Restoring the pride of the Premier

Eamon O’Shea in conversation with Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins back in 2010.

It was the defining snapshot of a campaign. In 2010 when Tipperary won the All-Ireland hurling final, coach Eamon O’Shea addressed the players in Croke Park seconds before the throw-in.

Attack, attack, attack: O’Shea was visible, giving his charges their final instructions.

O’Shea’s return as manager has Tipperary fans slavering at the thought of a repeat of that stylish onslaught, unsurprisingly.

Pity they’re not going to see that, then.

“It all depends on your resources, but the way we played in 2010 is gone. Whatever way we do it now will depend on our resources, on the opposition, on a lot of things.

“If you don’t evolve and if you’re not conscious of how other teams change, then you won’t be competitive. I’d have a fair idea of how we’re going to play but we’ll have to wait and see if we reach that or not.

“But every manager is looking at his resources and wondering how he can maximise them — and also looking at Kilkenny and Galway and thinking, ‘if we’re going to win the All-Ireland, we’re going to have to beat the two of them, probably’. We’re no different but we’ll look at ourselves first, the other teams second.

“That’s the only way you can do it because if you overdo looking at the other teams, you won’t be true to their own style.”

Typically measured. By day, O’Shea is the head of NUIG’s economics department, so clear-eyed assessment comes naturally. Take his views on team discipline, for instance.

“Any successful team has to have a structure in how it sets itself up — what are the values of the team, the limits inside and outside in terms of discipline, the relationship with the supporters.

“All successful teams have that and it’s critical.

“We’d be no different, in terms of setting that up. Once you set up the framework and once you do that, it’s usually okay. And when it’s not okay, then there are consequences.

“It’s pretty simple in terms of my approach to those sorts of issues. There’s a framework there and it’s better, I think, if the players set the boundaries themselves in conjunction with the management team.

“Anyway, from being involved before, I knew there was a period when you’re just getting things together, and this is that period, organising things and getting everything in place.

“But the most enjoyable comes in playing games, obviously. That’s the key.”

His years alongside Liam Sheedy and Michael Ryan culminated in the All-Ireland win; O’Shea says there was “good and bad” in knowing what was involved, but he draws your attention to a nuance of that management team which not everyone noticed.

“From the point of view of the last time, we shared everything the last time.

“People might have had a view that there was a manager managing, I was coaching, Mick Ryan doing the other things, but we shared a lot of the work, the decision-making was always shared, and that decision-making was shared on what I was doing as coach, certainly.

“I knew what was involved, certainly, the big difference is responsibility — the manager takes responsibility, but ultimately he takes responsibility for failures rather than success. Success is shared but the way things operate, the manager gets the blame for failure, which is fair enough. Ultimately he carries the can, but the way we operate, there are shared responsibilities.

“And that makes it doable as well. It wouldn’t work as a one-man show, certainly not for me. Mick Ryan is the assistant manager but that’s not just a title, he’d be picking up a lot of stuff locally and I’m not local. That’s the kind of stuff that has to be sorted.”

There’s other stuff. Take Lar Corbett’s autobiography: it glows with praise for O’Shea, but it’s an unusual situation, surely, to go into management with a book in circulation detailing your previous stint with the same team?

“Any manager would like to keep as much as possible in-house, but though I haven’t read the book yet I wouldn’t be too bothered by that, those are the circumstances.

“One thing is that if you’re not evolving as a manager or coach, you’re in trouble.

“I’m not bothered by what people think I used to do — it’s what we do now that’s important, otherwise, if things stay the same, you’ll get the same results.”

How about the notorious semi-final defeat to Kilkenny and the Corbett-Tyrrell tactic which drew derision down on the Tipp team and management? “I was at the game and I didn’t notice the tactic initially. The game was strange in that in the first half, there was little in it, Tipp led at half-time, but as the game changed, you’d expect tactics to change, I became aware of the tactic in the second half, as the crowd reacted.

“I was more concerned that we could have taken the game to them a bit more and played the game we were in control of. That’d be my view of it.

“Was I surprised by the reaction in Tipp? When we got beaten by Cork in 2010 there was a reaction. People take it seriously and the supporters are hugely important in terms of their relationship with the team, for instance.

“The reaction is partly to do with the expectations of that team, expectations they helped to create, so you’re going to get a reaction if they lose.”

There’s a glow on the horizon, mind. Tipp collected the minor All-Ireland last September, and O’Shea points out that it wasn’t the only cup the county picked up in 2012.

“Tipp won the intermediate and the minor championships last year. Your senior can’t always win, but it’s nice when they don’t, that your minor team does.

“And the U21s did well this year, too, so we were there or thereabouts while Thurles Sars won the Munster club as well, so there are good things happening.

“That’s good for the morale of the county but it’s not always good for the senior team, because players need to evolve at the pace they need to. Not every player can walk off the minor team — or the U21 team — onto the senior team, so what you need to do is to maximise the possibilities, that those who can will.

“We have some young players in now but they may not necessarily feature next year — it depends on their adaptability — but there’s a structure there within which they can develop.”

O’Shea differentiates between the current crop and the golden generation of players Tipp reaped from the 2007 minor team.

“We were blessed with them, the likes of Padraic, Bonner and Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, they helped us to win the All-Ireland.

“You could say we picked them on the team but there was no great decision involved. They were at a level of maturity, skill, discipline that made the decision easy.

“That decision isn’t always easy. And some of the players who mightn’t be ready are worth waiting for, but it’s a question of making those judgment calls correctly. I see part of my role as ensuring the senior team performs well, but making sure the structures around us are sound as well.”

Is the target an All-Ireland, as simple as that? “Obviously the supporters want to win an All-Ireland but what I want is to have Tipperary playing in a particular way to maximise their performance and their potential.

“That begins with high workrate and ends on matchday. I can’t say at this stage whether Tipperary will win the All-Ireland or not, but what I can say is that Tipperary will have a high work ethic and will play in a particular way.

“I’d see Tipp at the moment as behind the top two, Kilkenny and Galway, and as having to make up ground. There are probably eight teams who could potentially win the All-Ireland; there may be various probabilities associated with their chances, but I’d see eight teams there. Tipperary are in that group, and you’re going to find that some of those teams will push forward, some won’t, but my job is to make sure we’re in a position to push forward. We’d have targets, but they may not necessarily be to win the All-Ireland.”


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