Saturday 1 October 2016

Vincent Hogan: Tipp's master at peak of his powers

Callanan finds redemption in a virtuoso performance on the grandest stage in the game

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

Tipperary’s man of the match Seamus Callanan celebrates at the final whistle Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Tipperary’s man of the match Seamus Callanan celebrates at the final whistle Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Hemingway declared that any man's life, properly told, is a novel and if Seamus Callanan's ever makes it to ink, it will be irrevocably romantic.

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Just now, with the hurling world turning so agreeably to his bidding, it might be tempting to see this simply as a story of nature's benevolence to a mid-Tipperary family who happened to rear a regally gifted son. Yet as he sat before us in the Hogan Stand media auditorium, expounding on the virtues of patience, you were reminded that Callanan could easily have been lost to these days as a rumour.

"Outrageous" was the word his manager, Michael Ryan, summoned in response to a 0-9 tally from play that exposed channels wider than the Bering Strait through a previously revered Kilkenny full-back line.

Callanan and Tipperary ran amok against men not entirely familiar with the indignity.

The Drom and Inch man looked unplayable here, too big, too fast, too canny for Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast or whoever else Brian Cody despatched to try bringing order at the foot of the beanstalk. It certainly secured his third consecutive Allstar and a Hurler of the Year gong may well now follow.

Time

But Callanan needed time to find his feet at this altitude. And, maybe more than anything, he needed trust.

It's eight years since Liam Sheedy gave him his Championship debut, almost a full decade then since Tipp drum-rolled an extravagant talent that, somehow, took longer than they'd have liked to come to ferment. Yesterday will, thus, have carried a special resonance for Callanan.

He was dropped for the 2010 All-Ireland final, delivering a stirring dressing-room speech that - to this day - is referenced by team-mates as an emblematic expression of the energies that would carry them beyond Kilkenny. But Callanan was hauled ashore at half-time in the 2011 final and did not play when Tipp were obliterated by Cody's men in a semi-final eleven months later.

The last three years have, if anything, been a repudiation of the view some had begun to form of Seamie as, perhaps, a luxury talent. A man maybe lacking the inner fury to cope with life in this rarified air.

Tipp in microcosm almost.

So we put it to him that the legend of Seamie Callanan was, well, slow coming to true expression and his response was an oblique reproach to the very question.

"Well I don't know if you remember back, I made a nice bit of an impact in 2008 and 2009, my first two years," he said impassively. "Like I was nominated for an Allstar both them years. You know it wasn't just out of the blue that this just happened three years ago. Look you'll have dips in form, you have different management.

"Eamonn O'Shea came in and showed a massive belief in me as a person and as a player and gave me responsibility. I suppose he gave me a licence to be myself on the pitch where maybe I was feeling restrained before.

"Look, it's all about growing and developing, evolving as a player. And you know that happens with years on the panel and experience as well. Look I'm just I suppose in the peak of my career at the moment, like I'm 28 in two weeks time. I'd like to think there's a few good years left in me yet.

"But that kind of happens players. Every player doesn't light it up every year. You have to experience a bit of time on the bench like TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and all these fantastic players, Hurlers of the Year. They have done their time on the bench as well for Kilkenny and have now become the leaders. So everyone goes through that patch."

They do. But not everyone finds within it an education.

What Ryan's Tipp did here was take Kilkenny down the very cul-de-sac Cody's men have been bringing teams down for more than a decade. They had no choice.

Yet, for all the heat and tumult, for all that relentless din of groans and cracks and splintering nerves, the deciding question with Kilkenny is always control. Surviving their heat is but the start of things. You must also have a plan.

To beat Kilkenny, you must think your way through the maelstrom on an understanding that dander alone won't get you past the masters of that condition.

Because you can shunt and mullock to your heart's content, but it won't sign any big cheques in the market that men like Reid and Hogan occupy. They'll shunt and mullock away with you, all the time pulling dimes from behind their ears.

There is no mystery to Kilkenny. They bear no secrets. What they do isn't otherworldly. They thrive on selflessness and application, humdrum qualities only in the eyes of fools.

Any team bar a Cody team, so compromised by fallen soldiers, would have been an essay in anxiety and looming self-pity yesterday. Kilkenny, though, tend to be resoundingly insular about these things. They struggle to process the very concept of infirmity.

Hence when Kevin Kelly flicked home that 42nd minute goal into the Hill-end net, every Tipperary man and woman alive felt a familiar breath on the neck. Tipp had been in this spookhouse too many times before.

But their intensity had a different tenor this time. It bore a coherence that simply could not be roped down or subdued. Time and again, diagonal balls out of Tipp's defence were being lasered into the path of either Callanan or the equally rampant 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and, well, Kilkenny never looked far from the edge of crisis.

Hence, Tipp's response to the Kelly goal was breath-taking. In the next thirteen minutes, they devoured Kilkenny by 1-7 to 0-1. Yet, that stat doesn't even quite capture the scale of their majesty. For two Padraig Walsh points apart, Kilkenny's only other scores from play in the second-half would be the goals of Kelly and Hogan.

Someone asked Callanan after if the heartbreak of past defeats had ever threatened to break his will.

"Losing is hard to take," he acknowledged flatly. "Everyone has their goals and if you don't achieve them, it's very hard to take. But there's never a second that one person inside in that Tipperary dressing-room ever thought 'Time to throw it all away...I don't want to go again!'

"Everyone wanted another chance, redemption, you know to fulfil aspirations that we would have from each other. Like we see the work that goes in every year and, like my God, we're not going to let ourselves down, we're not going to throw it away, we're not going to give up on something that's our dream.

"No way, not for anybody."

His own story maybe encapsulates the broader capacity to bank hurt.

"You have your own goals and aspirations as a player," he said. "There's nobody inside in this panel that has a goal to be a sub for Tipperary. Now, when you get the chance, you want to contribute to that family that is Tipperary.

"But I suppose to be established there on the team is good for myself. I put in an awful lot of hard work outside of the training as well as I'm sure every player does. But this is a special one because I'm part of a panel that's been around for a while that has suffered a lot of defeats to Kilkenny.

"And whereas Mick said you can't carry that as baggage, today was a new day and we didn't carry it as baggage. But at the same time, we've hurt enough. You know it's time for us to start inflicting the hurt on other teams. So, look, today is a very very special day."

Family was a theme he kept returning to. And Ryan was at the base of it.

"Mick is obviously a fantastic man as a motivator, setting up his team, giving new lads a chance to go out and express themselves, all of that," said Callanan. "But he will tell you himself, Mick and the management team are facilitators for us. They give us the chance to go out there and hurl.

"They do that very well, but this group of players have experienced enough pain that I'd say it's easy enough talk to us on the training pitch.

"And obviously now you don't want to leave a five or a six-year gap again."

As he spoke, Ryan was nodding animatedly. The last time Tipp got to this mountain-top, they lost their way in the glare.

Somehow, these men seem wiser now.

"You know we've suffered enough," said Callanan. "That feeling of hurt ... we didn't want to go through that as a family again.

"We did this for each other".

Irish Independent

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