He is the man who has guided the team who have become the story of the championship to an historic first All Ireland semifinal since 1935, and he is the man who is looking to mastermind Mayo's downfall on Sunday. Liam Kearns has been around the block in the senior inter-county game over the past 16 years. He took charge of Limerick back in 1999 and managed them for six years, bringing them to a Munster final 13 years ago and turning them into force in Munster football, but was unable to get them over the finishing line and claim a provincial title. Since then he managed Laois for two years, but he was not able to repeat the trick, and more recently he was involved with John Evans' management ticket where he was the forwards coach for two years.
On Sunday, he will be looking to break Mayo hearts and pull off one of the biggest surprises in GAA history by guiding Tipperary to an All Ireland senior final for the first time since 1920, but the Kerry native knows it is going to be a big ask for his side, saying in the build up to the game: “They’re hugely experienced. I thought they were fortunate to win the game [All Ireland quarter final]. Tyrone probably missed a lot of chances and Sean Cavanagh’s sending off was crucial. It was very tight but tactically they were very good and the marquee players really stood up, Lee Keegan, the two O’Sheas, Cillian O’Connor, I thought they were excellent. Hugely experienced team – six times I believe in an All-Ireland semifinal [in a row]. We haven’t been there since 1935 so yeah, huge challenge."
He did not dampen expectations on Mayo, putting the pressure back on them when it was put to him that the consensus is that all Mayo have to do now is sail into the final, he responded: "As far as we’re concerned, that’s probably fair comment. They’re six times in an All-Ireland semifinal, Dublin are seven times, Kerry are four, they’re the top three teams in the country for the last number of years. We’re a division three team that have come from nowhere so I can’t argue with that. But the only thing I will say is it was the same against Cork, Derry, and Galway. We were underdogs in all of those — for the Cork game they were 1-5 and we were 5-1. Something similar for this game and we’re happy enough with that, we don’t have a problem with it.
“Galway beat them and we beat Galway, but I don’t think Mayo were at it at that stage. Mayo had won a Connacht title and maybe their view was the long-term view, and the All-Ireland is the big one for them. They may be timing their run just about perfectly. But Mayo will be a huge challenge – they’re a division 1 team but they’re hugely experienced at this level and that’s got to count in a lot.
While both sides have no real history of meeting in the championship, with the last meeting coming in a qualifier game in 2002 and the meeting before that many decades earlier, Kearns sees the fact that neither side will have any historical baggage as being a good thing. "That is a good thing and it is a good thing for Mayo too, there is no baggage there and we both like to play football. You know, going into it, it should be a good game of football, you imagine, it doesn't always work out that way. But there is no baggage and I don't think there is even any history of them playing at under-age."
As for his confidence of beating Mayo, he tried to build up Mayo again responding to a question about his confidence of turning over Stephen Rochford's men, saying: "Look, we are not confident. We are confident we are going to perform, we are confident that we are an improving team. We are stepping up hugely now to the top level and we are going to find out if we are good enough. To say we are confident, that's not a word I would use. Our mantra all year has been to go out and produce our best performance, and we have done that in every game, bar the Kerry game. And if we produce our best performance in two weeks' time, I will be happy with that, regardless of what the result brings. And I am confident that we will produce that, whether it is good enough, whether we are improving fast enough, like it has been a very steep learning curve. We started in division three, we started with nobody giving us a chance against Cork and now we are in an All-Ireland semifinal, trying to beat the three best teams in the country, so it has been a steep learning curve and to say we are confident is not the way that I would put it. I am confident that we will perform, and confident that we are improving, but it will come out in the wash now in two weeks' time, we will know whether we have enough to survive with Mayo. It is a big ask, it is a big ask but we are there, and we are going to find out."