Eamon O’Shea: The quiet man with words of wisdom

Wednesday lunch-time and Eamon O’Shea is back at his desk. Has been back at work since early in the week. There was no homecoming for him.

Eamon O’Shea: The quiet man with words of wisdom

Wednesday lunch-time and Eamon O’Shea is back at his desk. Has been back at work since early in the week. There was no homecoming for him.

“I enjoyed Sunday night and just needed to be set up to go again.”

Looking out the window of his office in the ILAS Building, on the NUI Galway campus, hurling is on his mind, but not how you might think. “I have a minor championship with Salthill-Knocknacarra and it’s pissing rain outside and that’s where I’ll be after work.”

O’Shea is not being blasé about Tipperary’s success. He couldn’t be more thrilled, but “when it’s done, it’s done,” he says. “I think it’s a great thing, but that’s just it. I know that sounds like I move on very quickly, but I do move on very quickly.”

The imposter that is triumph received as much attention as disaster in 2015, when the narrow All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway confirmed O’Shea’s departure as manager, after it had been agreed that his selector Michael Ryan would take over the following year.

“There are men in Tipperary who can carry this on,” he remarked, before adding, “Me leaving is only a footnote. It will be only a footnote.”

Twelve months later and Ryan couldn’t say enough about how telling O’Shea’s tenure was. Last Monday, Liam Sheedy said he would never have brought Tipperary to an All-Ireland title without the assistance of O’Shea.

The original band might have broken up in September of 2010, but Sheedy and O’Shea remained in constant contact. When the former returned last October, there had been hope O’Shea would once more be alongside him.

“Liam and myself would still have been talking over the last nine or 10 years. I don’t have a lot of time, at the moment, but we just kept talking and it was late February when I felt that, maybe, I could have some sort of contribution. This was just related to my friendship with him and I suppose to the team, as well; the project, if you like.

“You have to feel a connection, so it wasn’t too difficult in that sense, given a connection to Liam and the players.”

There might have been unfinished business for Sheedy, but there was none for O’Shea.

“I had a good innings. 2016 meant a lot to me, when Mick won that All-Ireland with this group of players. 2019 meant a lot to me, with Liam coming back. I was with those two men, at stages, and when I was there, I gave it everything. I didn’t feel like I needed to go back anywhere. I was very happy and am very happy in terms of that.

“So ‘no’ is the answer (to returning out a sense of unfinished business) and that’s being perfectly honest.”

The news of O’Shea’s comeback was considered so big that a press release was issued. But this time he was going to take a different slant. Sure, it was he who joined Sheedy, Tommy Dunne, and Darragh Egan in lifting the cup last Sunday, but he was never going to be a selector. The last thing O’Shea was going to do was tread on anyone’s toes.

Earlier this week, Dunne explained how the coaches “felt it out among ourselves,” when O’Shea was added to the ticket, gauging the reaction from the players as to how to format their sessions. O’Shea simply wanted to add something to the overall cause.

It was a case of me seeing where I could add something here and there. It was a fairly fluid kind of a chat that was going on, as well. It’s a totally different feel going back, being back. I enjoyed my time as manager, enjoyed my time as coach, and I had done that, so this was always going to be different.

“My objective was ‘how I could be supportive to the environment that added value.’ The lads had a really good set-up. I had been through the process, so that wasn’t something I was interested in, but I was interested in being of help. There was no sense that I was going back to do the same thing — that was never the case.

“I would just see it as ‘well, what can I do here?’ It’s a very practical thing with me, to be honest with you. This is what I do and everyone knows what I do, therefore it was an easy thing for me. There was no sense from my side of anything extraordinary about this.

“I was excited about working with Tommy Dunne, because I hadn’t worked with him before and I have huge regard for him as a player and a coach, and I taught Darragh Egan, here in Galway, and I had him for a long time when I was manager. I’m not downplaying it, but it was very practical-oriented, in terms of saying, ‘I’m going to enjoy this and we’ll see how it goes’. That’s my outlook.”

A constant mentor, even during those years he wasn’t involved, O’Shea will take no credit for helping to make Seamus Callanan the most dangerous forward in the game. And how Callanan played the captain’s part, O’Shea puts that all on the man himself.

“Obviously, you can go back to the goals he scores, but it’s the whole way he’s able to lead that team. It’s a big reflection of him, not just as a player, but as a person. It’s a credit to him that he is able to lead that group that includes his peers, but also young lads starting out their careers.

“I couldn’t speak highly enough about him; his personal capacity as much as his hurling. That, to me, is a measure of him. There is no real stand-out moment. It’s about, over the years, how he has developed into the leader he is now.”

Seeing O’Shea coach his club to a first north Tipperary title in 28 years, last season, would only have steeled Sheedy’s determination to get his pal back involved. And it was a thrill for O’Shea to see his clubman Niall O’Meara put his injuries behind him, although parochialism had no place in the set-up.

One of the things about Tipp is they have an identity that is Tipp, as well. So even though we are made up of our clubs, and it’s important that we are made up of our clubs, the identity that’s been created by Liam, by Mick, and going back over the decades, is part of our identity.

"When you’re in there, you don’t really notice club (allegiances), but, having said that, it was really nice to see Niall score that important goal.”

After winning on Sunday, Sheedy expressed his wish that this outgoing decade for Tipperary would be regarded as fondly as the county’s golden era of the 1960s. O’Shea knows where he is coming from.

“The merits of this team can be debated and discussed, but I think there is great credit for the five or six players who have led us over the decade.

“It’s very important to recognise what they have contributed, as well, as a team that narrowly lost an All-Ireland in 2014 and could go on and win one in 2016, under Mick, is another real positive.

“This is fantastic for Liam and any comparisons are really for others to make. You have to enjoy what’s happened and be ready to start again. You just need to let other people talk about that.”

As for Sunday, he can tell you what happened. As for what might have happened, had Richie Hogan not been sent off, he can’t.

“We made a few individual mistakes in the first 15 minutes. They were playing better than us, but, at the same time, we weren’t playing badly, we weren’t out of the game. We came back then and the goal was very important to us.

“There was no stage when we were overly concerned about waiting to get into the game. In any game, there isn’t a counter-factual, where you ask, ‘well, what would it have been like had the player stayed on?’

"It’s very difficult to create hypothetical situations. The game turned out to be the game it turned out to be and you have to play that game, whether you are a team with 14 or 15. We had to adjust; they had to adjust.”

Sheedy will surely turn on the bat signal again in 2020, but O’Shea is not subscribing to anything yet.

“The honest answer is I have no idea. Time is a real constraint and I’m not saying I’m special in that regard — time is a constraint for everybody involved in an inter-county management. I’m just happy to have been involved in what has just happened.

“Right now, that’s over. Right? And I’m thinking about different things. I’m really not thinking about good, bad, or indifferent about what I might do. The next thing on my mind is to win a minor hurling game for Salthill-Knocknacarra.”

Full-time score: Salthill-Knocknacarra 1-14, St Thomas’ 0-15.

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