Wednesday 18 October 2017

Premier heads turned by welcome distraction

New Tipp hurling boss Eamon O'Shea should get some food for thought today, writes Dermot Crowe

IN the Tipperary senior hurling semi-final, Lar Corbett scored four points from play, but his influence was more directorial than star lead; covering ground, mopping up ball, happy to see others raise the flags.

Corbett had returned to club hurling in early summer against Boherlahan-Dualla, after his sensational retirement, and he scored a goal as a late substitute. Club hurling has offered him salvation after the public humiliation and unsympathetic trials of inter-county.

Corbett's decision to retire from county hurling brought screaming headlines but in his club there was even greater bafflement when he simultaneously wound down that career as well. They ploughed on without him. Since his return and the ill-fated county experience, he has been playing his part in getting Sarsfields back to a county final. They face recent rivals Drom-Inch this afternoon at Thurles, having defeated them in the finals of 2005 and 2009.

Corbett's last local championship with Sarsfields, like his return for Tipp, ended badly. In the 2011 semi-final, they were ousted by Clonoulty-Rossmore with a closely-marked Corbett venting his frustration and getting red-carded. This was considered to have contributed to the disillusionment that hastened his retirement. But with the return of Eamon O'Shea as Tipp manager, a favourite of Corbett's, and Sarsfields' run to the final, the player's outlook will have brightened.

He is not alone in the search for redemption. In opposition today will be Seamus Callanan, a player with whom Corbett shares a great deal.

Callanan, too, had an inter-county season in 2012 he'd like to forget although he may feel that much of it was beyond his control. A beautiful player to watch in full flight, as Corbett is, Callanan has a talent for finding good positions and drifting off his marker. He is also a player known for goal-scoring but in recent seasons getting a starting place on the Tipperary team has no longer been a guarantee. The reputation of being better coming off the bench has started to stalk him.

His limited appearances this year -- as a substitute twice and no gameplay beyond Munster -- may have had its roots in an internal dispute but Callanan had already been finding it hard to nail a place and suffers a weakness in winning primary possession and from the perception of not being confident in physical exchanges. When Tipperary lost to Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2010, he lost his place to Bonner Maher. In the All-Ireland final that year, Callanan came on in the second half and scored two stylish points but was no longer a starter. Last year he was injured through the league and returned against Cork in the championship, winning man of the match, but was taken off at half-time in the All-Ireland final.

He is, however, a forward likely to appreciate the kind of coaching and tactical planning championed by the new manager O'Shea. After his debut against Cork in 2008, Callanan scored a goal in each of his following five championship games. In 21 championship appearances, some as sub, he has scored eight goals. Corbett has netted 26 goals for Tipp in 51 matches. Callanan was an All Star nominee in his first two seasons but his county career has stalled.

Like Corbett, the club has been a welcome distraction. Last year he bounced back to captain Drom-Inch to their first senior championship and this year he has led the charge towards retaining it.

Drom-Inch took a hammering in the mid-Tipp semi-finals from Loughmore-Castleiney, in a replay, and have had to rehabilitate themselves.

During the course of that recovery, Callanan has been excellent, scoring six points from play in an emphatic quarter-final win over Clonoulty-Rossmore and 1-6 from play, 2-13 in total, in the semi-final defeat of Loughmore-Castleiney after extra-time.

Corbett has not been as prolific a scorer but Sarsfields enjoy a wide spread of finishers. His statistics show one point in the mid-final, one in the quarter-final against Kildangan and the four against éire óg, Annacarty, in the penultimate round. Having scaled the heights of Hurler of the Year in 2010 and a Munster final goal feast a year later, Corbett is busying himself with more humble duties and less glitter. It is expected his club-mate Michael Cahill will track Callanan, as he has done in the past to good effect.

Eight weeks after one hurler became involved in a mind-numbing sideshow and the other was frustratingly compelled to watch an All-Ireland final from the bench, today's county final offers Corbett and Callanan a chance to show they still have plenty to offer. Eamon O'Shea will be watching with some interest.

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