on our faces – that experience will help us.
‘The downside is that we are coming into the game after beating a Cork team that was hot favourites to win Munster after they beat a Kerry team that were tipped to challenge Dublin, so we’re not coming under the radar here.
‘Mayo know we are coming and they will see what we did against Cork. James Horan will have them tuned in so we need to play better then we did against Cork and hope we get the result.’
While Tipperary march on to Croke Park, Cork’s footballers are left to wonder what might have been, given they failed to follow-up their semi-final win against Kerry. Kiely, who knows the club scene in Cork well, feels that there are better days ahead for the Rebels.
‘Cork had a young team out against us and there were a few lads who were only making championship debuts this year. We’re a more settled group with a lot of fellas pushing on around 28 and 29 years of age while Cork’s average age is much lower,’ he said.
‘In a way it’s like it was in Tipp when we did well underage because now Cork have U20s coming through, they had that performance against Kerry and it’s only a matter of time, but consistency is the main thing. There’s no worries for the future for Cork. Those younger fellas just need time and they need that consistency you get too after time.
‘Going into Division 2 next year will help Cork even more, that will bring on all those lads, making them better and better.’
But right now, all Kiely’s focus is on Croke Park this Sunday and backing up their Munster final win with another big performance – and there are a few houses in Courtmac who will be glued to the big game.