PM O'SULLIVAN: A sepia tone to O’Shea’s Premier exit

Let us now praise Anthony Cunningham’s nous.

Throwing a gauntlet to Brian Cody after the Leinster final seemed a questionable decision. Planet GAA treats open utterance much as Gordon Ramsay treats vegetarians.

There was a lot of hurling to be done, an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final to surmount.

Surely Cunningham’s defiance about making the All-Ireland final would galvanise opponents?

Fair play to his gumption. Galway got the hurling done, and then some, leaving their manager better positioned than ever.

There is a wider lesson, if we care to see it. Negotiating risk earns the most intense admiration of all. Courage is the only sure source of momentum. Players respond best to examples of courage. Far side of gumption, Cunningham will speak with adhesive authority.

We should thank Galway’s drive. This summer’s hurling has centred on hedging and wedging and sweeper systems and oddly bloodless encounters. Last Sunday’s masterpiece was a drastic and welcome upsurge in temperature. It was as if the safe gloved precision of falconry gave way to a bull run at Pamplona.

Sometimes why we love hurling gets obscured. PD Mehigan (‘Carbery’), our first great writer on the old game, wrote in 1940: “Hurling survives and is indestructible, because of its stern, naked grandeur.”

The years glide and catch, like eddies. Everything changes and nothing changes.

Galway and Tipperary in 2015? The feral basis of championship contest regained entrancing feet.

Galway are well fixed. They have what only a narrative involving risk and courage can grant: Belief.

Let us now praise Eamon O’Shea’s class. His class and his men’s class.

Grace under pressure from Lar Corbett and Shane McGrath in 2009 and 2010 was already mentioned. The same salute applies to James Barry. Some Gaelic footballers could learn from the way he hopped up and gestured to indicate that Joe Canning should not receive a red card for accidentally striking Barry’s faceguard.

Five days ago, Tipperary hurled as if their big day was coming rather than upon them. They paid regret’s price.

I detailed the danger in Premier presumptions, danger brought to mind by a local sliver. The mother encounters a Tipperary native domiciled in Kilkenny during the usual run of her week. He is a hurling fanatic, much given to the sort of outlandish certainties favoured by exiles. We have all been that exile.

Bells trilled when he confessed to doubts before the All-Ireland semi-final. The mother asked why he was worried. “Ah, I was up in Tipp last week,” he explained. “They are getting a small bit carried away about beating Kilkenny at last.”

This comment came across like Robert Downey Jr saying some lad is overly fond of the craic.

There is a sepia tone to O’Shea’s departure. His influence over six of the last eight seasons cut a lasting groove. He fought the good fight, so much so that Tipperary, under his watch, reached parts of neutrals’ admiration not typically reached before.

A single swallow makes not a summer but one Hawkeye, in 2014, nearly did.

Tipp may never again see the altitude reached during that draw. Many selections, performing far less well, took an All-Ireland with ease.

Winning is everything. Fair enough. But is it, on all days and on every front?

Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s grace in accepting All-Ireland defeat against Clare burnished his reputation. Besides, does Davy Fitzgerald stand higher than O’Shea simply because of 2013’s outcome? You would wonder, two years down the line.

Which or whether, Tipperary face a difficult winter. A back door title in 2010, against a team with key players injured, represents meagre return on the talent available since 2008. There will have to be a rethink.

Making public O’Shea’s decision to step down after this championship was a mistake, as per chatter before meeting Galway about triumph to mark the manager’s departure. August allows no such triumph. Why was Michael Ryan’s succession not left implicit?

If Brian Cody fell under a bus in the morning, his successor would almost undoubtedly be Derek Lyng or James McGarry. No prior announcement is required.

Still, any harshness offers the wrong note. What survives, in sport, is the music of what happened. Here is an O’Shea score, sourced in the hours and hours he gave coaching the most beautiful game with his own fine crowd.

The 2010 All-Ireland final, crucible hot, and Michael Cahill, left corner-back, is attending a ball in that precinct. Cahill dabs to his left half-back, Pádraic Maher, their side ahead in the 61st minute by four points. Maher jabs up the sliotar, disdains to handle, lashes head high downfield.

Séamus Callanan panthers to where the delivery drops, controls, lances over off his left without breaking stride.

Without breaking stride… Five points up and the rest, everything a blur of compressed and lethal elegance. Kilkenny are September toast.

While Tipperary plundered three more points and a goal before Michael Wadding blew up, those flags were buckshee moments, tassels on the blade. Callanan’s point, as brilliant a combination move as seen on Croke Park grass, looked like launching not just a Tipp victory but a Tipp era.

The era came not, as matters swerved. But that score is O’Shea’s legacy.

There ripened his emphasis on structured randomness, the splice of will and instinct that is hurling’s wild grandeur.

That point will never lose its glint, safe in early evening where Pat Kerwick, in a halved quiet, is singing ‘The Galtee Mountain Boy’.


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