Tuesday 25 October 2016

Eamon O'Shea looks to the future but cannot ignore past experiences

Published 20/06/2015 | 02:30

Eamon O'Shea: 'We have a lot of younger players now and over the next few seasons, those lads will make their mark'
Eamon O'Shea: 'We have a lot of younger players now and over the next few seasons, those lads will make their mark'

Eamon O'Shea was correct in his assessment of his responsibility towards Tipperary hurling this week.

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"It's up to other people to look at the past - I'm concentrating on now and the future," he said.

Which is as it should be, but the issue arises as to whether the past influences the present or the future. If not, then it's pointless looking back.

However, if the past informs the future, then it needs to be addressed.

There's a strong case to be made for Tipperary reviewing recent seasons as they now find themselves one defeat away from their worst Munster Championship run for over 30 years.

If they lose tomorrow, it will be the first time since the dismal days of 1974-82, when they failed to record a single championship victory, that they have gone three successive years without a win in Munster.


In terms of tomorrow's game, that means nothing. And, with the All-Ireland lane still open to provincial losers, a facility not available in 1974-'82, seasons are no longer defined by pre-July action.

Nonetheless, three successive Munster first round defeats would be a very unwelcome development for Tipperary, even if only for reasons of personal pride as opposed to inflicting longer-term damage.

After all, they recovered from the early defeat by Limerick last year, going all the way to a Hawk-Eye decision of winning the All-Ireland title.

That seems a very long time ago and now Tipperary face a real test on all fronts to avoid being forced on to the dangerous qualifier road again.

Should they lose tomorrow, they could find themselves drawn against Dublin in Parnell Park or against Wexford in Innovate Wexford Park (if, as seems likely, Liam Dunne's men lose to Kilkenny) in the first qualifier round.

That contrasts sharply with the prize for a win tomorrow - a Munster final date with Waterford.

Despite O'Shea's insistence that the past is for others to reflect on, he must be conscious that its lessons cannot be ignored. It may be irritating for the Tipperary camp to be reminded of it, but the fact is that they have lost no fewer than seven important games by margins of one to three points over the last two years.

It may be purely coincidental, of course, although it's difficult to believe that a squad can be on the wrong end of so many close calls for no other reason than chance.

And even if that is the case, there's a danger that it will have got in on them and that they begin to expect the worst in tight finishes.

It must be pointed out that Tipperary came from three points down to draw with Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland final, before being unlucky when John O'Dwyer's long-range free drifted inches wide of the posts for what would have been the winning score.

If that free delivered the winner, all of Tipperary's other close calls would have been discarded as utterly irrelevant, but it didn't so the squad has to live with reminders of being edged out in tight finishes.

Of course, Tipperary can argue that four of the seven narrow defeats were against Kilkenny while they drew with them twice in normal time (last year's league final went to extra-time).

No other county has been so close to Kilkenny on a consistent basis. It strengthens Tipperary's case that they have a better chance of overtaking Cody's relentless juggernauts than anyone else.

Still, the fact remains that they have made no impression in Munster over the past two years, having lost out twice to Limerick's sheer doggedness. There's a lot more to Limerick's game of course, but it's definitely enhanced by a really powerful determination to succeed.

That was evident in their wins over Tipperary in 2013 and last year when they battled back from difficult positions. Turning a four-point deficit into a three-point win was a very impressive achievement two years ago, while outscoring Tipperary by 1-2 to 0-0 in the closing minutes last year underlined their tenacity.

Perceptions are unreliable indicators, but until such time as Tipperary sort out that type of challenge on a few occasions, doubts will remain about their mental toughness. It's unfair, but unavoidable.


O'Shea spoke of Tipperary's resilience this week, describing his squad as "a strong-willed bunch."

He also mentioned how they reached last year's All-Ireland final, presumably as a reminder that what happened in Thurles in June didn't matter a jot later on.

There was a hint of impatience too in some other remarks.

""We bring something to these games (All-Ireland finals) as well. Sometimes, people forget that but it's okay with us," he said.

He's right, of course. If O'Dwyer's late free had won last year's final, everything Tipperary did would have been lauded. Instead, they faced a replay - which they lost - and faced a winter-long analysis, which majored on their perceived faults rather than their obvious strengths.

But then, that's the nature of sport. It would, of course, have been less painful for Tipperary if they were Munster champions at the end of last year.

A provincial crown doesn't carry as much authority as in the days when it was the only route into the All-Ireland series, but it's still a decent prize.

That's why the Tipperary camp is fully aware of the importance of winning Munster this year. Ultimately, they will be judged on whether they win an All-Ireland but, while that pursuit continues, a Munster title still counts for something.

"I guarantee you now that Tipperary want that Munster title more than anything," said Eoin Kelly this week. It's especially important after two seasons in which they failed to win a game in the province.

Rather unusually, the All-Ireland runners-up have edged into the favourites' slot for the title, presumably an indication that the largest volume of money is behind them.

Whether that's a vote of confidence in Tipperary or a feeling that Kilkenny are slipping is difficult to decide. Either way, it's good for Tipperary's confidence.

Kelly suggested this week that Tipperary may have been complacent going into the Limerick games in the last two years. Quite why that should be the case is a mystery, especially last year when they could call on the painful experience of the previous season to remind them of the dangers.

One assumes that complacency won't apply this time. Apart from anything else, the prospects of losing to Limerick for a third successive year, something that hasn't happened since 1946-48, must be a fiercely motivating force for players and management.

It has been quite some time since winning a provincial title was so important for Tipperary. Ultimately, they could claim to be the best in Munster last year after hammering Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final but they still had no silverware at the end of the season.

"We have a lot of younger players now and over the next few seasons, those lads will make their mark," said O'Shea.

In his final year as manager, he is hoping that younger and older can coalesce into a winning unit, first in Munster and later in the All-Ireland.

A win over Limerick tomorrow is vital to that process. Instead of waiting for the qualifier draws, which will be made live on RTé's 'Morning Ireland' programme on Monday (8.35am approx) O'Shea would be planning for the Munster final on July 12.

That's where he wants to be.

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