Saturday 16 December 2017

Brendan Cummins: I would compare our training drills with the movie 'The Matrix'

Eamon O'Shea came across a little bit eccentric at first but he opened my mind

Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea
Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea

Brendan Cummins

It wasn't long before Eamon O'Shea was sprinkling magic dust over us. I found him a little eccentric at first, but once you started to understand what it was he was trying to get you to do, how he wanted to open your mind to creative possibilities in how you played, you were soon a different and a better player.

Bland wasn't good enough. If you're bland, you may as well be a lemming running off a cliff with the rest of them. Socially conditioned to follow the pack rather than stand out from the crowd.

Eamon was the only guy I've ever trained under that never used cones on a pitch specifically for hurling drills. Lines of the field were his canvas. We played games within the lines of the pitch, often in confined spaces with the constant threat of blue murder hovering in the air.

One of his favourite exercises was to play matches between the 65-metre lines.

We were encouraged to operate within tight, confined parameters. Having trained between the 65s, opening up the full width of the pitch on matchday was a revelation.

The extra space provided would allow us to fully express ourselves. People watched us train and I'd ask them what they thought. 'Fucking chaos! It's mad! Players are running everywhere. What are ye at?' But in the middle of it all, I knew exactly where the ball had to be. In a drill, I was completely in sync with everything happening around me.

I would compare what we were doing to the movie The Matrix.

It's a complicated film full of symbols and numbers, but once you understand them, it makes sense. That's what Eamon was to us, the head of the Matrix.

It took a while to decipher his messages but when you did, everything became clear.

We could see his world, his game, his strategy. I understood Eamon relatively quickly but I don't think it's possible ever to fully understand him.

As a collective, it probably took the team 18 months to evolve to a point where we were fully in tune with how he wanted to play.

Eamon sees the pitch as a blank page. He knows the way he wants his team to play the game, by creating space and moving fluently. One of his great gifts is the ability to tailor a training session to the mood of the team. He would watch carefully and walk among us as Cian O'Neill warmed us up.

Eamon would drift to the periphery of the group, arms folded, watching and gauging the mood and humour of the team. Was there energy present?

Were the energy levels too high or too low? What was the temperature like? Eamon O'Shea is a human thermometer and he'll start a training session at the tempo that he deems appropriate.

He might start it slowly if he thinks that the general mood is too giddy, to bring the group down. Liam would often say to us that the right level was always chest high, never too high or too low. And he'd point to chest level, below the chin. 'Right there, lads.'

Eamon, too, always knew where the right level was. Unknown to ourselves, he'd always get us there, to a level where we were training optimally. So if he had to take us down, he would, and if he had to take us up, he'd do that too.

When he got us there, the quality came, space opened up, and he got the movement he desired. His training was a constant challenge, fresh and varied. He also understood one of the psychological traits that had scuppered many a Tipperary team in the past, namely the tendency to rest on our laurels. Having built up a big lead in a game, we would almost invariably lose our concentration and allow the opposition to work their way back into contention.

'Over here,' Eamon would command. 'Drill. Four against four.'

There was no time for standing around. That's one of the big no-nos in sport psychology. Simple, active drills were the norm and we were never on the pitch without our minds switched on.

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