PERHAPS it was fitting that having first crossed hurleys 16 years ago, Dan Shanahan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín would finish their inter-county careers at the end of the same campaign.
There is a chance in the next year or two of course, that Shanahan’s Lismore might meet up with Ó hAilpín’s Na Piarsaigh in the Munster championship, or even in a challenge match, if former Cork great Tomás Mulcahy remains as manager of the Waterford club next year.
The sense remains though, that hurling has lost one of the game’s great rivalries and two of its enduring characters.
Shanahan isn’t keen to get drawn on whether or not Ó hAilpín’s time had come but as someone who left of his own volition, he reckons that we will see a reduction in the number of 32 to 34-year-olds performing at the highest level in the coming years.
“I was very surprised to hear it and I’d say Seán Óg definitely still had something to offer” said Shanahan. “He couldn’t have been a better man to have in there for working hard and training but Denis Walsh made his decision and it was his to make. I suppose he wants to build a new team.
“It’s definitely getting harder for lads to keep going now as they get older. I suppose Tony Browne is an exception but I think there comes a time when a fella knows himself. I certainly knew myself that it was time to go.”
Ó hAilpín’s statement confirming that Walsh had told him he was no longer part of his plans, also contained the telling line that “I would love to continue to play for Cork” so the 33-year-old clearly didn’t feel his days were numbered.
They are though and Shanahan was happy to talk about “a fantastic hurler” who he first encountered in the 1994 Munster minor hurling final. Cork inflicted defeat on Waterford and repeated the dose the following year on the way to garnering an All-Ireland.
Earlier in 1995, Shanahan had gotten off the mark in their personal battle when Lismore CBS shocked the All-Ireland champions North Mon in the Dr Harty Cup semi-final and it’s been pretty even ever since.
“When I first played against Seán Óg in Munster and with the schools, he stood out a mile. His presence was obvious. Over the years he was a good, hard, clean hurler and there was never any mouth out of him on the field. That was the way he was all the time.
“They beat us in two Munster minor finals and then we beat North Mon in the schools’ semi-final in Fermoy. Over time we probably cancelled each other out. There were days when I couldn’t get a ball off him and other days when I did well on him.
“He was a hard man to mark because of his physique, his awareness and just the fact that he was a fantastic hurler.
“He’s won all the awards, All-Irelands, captain of an All-Ireland winning team, hurler of the year, All Stars. I was lucky enough to win a Railway Cup with him one year. He’s done it all and he owes nothing to no-one.
“What stands out for me with Seán Óg was him lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup as captain (in 2005) and giving the entire speech in Irish. I wouldn’t have much Irish myself but that was incredible for a fella coming from Fiji and it summed him up.”
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