Paudie O’Neill is pretty good at insulating himself, in his own words.
The Tipperary hurling selector has lived in Dublin for a long time, which can be a help if you’re staying away from All-Ireland hype.
“If you’re in Tipperary, maybe it would be more difficult to insulate yourself. You do have to go the shop now and then, you have to show the face.
“My mother’s still living down here so I do spend some time here during the week. But for myself, yes, being away does help.”
He’s a long time in Dublin, where he coached the county minors 20 years ago; he didn’t warm to recent suggestions that the sky blues are ‘manufactured’ hurlers.
“I think there’s a different context between Dublin and, say, the traditionally strong hurling counties. And I think Dublin deserves great credit for the fantastic progress that’s being made, I mean that genuinely.
“But I know myself, the club I was associated with in Dublin, Ballyboden St Enda’s — 30 years ago, there was no hurling, effectively, in Ballyboden. None.
“Now, you can describe it as an artificially induced environment, but everybody involved deserved great credit because they had to actually work extremely hard to create that.
“The essential difference down here is that in the traditional hurling counties, hurling is probably more part of the community. In Dublin, it is still getting to that stage.”
O’Neill was the new man when Eamon O’Shea invited him in as a selector last year: “Eamon and Mick (Ryan), had been there for three years in ‘08, ‘09 and ‘10. Like in any job, it takes you a while then to acclimatise and to really get to grips with what it’s about. I suppose, from the coaching point of view, it is easier in year two. You know the players better; they have developed, you hope, a relationship with you.
“The level of connection is better, and I suppose that would be the thing that would have struck me most forcefully this year — that you didn’t have to go through all the preliminaries of getting to know people.”
O’Neill says they are trying to improve Tipp all the time: “If you look at it, I think all elite teams in any sport are into this notion of continuous improvement and mastery and always getting better. That’s a mindset and a culture.
“And that’s what we’ve been trying to create, that we are at a certain level, now we’ll try to get better. We get to that level and we try to get better again. But you never get there (perfection). That’s the thing about hurling, you’ll always look at the end of the game and say, ‘ok, there are still areas we can do better in’.”
An example? Take the win over Cork.
“Against Cork, one thing that would disappoint us a little bit, I think it was in the 63rd minute or something like that, I think we were ahead by 12 or 13 points, I don’t think we scored after that. There was still 10 minutes left in the game.
“Cork scored a goal in the remaining period and created three half-chances of goals. I wouldn’t think we put the foot to the floor.
“I don’t think you can plan for a tight finish but what we’ll be hoping for is a performance that lasts for 73 minutes. So, it’s going back to the point I made earlier, that one of the reservations that we would have about the performance against Cork is that it wasn’t actually a 73-minute performance. It might have been a 63-minute performance. We know that we’ll have to play for 72, 73 or 74 minutes on Sunday.”
Seamus Callanan has been crucial to Tipperary’s success this year, and O’Neill paid tribute to the Drom & Inch man.
“Seamus has worked extremely hard this year. A second factor is that Seamus Callanan within the group has taken on a real leadership role.”
O’Neill realises they will need leaders against Kilkenny but says Tipp will try to make their most of the squad’s close bond.
“We feel we have a panel of players who are really tightly knit, who have developed as a group and as people, who have a huge respect for what they’re doing and what they’re trying to do. And that’s the approach that we will be taking to the game, rather than expending energy.”
“Eamon O’Shea and Michael Ryan and myself would have a reasonable amount of life experience at this stage and we know that one day you’re being applauded because things go well for you and the next day you’re being hit with criticism when things don’t go well for you. That’s life isn’t it? It’s up and it’s down.”
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