Second time around proving doubly difficult for Eamon O’Shea

Second time around proving doubly difficult for Eamon O’Shea

Nature of demoralising defeat to Limerick poses a real challenge for the practical Tipperary manager

Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea: Empowering players to trust their own judgement can be a problem if decision-making is flawed.  Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea: Empowering players to trust their own judgement can be a problem if decision-making is flawed. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 09:00

The abdication of Juan Carlos in Spain is another indicator – should Eamon O’Shea need any more – that you’re only as good as your last game and that credit eventually runs out on even the most impressive of achievements.

Bulwarking democracy against an attempted fascist coup by comic opera colonels was good for around 30 years in Spain so maybe it’s surprising that playing a key role in putting an All-Ireland on the shelf – which in Tipperary would be surely regarded as major achievement – as recently as 2010 should fade so quickly.

There was always that danger. A professor of economics at NUIG, O’Shea’s cerebral inputs to the revival of Tipperary between 2008 and 2010 were widely admired. But he would have been aware that coming back after two years, during which the project had gone off the rails, and taking up the different position of manager had every possibility of turning into taking a gulp from a poisoned chalice.

It is an irony that someone who is so clearly fascinated by the intellectual possibilities of the game should find himself in charge of a group of players whose gifts are instinctual and intuitive rather than calculated. Yet the relationship worked well when as coach, O’Shea created a framework in which hurlers could perform spontaneously but also collectively and , above all coherently.

Statistical drum roll

Sunday’s defeat by Limerick was laden down with the sort of baggage that Tipperary have been trying to jettison: lack of composure, losing the battle of wills in tight finishes and the statistical drum roll of being beaten by Limerick in Thurles for the first time in 41 years and drawing a blank for two successive years in Munster – something that has happened only once previously in more than 30 years.

Séamus Callanan’s encouragingly rehabilitated form at full forward came adrift – not so much from lack of possession but from a tentative use of what did come his way. Noel McGrath was a shadow of what he can be. O’Shea, speaking on Tipp FM, identified anxiety as an issue for the team in the tumultuous closing minutes when a three-point lead was washed down the drain by Limerick’s unanswered 1-2.

The manager so clearly believes in his players that he is determined to try and recreate the conditions of 2010 despite mounting evidence that that those achievements are irrecoverable. Empowering players to trust their own judgement can be a problem if decision-making is flawed.

Furthermore if players aren’t going well they should be replaced. John Allen, coincidentally the manager who took Limerick to last year’s Munster title, managed Cork to the 2005 All-Ireland and his most decisive sideline intervention was in the semi-final against Clare when he substituted two All Stars, Brian Corcoran and Ronan Curran.

All players on a panel have to know that anyone is replaceable if they’re having a bad day.

The fact that the All-Ireland of four years ago was achieved through the qualifiers might raise hopes that a similar feat of reinvention can be accomplished this time but the only striking similarity between the defeats by Cork in 2010 and Limerick last weekend is that Tipperary lost on both occasions.

Cork’s win was a bolt from the blue which forced Tipp to refocus after, as O’Shea acknowledged later that year, becoming distracted by the expectations created in the aftermath of a hugely promising 2009 whereas Limerick were Munster champions, albeit underrated, reasserting their dominion against a team that has been struggling for confidence.

Insistent optimism

For all of the insistent optimism, O’Shea must find the demands of management challenging. As coach he was low-profile with Liam Sheedy taking care of front-of-house matters. Being manager is different; it demands constant media interaction and regular accountability. A coach can treat players as ongoing projects whereas a manager has to make calls on more immediate criteria.

For an academic the weekly or fortnightly updating must be anathema. For someone used to assembling data painstakingly and drawing evidence-based conclusions, he is expected to justify each stage of the process and to an extent, respond to it. The testiness that has begun to inform some of his media engagements, suggest that the transition hasn’t been easy.

Does he regret it at this stage? Knowing his view of hurling, it’s impossible to imagine that he does – even given his current difficulties. His Sunday Miscellany broadcast on the morning of the 2012 All-Ireland final included the following paean to the game. “All enduring love affairs must ultimately capture the heart, the soul and the imagination. For me hurling does that better than any other sport, mainly through the ties that bind us to people, places and local communities.”

His views on society would have made him an unlikely supporter of the now-defunct Progressive Democrats but as he eyes the daunting terrain ahead and the measures necessary to travel it, Eamon O’Shea might reflect on former PD leader Michael McDowell’s prescription for the party: be radical or redundant.

smoran@irishtimes.com

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