Reconnecting with Tipp's core values
Published 19/02/2013 | 04:00
Observe the choice of venues for most of Tipperary's hurling matches so far this season and a neat geographical trend emerges.
There was Emly for a challenge against UCC, Templemore for another workout against Offaly and Nenagh, where Dublin were hosted prior to the Waterford Crystal tournament – west, mid and north all welcoming the team into their heartlands early in the season.
For the tournament semi-final against Limerick IT, Dolla, the home of Silvermines GAA club, was chosen when Nenagh was unavailable because of a colleges match.
Fittingly, three of the locals, Jason Forde, Orrie Quirke and Ronan Sherlock, made their competitive debuts in front of their home crowd.
Such a nice touch by the new Tipperary management didn't go unnoticed.
Maybe too much shouldn't be read into the choice of venues. Nenagh is the second county ground and Templemore has also regularly hosted senior inter-county matches. Liam Sheedy won his first trophy, after all, at the JK Brackens Ground when they beat Waterford in the 2008 Waterford Crystal final.
The board of management of a local school in Emly were also understood to be interested in hosting a challenge match to help raise some funds for a project so the UCC game was deemed appropriate.
But like a political party reconnecting with the grassroots on the 'chicken and chips' circuit, new Tipp manager Eamon O'Shea has prioritised addressing various units with vested interests in the welfare of the county team.
Clubs have been briefed and assured that their interests will be protected when it comes to the release of players back to them. School principals are also on the target list, while members of the Supporters' Club were treated to a significant keynote address last month when O'Shea outlined his vision of how far Tipperary can reach and what they must strive for to achieve it.
Significantly, self-discipline was at the core of what he expected from his players.
In all of his deliveries the feedback about O'Shea and his level of communication has been impressive. It's not something they are likely to pronounce openly as a stated aim but 'reconnection' with the hurling people of Tipperary has to be a welcome by-product of what they are doing.
O'Shea's predecessor Declan Ryan may find that a little amusing, given the back-to-back Munster titles achieved on his watch. But when a mild-mannered voice like that of former player Michael Cleary speaks of "anger" in the county at the manner of their horrific All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, there is a journey of redemption to travel.
O'Shea's appointment last October began that process, rewiring the team to part of the control tower that landed them safely and successfully two years earlier. So far he seems to have pressed all the right buttons.
But the perception that O'Shea's return as manager will have a 'hey presto' effect is a dangerous and misleading one.
The structures and plays so successfully configured with Sheedy from 2008 to 2010 may already be consigned to history. O'Shea knows that he has to come back with something different; what worked so well then may actually be prohibitive now.
It may involve treading on some familiar toes and coming up with some less conventional ideas. Indeed, that process may already have started on Saturday evening, when Shane McGrath was confirmed as captain for 2013 with Brendan Maher the vice-captain.
Draw up a list of potential captains for the season ahead and McGrath was quite likely not to have been among them. Not that he doesn't have captaincy or leadership qualities, mind. But his dip in form since 2010 doesn't make him the automatic choice he once was in the engine room.
Giving the responsibility of captaincy to McGrath looks like an effort by the management to reassure him and coax him back to his best.
O'Shea has already placed considerable stock on Tipperary winning the league, which begins for them in Cork on Saturday night. But some very testing conundrums involving very prominent names dot the landscape ahead.
Lar Corbett is on the record many times in crediting O'Shea for his outlandish form in 2009 and 2010 but was it a matter of Lar simply flicking a switch when his old mentor walked back in the door last October?
As much as Thurles Sarsfields' recent exit from the club championship was a surprise, an even greater concern was the absence of numbers and brackets beside Corbett in the match reports in another game of great consequence. This has far greater ramifications than an empty space in the Sarsfields' trophy cabinet.
Where to find the most from Noel McGrath is another growing challenge for the new management to confront in the coming months.
There is no doubting the young man's talent and UCD have been benefiting from his deployment at midfield this season. He started there in the recent Waterford Crystal final defeat to Clare. But is the balance of a Tipperary team being affected by taking him out of the half-forward line?
Further back, it may be time to bow to the inevitable and place Padraic Maher at the heart of the team at centre-back and flank him on one side with Brendan Maher. Early-season indications are that Paul Curran will be untouched at full-back.
O'Shea may seek to extract more from Brian O'Meara and promote John O'Dwyer to the frontline in the coming weeks.
Seamus Callanan is another seeking to reclaim mainstream status after a difficult 2012, while Seamus Hennessy is being given every chance to bed down as a half-back.
The scope for radical change in personnel is not obvious, however. Of all the sub-plots that there will be to the hurling league, tracking the reconnection being overseen by O'Shea in Tipperary may just be the most interesting off all, such is the scale of the potential conundrums ahead of him.