Funny how a single win can turn perceptions on their head.
A few weeks ago the Tipperary hurlers were provoking sorrowful head-shaking among their followers after being caught late on by Limerick. But a storming fourth quarter against Galway now has those same fans dreaming of September.
Still, their manager was reasonably confident ahead of the Galway game. He doesn’t pretend to clairvoyance, but the signs were good.
“I felt the attitude was right going into the Galway game,” says Eamon O’Shea.
“Hand on heart, you can’t say for certain that you’re going to win, but I did feel they were in a good frame of mind to try to do something.
“We felt we’d recovered fairly well from the Limerick game, that we hadn’t really faltered when we got up and running again. Now a loss like that takes a bit out of you, but I felt we got back pretty quick.”
That defeat didn’t do Tipperary any favours with their support base. The criticism was searing within the county, but O’Shea doesn’t overstate its effect on the group.
“We did get refocused, but that wasn’t a big issue. It wasn’t an issue at all, really. For me as a manager it’s easier to take the criticism than the players, because they’re the ones who are out there in the middle of it, doing their best.
“People need to remember that. They make mistakes, fine, as we all do, but criticism can go overboard, too. Everything should be taken in proportion, I think.
“There’s always been criticism. Long before there was social media there was criticism. In my own playing days there was plenty of criticism, it’s always been part of the job because the games, the sport, they’re such a huge part of people’s lives. There’s so much discussion and talk about the games that the amount of criticism that comes shouldn’t surprise us, but people must bear in mind that these are amateurs striving to do well.
“The players – all of them – are lads giving it a go, and some days it doesn’t work for them, naturally enough, but we’ve moved on.
“And it works the other way as well, don’t forget. The last day the crowd was really with us when we were coming back against Galway, so you can’t on the one hand say, ‘oh, I don’t like criticism’ but on the other hand, ‘I’ll take the praise’ when it comes your way. That’d be wrong, too.
“You have to take it whatever way it comes.”
The crowd certainly roared them on over the final furlongs in Thurles that evening. Now it’s Tom Semple’s field again tonight.
“Is it an advantage? That’s hard to know, because it didn’t do us too many favours against Limerick.
“That said, it’s fairly well documented that playing at home is easier for teams. But Thurles is obviously the kind of place that people want to play, which may negate that advantage.
“It’s a good pitch, a good hurling atmosphere, a great day out . . . if hurlers are honest, that’s where they want to play, Thurles and Croke Park, so it’s hard to know if it’s an advantage or not.”
Put another way, will it discommode a hardened side like Dublin? O’Shea has plenty of respect for Anthony Daly’s team.
“Looking at it realistically, they’re where we want to be. They’re a top four team.
“You can talk all you like about Tipperary and tradition and so on, but they were a top four team last year and they were unlucky, in my view, not to contest the All-Ireland final.
“They’re real contenders and it’ll be a very even game. They have strengths, we have strengths . . . I think it’ll be a ding-dong battle to the end.”
Narrow margins. Small things. This is the stretch of the summer when you expect the cliches start to kick in.
“They may be cliches, but they’re cliches because they’re right. The hurling competition has six teams left in it and I think at this stage any one of those teams could win the All-Ireland.
“I was speaking informally to two of the other managers recently about the weekend and I said we could get to the All-Ireland final or we could be beaten next Sunday. The competition being so strong, that’s what makes the margins so narrow.
“There’s been a great levelling out in hurling. It’s been the big change I’ve noticed since I was involved with Tipperary last, up to 2010. At that time Kilkenny were probably way ahead and Tipperary were trying to catch up, but now I don’t think any team is way ahead for sure.
“The six teams left have legitimate hopes of winning the All-Ireland.”
That brings pressure, of course: the chance of silverware. O’Shea acknowledges what’s at stake.
“It’s pressurised, of course it is, but you can also look forward to it. If I weren’t managing I’d be going to watch the games anyway.
“I played for Dublin myself, and they’d be one of my favourite teams, and if I weren’t on the sideline I’d be saying, ‘this is a really interesting game’. I’m on the sideline so I’m still saying that, just for different reasons.
“There is pressure, but it’s also just sport. Getting back to the perspective we mentioned earlier, a ball bouncing one way or the other can be vital.
“I’m not downplaying it, just giving a context. It’ll be a great day in the stadium with Wexford and Limerick as well, but we’ll be focusing on our own business.”
Pressure. Focus. Realities, not perceptions.
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