FOR over 16 minutes last Wednesday evening, Eamon O’Shea’s hold over Tipperary hurling supporters seated in the impressive Derrynaflan theatre at the Horse and Jockey was absolute.
Some had signed up as new Tipperary Supporters club members; others had come to renew existing memberships. All left with goose bumps and raised hairs on the back of their necks.
Kilruane MacDonaghs stalwart O’Shea, a professor of Economics at NUI Galway, had outlined his vision for 2013, and beyond. And it was so exciting stuff.
His eyes are trained on September 9 and All-Ireland final Sunday. O’Shea revealed that his plan for the season ahead ends on that date.
The road will be a long and winding one but O’Shea spoke about “high expectations”. He wants to win the Allianz National Hurling League, too. This is a man who challenges people, gets them living outside their comfort zone.
He spoke powerfully and evocatively, explaining how work-rate and support play will be main principles in his philosophy. Get those right, and then you can start thinking about gameplans and styles of play.
Having returned to the management team after two years out, O’Shea realises that things have changed. 2010 and that memorable All-Ireland final victory over Kilkenny is history, the same as last August’s semi-final nightmare against the Cats.
But already, O’Shea has brought the buzz back. Big crowds have turned out at challenge matches against UCC and Offaly, with another healthy attendance expected in Nenagh next Sunday when Dublin are the visitors.
Silvermines and Thurles Sarsfields are preparing for All-Ireland club semi-finals, Our Lady’s Templemore and Thurles CBS looking ahead to Harty Cup semi-finals. A new senior hurling championship structure has been voted through and the black cloud that engulfed Tipperary last August has lifted. Now, it’s all about looking forward and O’Shea is a breath of fresh air. Undoubtedly, he’s the right man at the right time.
And he declared: “My plan ends on September 9 so you can see where my expectations are.
“We’re going into the Waterford Crystal at the end of the month. Even last Sunday [against Offaly] we were behind at half-time – it was a meaningless friendly in one sense but the emphasis that we had at half-time was desire, desire to play and desire to win ball. That’s what our emphasis will be on for the next couple of months. When we go out, there will be effort and hard work in preparation for our first League game.
“We have Cork, Kilkenny and Galway [in first three games]. Looking at form, two of those teams are ahead of us in the pecking order at the minute.
“So it will be a real struggle to get something but I believe we’ll get something from those games. And we’ll certainly get a performance when we play. Sometimes you can’t predict the result but you’ll get a performance.
“Our aim, to be honest with you, is to win the League, to go as far as we can in the League. You might say we’re down a few players but I don’t even think about the players we’re missing. I think we’re missing four or five at the minute because of club but when you’re not there, other fellas come in. That’s the way sport is. There are no excuses when Tipperary play.
“Nobody’s looking over their shoulder and saying ‘we should have had this, that or the other’. We’re going out to win the League and we’ll take every game after that.
“Some days you don’t always win matches – some days things go against you but what I can predict with certainty is that when we play, there will be a certain something about us. If there isn’t, I haven’t done my job properly and you take the consequences.” But he’s realistic, too.
“I’m coming back after two years out and one of the things that you have to realise quickly is that things don’t stay the same,” he said.
“We can’t stay the same. We’ve got to get back, and the players are well aware of this, to the key on what our success is going to be built upon, which is hard work and support for each other.”
O’Shea watched from the stands as Tipperary capitulated in the second half against Kilkenny last August, falling to their heaviest senior championship defeat since the 1800s.
He reflected: “We were disappointed last year. The players accept responsibility for their performances. This is a new year, in the same way that 2010 is long gone.
“And anybody thinking that 2010 has any bearing on 2013 is wrong. This is a new set-up, new ambitions, new objectives, a new approach to the way we train. If you stay the same in this game, you’re beaten, it’s over.
“What we’re also looking for is a team firmly rooted in what you believe Tipperary tradition is, and it’s different for every one of us. It’s firmly rooted in the club and communities where these players come from.”
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