Premier pulling in the same direction

Saturday, April 19, 2014
Eamon O'Shea: How we try to use the ball is the key to how this team performs. I'd be very strong on that.Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

Eamon O’Shea: How we try to use the ball is the key to how this team performs. I’d be very strong on that.Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
By Michael Moynihan

Tipperary haven’t set the world alight in the league this year, but manager Eamon O’Shea has been there before and is confident they’ll turn it around

EAMON O’Shea has been here before, of course. He was a selector when Liam Sheedy managed the Tipperary hurlers, so he knows what’s involved, even if as a selector you’re slightly removed from the pressure that comes with having BAINISTEOIR on your bib.

“I wouldn’t say ‘removed’,” says O’Shea, laughing. “You were involved heavily trying to solve the problems of not playing well.”

It’s fair to say Tipp haven’t set the world alight this year, with some stuttering league performances, but that’s where the past experience comes in: “We were well beaten by Kilkenny in 2009, by Cork in 2010. We’ve been there.

“It’s not too bad when you know everybody is pulling in the same direction trying to address the issue, which we’ve had.

“And it wasn’t that we had one big issue either, really — we lost games, but there was no problem on the training pitch or in terms of the approach.

“We had some injuries, but all teams have those. We need to play very cohesively, and we hadn’t got that in the early stages.

“Whether we have it now . . . we’re not there yet. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s no worse than when the U14s aren’t winning. It’s just more public. But I look it as a problem to be solved.”

There’s a wider context for that problem: the sense that this Tipperary team haven’t realised their potential.

“Having won in 2010, and playing so well at stages in 2011, there probably is a feeling that the team could have done better.

“But in a strong hurling county like Tipp, with plenty of interest, you have to expect a certain level of engagement. I wouldn’t have any issues with that.”

Does it validate the coaching approach to rack up some wins?

“We’ve been doing a bit more work on the training pitch in terms of how we want to play, and that gives more confidence.

“I have a particular view of how I want to play, and we didn’t spend enough time on that last year. I didn’t spent enough time on it.

“The league’s an interesting one because it moves you from one game to another really quickly, and you end up thinking ‘I need two points here to stay in the division’ a bit too much, but I think if we can work on the way we play I’d be very confident. Getting that right, that’s what I believe in, and it’s something the team has massive belief in as well. We probably took a first step towards that against Cork — not in terms of the win, but in how we tried to use the ball. I’d be very strong on that because it’s the key to how this team performs.”

In his day job as Professor of Economics in NUIG O’Shea focuses on issues such as rural ageing; given the recent focus on rural access to Sky, what’s his view on the satellite broadcaster’s deal with the GAA?

“It’s probably just progress in one sense, and inevitable in the context of the product and the context of competition.

“Things never stay the same, and if there is a broadcaster out there that’s interested in the game and the market throws up this outcome, there’s a certain inevitability to it.

“Certainly there are good aspects to it in terms of shaking up coverage, marketing and so on — and there are things that are not so good with pay-per-view TV in terms of those who can’t access it.

“You won’t know until the product comes on stream, though, which is a point that people are missing. Seeing how this pans out will bring up interesting issues in terms of revenue and so on. With mass coverage you have to be careful of the rights of the players — rights to privacy, image rights, all of that. But I think it’s inevitable.”

Is it progress?

“Whether it is or not . . . the biggest revolution in recent years has been the internet, and it’s hard to argue against that being progress. Equally, though, it’s easy to find things that you don’t like about the internet, but it’s there anyway. I think it’s a case of when you have such an exciting product, like the GAA has, it’s inevitable something like this will happen, but at the same time you must consider what the GAA is about, its traditions and so on.

“What’s interesting about the GAA is that you can be involved at so many levels. I’m the Tipperary manager but I’m also involved with U12s and U14s in our club, and I have been all my life. They’re like parallel universes.

“You’re really involved in the club, which is something that has to be protected, given the fantastic things it does for the community, but at the same time you must acknowledge something else entirely, high level elite sport, and on any Saturday or Sunday you’re in competition with other sports.

“That’s the marketplace now. We may not like it, some of us, but that’s what it is.”

There are more immediate challenges for Tipperary. They’ll have a fair test tomorrow, given Clare’s impressive run.

“I admire them — they have the personnel, there’s plenty of movement and pace — and intelligence and structure as well. The style is very good, very effective for them, and they’re the leading team at the moment.

“That’s not just me building them up — their age profile, their enthusiasm, all of that put together means it’s a big challenge for all counties to match them.”

Clare played to a recognisable structure last year, but does O’Shea feel we’re overdoing the search for patterns in hurling?

“That’s an interesting question because in the overall context of styles and so on, I’ve heard it said that Tipperary don’t have a style, and that’s true given the extent of what people have seen so far.

“But I think also that there may be a little bit too much analysis of the styles that are in play.

“The game has changed a lot, even in the last ten or 15 years — there’s a lot of short passing, precision, a lot of movement, and the paradox is that even though teams are setting up quite defensively, there are high scores.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of point-scoring, people hitting points from midfield, and if teams get goals they’re likely to get three or four because they’ve figured out the opposition.”

Figuring out your own team is the first challenge, though. If you don’t have a star forward, for instance, the transfer market isn’t an option: “The patterns are interesting, certainly, but your personnel dictate your team. That’s the bottom line. There can be a perception that a county manager is like a Premiership manager, that he can go out and buy in different players. But you can’t.

“If your team doesn’t have huge pace, you must set up differently. You can’t buy faster players. That’s why the personnel you have dictate everything.”

The weekend is a big plus for Tipperary, as it gives them a shot at a national final, but it also gives their manager a chance to see his players tested in a competitive game.

“Having another match is fantastic, because something people tend to forget about a county team is that you’re not training them every day of the week, either.

“My guys were with the clubs for two weeks now, so I see them once one week and twice the following week.

“There are various dimensions of the game, which is something a lot of people forget, so another game is good for gathering data, if you like.

“The club scene is very important in Tipperary — I certainly see it as important — and they need a break, too. We were on the go every Sunday for four or five weeks and I certainly would think the league should go back to a ten-team division. There’s a lot of merit to that — I don’t see a huge gap between four or five teams in 1A and 1B, and certainly if the latter got a few more games then the gap would be even narrower.

“I know it’s very exciting for the media and the public to have the league this tight, but there are pros and cons to everything. All of that said, though, another match is great for us, even if we go no further.”

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