And to the death they will go.
After Thurles this Saturday ,only Tipperary or Galway will remain in this year’s championship, but the likelihood is one manager will depart too.
Never has so much been on the line in a hurling qualifier, none more so than for Eamon O’Shea and Anthony Cunningham. O’Shea is held in high regard in Tipperary but a fourth championship defeat in as many games would surely make his position untenable.
Such an early exit would spell curtains too for Cunningham, who returned this year with a new management team after last season’s disappointing championship ended at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
Desperate times indeed for two of hurling’s most decent men but then they have much more in common. Here are five more similarities.
O’Shea lives in Galway where he is a member of Salthill-Knocknacarra club. Cunningham resides in Kiltoom, Co Roscommon, guiding St Brigid’s to an All-Ireland final replay two years ago.
The two-hour return spins for Cunningham these last three seasons would have been taxing but nothing compared to O’Shea’s four hours between Salthill and Thurles and then back again. Neither man has made any suggestion that they’ve found the commuting an ordeal, although O’Shea’s comments before the defeat to Limerick were intriguing in the context of the player drinking stories that circulated after the game.
“My heart is here [in Tipperary] and I know everything that happens here, there’s not a thing said or done here that I don’t know.”
Both men are academics. O’Shea is a personal professor in NUI Galway’s school of business and economics. Cunningham works as a technology gateway manager at Athlone IT, in charge of a nationwide COMAND (Connected Media Application Design and Delivery) resource aimed at helping Irish companies innovate in the digital media space. The research initiative is a five-year €1.2 million agreement funded by Enterprise Ireland. O’Shea’s work on the economics of ageing and inequality issues is highly regarded and he has released and contributed to several publications on similar subjects.
The pair last crossed paths last month when Galway were victors in a challenge match in which Lar Corbett was in top form. Coming just a week after losing to Limerick, O’Shea’s side may have been forgiven if they weren’t fully focused on the game as Galway were building themselves up to face Kilkenny. As things stand, each manager has a W against the other. In last year’s Division 1A, O’Shea saw his team impressively strike four goals in Pearse Stadium as Tipperary ran out 11-point winners. However, in this season’s competition Galway secured a three-point victory.
O’Shea’s explanation for Tipperary’s defeat to Limerick left a lot of supporters perplexed.
“We would have a huge desire to win and get over the line,” he said. “I do think it sometimes restricts some players. For example, the ball from where they got their goal two or three of our players wanted to win that ball but unfortunately they all went up to win it together.”
Cunningham’s reaction after losing to Kilkenny was almost as bemusing.
“Any time you’re still in the championship it’s brilliant.” And he continued: “When you’re beaten in championship the best way to get that out of your system is to be playing the following weekend, not to leave it two or three weeks, so that’s a plus for us.”
The intentions of each man — O’Shea taking the heat off his players and Cunningham talking his group up — were obvious but their delivery was not as convincing.
Both managers this season said goodbye to what had been for the large part their first choice goalkeepers. Brendan Cummins retired, although there were strong suspicions he was pushed, and Darren Gleeson was going to be the favoured netminder.
James Skehill bowed out of the Galway panel in March, understood to have been disappointed with the lack of first team opportunities. Had they a choice to do it all over again, would either O’Shea or Cunningham have elected to act differently. Tipperary, for one, do appear to be missing Cummins but then that was always going to be the case after the legacy he had created.
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