Eamon O'Shea's brave approach could start a revolution
Tipp tactics look primitive but thinking behind them is redefining role of manager
Published 26/03/2014 | 02:30
One would have been forgiven last week for thinking that Tipperary versus Dublin was the only game in town for the final round of fixtures of the National Hurling League.
And even Dublin were only there to poke and prod, ask questions of the Tipp team to validate theories and rumours, to make sages of those writing the Tipperary hurling obituary for 2014.
Eamon O'Shea gave little away in the aftermath, in that nothing has changed. It was about performance. Hard work is the answer to all of life's problems, and write off Tipp at your peril.
Walking out of Thurles, nothing could have been further from my mind. Dublin launched their attacks through smart, structured play. Alan McCrabbe ghosted around the half-forward line picking up loose balls and setting up attacks, while Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer broke on to as many of Tipp's puck-outs as they did their own.
Drop deep. Hold possession. Have confidence in the tackle. Pass to hand. Recycle if necessary. Set up the platform for a good ball to the forward. Plenty of long-range shooting with a premium on possession around the middle of the park.
I couldn't tell you one tactic Tipperary had besides 'get the ball as quick as you can to as close to the goal as you can'. Countless times the Tipp backs decided against the short pass to set up good ball to the forwards in favour of 'win it, get it up the field'.
Whatever about Tipp at this stage, write O'Shea's methods off at your peril. The most telling thing about his post-match interview is the idea of shifting responsibility on to the players. Hardly revolutionary, granted, but O'Shea is one of the few men in GAA that's willing to carry it through.
Why? Because he believes in it. Believes that people should be self-determined. That inter-county players should have enough balance in their lives to bring a demeanour into the dressing-room that is constructive and creative.
It's easy to talk about giving over responsibility. But the truth is most managers in sport are more concerned with their own achievements than the welfare of their players.
But what would happen if players were given real responsibility? What if failure was accepted as a necessary path to a deeper knowledge of themselves as people, as players and as team-mates?
Standing out in the rain. With the cold on their skin and the fear in their heart. Totally vulnerable. God, we don't like our sports stars to be vulnerable.
But you've a manager that has allowed for this. That doesn't fear losing, but doesn't fear winning either.
What the player does isn't for his manager's validation. It's for his own. He's totally free to mine the essence of his passion and creativity, the reason he took up the hurl in the first place. Is it possible in a traditional county such as Tipperary? Is it too big a step too soon? It looks as though it is so far.
But maybe the bar is shifting slightly. Away from top-down management to something more sustainable for all.
If so, and if O'Shea has the courage to stick to his task, success won't be far away.