O’Shea: It’s not all about the first 15

O’Shea: It’s not all about the first 15

Friday, June 07, 2013  Irish Examiner

MUNSTER SHC SEMI-FINAL
Limerick v Tipperary
It’s not necessarily the team you start with that’s going to win you a game rather the team you finish with, the guys on the pitch in that vital last quarter.

By Diarmuid O’Flynn

More and more that seems to be the philosophy of GAA managers in both hurling and football and it’s the approach taken by Tipperary’s Eamon O’Shea as he contemplates Sunday’s Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick.

“It’s not about the first 15. I have 30 guys that are bursting to get on the 26 for match day and those 26 are bursting to get on the first 15,” he said.

“They come in and have a really good cut off it and whatever happens, happens. It’s a competitiveenvironment. There’s no point in me having 15 players training for the last five weeks to play against Limerick, because we’d certainly lose. It has to be competitive.”

The speed and intensity at inter-county level means many players are completely spent long before the 70 minutes are up. Unless of course they’re deliberately pacing themselves, which wouldn’t be the best thing for the team.

“You go out there to try and play as long as you can; if you’re fit and it works for the full 70 minutes that’s great but if it doesn’t somebody else comes in. Players all know that now, it’s different from my time when if you weren’t on the first 15 it was a catastrophe.”

It’s a great philosophy to engender in a team. It doesn’t mean players won’t be disappointed by not starting knowing they can still make an impact on the game.

It’s not the only positive philosophy of Eamon O’Shea’s. No-one is too young but conversely, no-one is too old either, nor is anyone too obscure. Jason Forde, just out of minor, has already figured prominently while 27-year-old dual player Kieran Bergin started the biggest game of the year, the recent Allianz Hurling League final loss to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, to make his competitive debut.

All very deliberate, a strong message being sent to those both inside and outside the panel.

“It’s [the panel] always open-ended, that’s good for the environment around the place. I’m going to club matches on Sundays and all the players playing club hurling need to know than on any given day they could be asked to come into training,” he said.

“Club players have to have an incentive to perform for their club and improve the championship and it makes sure everyone is committed and associated with the county team. ”There has to be a relationship between the county team and the club structures. If there isn’t, it defeats the purpose of what we’re doing. We’re an amateur organisation, a game of the people. You take the game to the people and they support you.”

One thing though, he’s not happy about is announcing his team days beforehand.

“There’s a couple of days left and you’re always looking to see who has the edge and who doesn’t. If I could call it [team selection], it would be at 2.35 next Sunday! But we’re not allowed do that.

“I understand why, it’s all part of the enjoyment, people liking to see the team.

“But from a manager’s point of view, you’d like to just keep seeing what’s happening. It’s not a big issue, I don’t feel it will be tricky team to pick. Competitive, but not tricky once you decide which way to go.”

Limerick away will be a tricky game for Tipperary though.

“Anyone not going to be at the Gaelic Grounds will miss an absolutely outstanding game, and I’m convinced it will be outstanding.

“Going into the home venue of your opponent can be seen as a psychological advantage but I don’t feel like that.

“As a young fella all my memories are of going to the Gaelic Grounds. I love it as a traditional Munster venue and the more people that are in it the better, I’d love it if it were packed out.”

Downes says time is nigh for Limerick

It was only a few days ago that Kevin Downes, on the way home from NUIG after completing his third year of an Arts degree, contemplated the growing strength of the current Limerick senior hurling panel.

“It’s a very young panel, building the whole time, but a very strong panel also. There’s great competition for places and it’s getting tougher all the time, but that drives everyone on.”

In the forwards especially there are now major options. Manager John Allen and his selectors can field two entirely different formations should they choose, one as potent as the other.

“Yeah, unreal, there’s always someone breathing down your neck looking for that spot so you have to be on top of your game every day, whether it’s training, a challenge game, whatever. But that’s what every team is looking for, can’t complain.”

And Kevin is one of a number of high-profile forwards who don’t make the first cut this Sunday. Himself, Na Piarsaigh clubmate Shane Dowling, along with their former teacher in Árdscoil Rís Niall Moran, will all be on the bench for the game against Tipperary.

Another old Árdscoil Rís clubmate, Declan Hannon, is in the full-forward spot Kevin looked to have made his own for the last two years. No matter. As stated by Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea elsewhere in these pages, it’s no longer a question of the first 15 and even this far out it can be taken as read that not all six Limerick starting forwards are going to have the beating of their direct opponent. At some stage reinforcements will be called and Downes is almost certain to be one of those to see action. In a recent high-profile challenge against an admittedly severely depleted Kilkenny, Kevin, Shane and Niall came off the bench and immediately contributed.

That’s what they were lacking in last year’s loss to the same opposition. With the game in the balance, Limerick led as late as the 64th minute (1-17 to 1-15) but Tipperary drove home, powered by subs Shane McGrath, Bonner Maher, Conor O’Brien, Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke.

This Sunday it could well come down to those final minutes again, it could well come down to Kevin Downes and others like him. Tear into Tipp as they did last year but this time sustain it.

“Tradition has a huge part to play in sport and maybe we do give teams too much respect. It’s kind of a balancing act, you do have to respect the opposition but you don’t want to pay them too much respect either.

“We’re a proud hurling county but 40 years without an All-Ireland title, that’s galling really, baffling. We came close several times but it’s about getting over that final hurdle. A lot of good teams have failed to win it but hopefully it won’t be too long now in the future.”

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