Thirty years on from Tipperary beating Antrim in the All-Ireland final, there was a strong Saffron influence running through the team for Sunday’s All-Ireland win over Kilkenny.
While making his acceptance speech, Tipp captain Seamus Callanan noted they had “an absolute legend in Cairbre Ó Cairealláin, he put some serious work into us and that work didn’t go unnoticed out there on the pitch”.
Ó Cairealláin is Tipperary’s strength and conditioning coach, recommended to Liam Sheedy through Anthony Daly whom he had come into contact with through his work with the Limerick hurling academy, and had also a three-year internship served with the Arsenal academy before being tempted back to Ireland to work with the Premier hurlers.
The Belfast man’s work was evident in the pared-back physiques of the likes of John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, who said after the game: “Liam (Sheedy) came back and told me a few home truths at the start of the year and I worked a lot with the S&C coach and it was just about getting that base fitness.
The team as a whole, we all did it together, we went through thick and thin together.
The work was also acknowledged by Sheedy himself, who was typically generous with spreading the credit, stating: “Cairbre doing the S&C, the condition he has got those players in is just fantastic. They challenged the lads and the lads responded.”
Ó Cairealláin followed older brother Ainle down to the sports science faculty in University of Limerick after completing his ‘A’ levels in St Mary’s CBS, Belfast, and forged an unusual coaching and sporting path.
Instead of returning home for summer breaks, the brothers hurled in Cork with Na Piarsaigh.
However, persistent injury issues left Cairbre spending more time working with the Limerick hurling Academy where he came into contact with Daly.
Having studied a Masters alongside former Irish rugby International Jerry Flannery, they switched places when he returned to work with Munster and Ó Cairealláin landed a three-year internship with the Arsenal academy, where he came under the guidance of Galway native Des Ryan and Barry Solan, who worked in that field with Mayo before joining Arsenal.
Daly and Ó Cairealláin talked in the build-up to Sunday’s final. “He said to me: ‘Take a moment to take it in,’” said Ó Cairealláin.
“It’s kind of surreal, you are so focused on the result and how to win the game. But when you came out, it was what you have been dreaming about all your life so — obviously not in Saffron colours, but it’s good.”
He outlined the job of work with the Tipperary hurlers since pre-season began in the depth of last winter.
“Even before we started, we spoke about the pillars we wanted to attack, based on last year and things we wanted to put an emphasis on,” he said.
“Liam was very interested in what makes an S&C programme work. A manager like Liam values it a lot so that’s what really drove it on as well.
“He said that from the very beginning, he wanted us to be as fit as possible and that was important to the game he wanted to play.
“So November, December, there was a lot of physical training. The boys, you would nearly be in awe of the way they approach training compared to the professional athletes I used to work with at Arsenal.”
He continued: “They are professional, but it is like a job to them. These boys, going to work and then coming in, I couldn’t believe the intensity and the drive they had in those early months of November and December on a dirty old training night.
“I suppose Liam was behind all that and getting everybody’s energies going in the one direction.”
Before taking the job, he moved to Inch, or spoken like a true local, what he calls ‘The Ragg.’
He explains: “I felt it was important for me not to be just coming in and out of the county taking sessions.
I felt like living and breathing it was important for me and the value of what hurling means to Tipp people. That was the difference for me, to be inside Tipperary.
And while one season is over, he immediately is plotting the next step.
“We will take a bit of a break now. But the good thing is, having spent a year with the team, there is a platform to plan ahead and we will be in a much better position now to plan for next season.
“It surpassed my expectations of what amateur players would have been able to do. That’s something I wasn’t sure of when I came in, how much we could demand of the players given the fact they work nine to five.
"But it is a credit to the strength of the squad that anything we asked of them, they keep coming back asking for more.”