Once more, Tipperary appear to be the oldest Liam MacCarthy Cup panel around but age clearly didn’t debilitate them last season.
This year, four of their All-Ireland winning team will be 30 or over while the returning Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher is 31 in October.
If Tipperary’s success didn’t counter the portrayal of hurling as a young man’s game then the top individual honours did last year. As 32-year-old TJ Reid highlighted last week, he, Patrick Horgan, 32 in May, and Seamus Callanan, 32 in September, were the 2019 hurler of the year nominees. Brendan Maher (31) is also playing the best hurling of his career.
Perhaps the elite level isn’t the preserve of those either in or fresh out of college, but last year’s All-Ireland winning captain Callanan can’t stress enough the commitment and conditioning required.
“I don’t know what everyone else would be doing. But, personally, you have to mind your body a bit more when you get a little bit older. The training is hard. Your recovery is huge. So it’s probably how your recovery allows you to train to the best of your ability. And then performance comes with that.”
The age accusation, particularly after losing the Munster final so comprehensively to Limerick in late June, was thrown at Tipperary only for them to make a mockery of it coming the middle of August. Callanan has been around long enough to know that criticism could return should they go down heavily to Limerick again in this Saturday’s Allianz Division 1, Group 1 opener in Thurles. “Look, if we don’t perform and lose to Limerick on Saturday evening, we will probably be back to an ageing team again. Someone will have to say something about it.”
Callanan was in Croke Park on Sunday to cheer on his Borris-Ileigh neighbours and county team-mates Brendan Maher and Dan McCormack. Maher too appears to have got his hands on an elixir.
“Brendan Maher, what else can you say about him?” smiled Callanan. “Just the way he took on the Borris thing really and the leadership he has shown. People after the All-Ireland semi-final they went mad talking about how great Brendan is but Brendan has been great for so long now. He is a fantastic player, fantastic leader.
“It would have been a great end to the club season for him again but just didn’t really happen but he did himself proud again yesterday. He is 31 years of age now, but I have never seen him in such good shape or hurling as well as he is. That kind of a myth (of hurling being a young man’s game) is quenched.”
While Maher hasn’t yet had the chance to put down his hurley since last August, Callanan has enjoyed an extended break. There was the All-Ireland title to toast, of course, but his last competitive game actually came against Borris-Ileigh in a county quarter-final in October, so consider him recharged.
From an All-Ireland final substitute to hurler of the year, his path to the top has been as meandering as Reid’s but it has made it all the sweeter.
“It is hard when you’re not starting but, look, you need to bide your time and keep going at it and keep plugging away.
“Looking back on it, I probably wouldn’t change the journey because it makes you really appreciate when you are playing. Everyone goes through tough times in their careers, up and downs so it’s just how you react to them and thankfully it’s kinda worked out for me. You just stay plugging away at it.”
Callanan is big enough to take the hits now and they still come. After last year’s league campaign, Jason Forde was given full free-taking responsibility after the pair had shared the duties over the spring.
Callanan’s response was to score a goal in each of Tipperary’s five Championship outings. “Jason is an exceptional freetaker so I never had any problem at all handing over that responsibility. I’ve huge trust in Jason to do that role. I just think you get on with it.
“There are no egos in our set-up. If I had to play in a different position to full-forward, there’s no egos at all. You do whatever you can for the group so it was a very easy thing to do. His stats and rates, he just doesn’t miss them. He’s a wonderful striker of the ball so it was all good for Tipperary and that’s all that matters.
“I’m just at a stage in my career when I’m around long enough and am experienced enough just to be able to be tuned into the game at all times. Years ago, you might have needed a free or something like that at the start to get you going but you can see the games from a different point of view. You’re tuned in for whatever comes your way.”