Eamon O'Shea: 'All-Ireland race has never been so open – nine teams can win it'
The times they are a changin' – Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea is sure of that.
Long gone are the days when Kilkenny, Tipp and Cork dominated the hurling landscape, O'Shea insists.
The revolution years are back and O'Shea believes that as many as nine counties have a chance of winning the All-Ireland title.
According to O'Shea, all five teams in Munster are in with a shout, along with four from Leinster. Kilkenny, Dublin and Galway will all feature in the shake-up and O'Shea is also expecting big things from Wexford, who beat Tipp in a recent challenge outing at the home of Oulart-The Ballagh.
"There are probably nine teams that can win the All-Ireland," he said. "It's very competitive – there's a great equality among teams.
"In Munster, any one of the five could have a shot at it. I think Clare are slightly ahead because they had the confidence of playing last year and playing really well, and having a system that's really good and that they know how to play.
"I would take four teams in Leinster. I think Wexford are a really solid team and will have a real go this year.
"The pressures are on because it's so competitive, and that has changed in the space of five years.
"It has become more competitive, it has equalled out and the new approach to hurling has impacted greatly and has put pressure on all teams, including the traditional teams.
"The notion of the big three dominating; that is gone, that is over."
O'Shea, one of the game's deep thinkers, is challenged with the task of restoring Tipp to former glories.
He was coach in 2010 when the county basked in Liam MacCarthy Cup success but his much-heralded first season as manager ended prematurely, with defeats to Limerick and Kilkenny in 2013 ensuring a short summer.
O'Shea admitted: "The period last year between the league final (against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park) and the championship game against Limerick was a period where there were a lot of things going on and I maybe I didn't have the focus I should have had.
"You had club games, we needed to focus a little bit more and I take some responsibility for that."
O'Shea was on the back foot once again during the 2014 Allianz League following successive defeats against Kilkenny, Clare and Galway.
But after each game, the Kilruane native consistently held firm in his view that training was going according to plan and that June 1 and the Munster semi-final against Limerick was the main focus.
It was a message that went down well with players as they attempted to arrest a worrying slide and when Niall McMorrow missed that late point chance for Dublin in the final round of Division 1A fixtures, Tipp secured the three-point victory needed to book a place in the quarter-finals.
It was the break that Tipp craved and O'Shea's touchline celebrations on the day mirrored his inner relief.
He admitted: "You're always waiting and hoping for it to turn, it's always a cause for concern.
"I don't blame people looking from the outside saying 'what's wrong, this is not going well'.
"From the inside I knew we were trying to do the right things. Some of the things I did and tried didn't come off, so I knew I was causing some of the stuff that was going on."
And O'Shea is steadfast in his belief that Tipp are a better side now than 12 months ago.
It's a view that will be put to the test by Munster champions Limerick on Sunday, but with the Shannonsiders travelling to Thurles, O'Shea is confident of a big performance from the hosts.
He added: "I'm happy that in the last 12 months we've managed to get some new players in, and those who came in last year are a year further down the road.
"I do believe our attitude is good and we're solid, and I believe we know what it takes to get where we want to get.
"Whether that's good enough to get us over the line against Limerick time will tell, I'll be judged on that. I do believe we have improved since last year."
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