The Tipperary match-day cavalcade lost a vehicle this year. For years, Conor O’Mahony’s Skoda Superb pulled up the rear. A bad traveller, he was given special dispensation to drive, with Shane McGrath riding along for company.
Both men now having retired, the unusual sight of O’Mahony’s team bus tailgater has disappeared from the country’s highways and byways.
A practice started under Liam Sheedy, it was never a case of taking liberties — the pair would always hop onto the bus when they reached their Dublin hotel — but both management and player realising what was best for him.
“It didn’t matter to Liam. He’d have preferred if everyone was on the bus but I was just a bad traveller and when I arrived at matches, I didn’t feel great so I think he saw the benefit of it. If I travelled on the bus, I wouldn’t have felt great and it would have taken a half an hour to an hour to get over the grogginess. I was around long enough to know Liam had enough belief in me to do the right thing.
“There was never any issue, only the time I was nearly arrested.”
Prior to the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford, one of the Garda escorts mistook O’Mahony for an opportunist supporter.
“Nobody informed the guy in front that I was part of the group so he thought I was tagging on behind and he kept coming back to me to push away. Eventually, we got to the hotel having gone through all the traffic lights and he took my name and driving licence number and everything. It went up on the system and everything but I think it was Brendan Cummins’ wife Pamela’s cousin who spotted it and she got a shock seeing this fella was about to play an All-Ireland semi-final and here his name was coming up on the system.
“Other than that, it wasn’t too bad. I think the supporters got a bigger shock when they used to see us.”
Then there was the morning of one All-Ireland final when nature called but being part of the convoy they couldn’t pull over. “Obviously, the morning of a match you need to hydrate but we couldn’t pull into the side of the road being behind the bus so we had to make use of a water bottle!”
Richie Power and Lar Corbett have already this week spoken of the impact of inter-county retirement, providing differing views. Because of chronic back problems, O’Mahony’s mind was more or less made up for him.
“I had a fair idea during the middle of last year that I was probably having my last week with Tipp. It’s always hard when you tell your family and friends but after that you just get used to it. For me, when I was picking up an awful lot of injuries and having to take painkillers to go training, I had to be realistic about my body that I wasn’t able to keep going.”
Living in Mallow has given the 31-year-old the space to move on. He’s only attended one game this year — the Munster opener against Cork.
“I kinda wanted to go to the first one, to see it from a supporter’s point of view but when the guys run out to the field you get a serious buzz and for those 10 seconds you’d love to be out there. You’re pucking every ball with them because I’d still be very close with most of the guys and speak to them almost every week but then you realise you’ve had your day in the sun.”
O’Mahony stepped away with two All-Stars having been installed at centre-back by Babs Keating in 2006. Other players have taken shots at the former manager for his criticism of them in the press but O’Mahony won’t join the chorus. “It’s something you don’t forget too easy. Ken Hogan brought me in initially and then Babs was making me a member of the team and it was up to me to stay there. Look, he’s said a lot of things over the last couple of years and players have responded to that. For me, I’m not going to get into the ‘Babs said this’ and ‘Babs said that’. That’s in the past and for me he gave me an opportunity, I took it and I’d be grateful for that forever more.”
One of four players to step away last year, 2016 could easily have been written off as a transition year for Tipperary but O’Mahony never felt that way.
“If you look at the lads who are now stepping up to the plate this year, Ronan Maher is involved three years, John McGrath is in his second year and Mikey Breen is in his second or third year so they’re not totally all of a sudden coming out of the woodwork. I’m not surprised how well the lads were going to do; I always knew they would.”
Whether it’s through their involvement in 2014 or having seen family members suffer as a result, almost every member of the Tipperary panel knows too well the anguish of losing to Kilkenny. O’Mahony, a starter in all five SHC games between 2009 and 2013 and a substitute for the 2014 final games, has several tales of woe.
“2009 was hugely disappointing but the team as a whole performed. If you look at our performance in 2011, we didn’t. To perform and not win, you don’t have as many regrets as you do when you don’t perform and lose. In 2014, when you’re not on the field is the hardest part. I was lucky enough to play nine seasons as the number one centre-back but I never had any interest in sitting on the bench. Obviously, you do what have to do and support the lads but I wanted to play. There was disappointment in both situations, not starting and not winning.”
Losing as much as they have to Kilkenny may indicate a sense of inferiority but O’Mahony rules that one out completely. “I don’t think there is any complex with Kilkenny. It’s not there, I’m certain of it. Being involved in the dressing room, it’s actually gas: for me anyway, I would have felt more nervous playing in an early championship match than Kilkenny on All-Ireland final day because you knew they were going to perform and you just knew you had to get yourself right to perform. Tipperary don’t fear Kilkenny and Kilkenny don’t fear Tipp. I think it (a complex) is blown out of proportion a bit. It won’t be in anyone’s heads coming out after three o’clock on Sunday. Lads are just gonna go for it. After that, you have to hope what they produce is better than what Kilkenny produce.”
Asales representative with Snickers Workwear, O’Mahony flew out to Barcelona on business yesterday but lands into Dublin at 12pm on Sunday. He’ll make a beeline for Croke Park then to catch the minor game where there is a player from his club Newport on each team — Cian Flanagan for Tipperary and Darragh Carroll for Limerick.
And then, if he can, settle himself for the main event where he believes the presence of Eamon O’Shea is still a factor. “The forwards, they’re not going to throw away all that Eamon has taught them in the last few years. They might have tweaked it a small bit and obviously Mick (Ryan) has put his own stamp on it but I definitely think what the boys have learned with Eamon is still carrying them through in every game this year, their movement, their speed, their thought process. I know Eamon would have spent a lot of time working on visualisation with the forwards. His influence is still there but there is a mix with what Mick has brought himself.”
When the guys run out you get a serious buzz and for 10 seconds you’d love to be out there
Don’t miss the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast. Daithi Regan, Tadhg O’Connor, Eddie Keher, Eamonn Murphy and PM O’Sullivan join Peter McNamara to discuss the Kilkenny v Tipperary All-Ireland hurling final.
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