Clare setting the benchmark for the possession game Tipperary want to develop

Tipp boss Eamon O’Shea revealingly wants his players to ‘like the ball more’

The penultimate stage of the Allianz hurling league is part of this weekend’s sporting entertainment . It looked fairly likely from early on that Clare and Kilkenny were going to figure in the final four. Galway are Galway and, on occasion, did enough to see them through. Tipperary can count themselves lucky to be among the quartet and Dublin unlucky not to.

Waterford, after a strong enough start, faded and at times looked quite naive both on and off the field.

None of the 1B teams made the shortlist for Sunday and I suppose only Laois can genuinely say that they made progress this spring even though Cork achieved promotion.

But for now it’s all about Sunday and the extra, very important game as championship thoughts percolate to the surface.


The post-match quotes after the quarter finals were the usual mixture of cliché-loaded banality. (I was a purveyor myself once upon a time.) However one offering from Tipperary’s thoughtful manager Eamon O’ Shea stood out for me. Referring to the team’s spirit being there but not manifesting itself on the field of play often enough he said: “It was only a matter of time and when they learn to like the ball they’ll be better. They have to like it a little bit more for my liking!”

What an unusual description "when they learn to like the ball they'll be better". Eamon isn't a man for throwaway or unmeasured remarks so this has to be taken seriously.

Too obvious
What does the sentence actually mean? The obvious answer seems too obvious but if it's not as simple as that then what does he actually mean. Does every player not like the ball?

It reminds me a bit of English class in the North Mon in Cork in the early '70s when poetry was being discussed. Many of my generation learned off reams of poetry without understanding the meaning of half of it. In our Leaving Cert year (Limerick were the All-Ireland champs that September) we began to do a bit of analysis. I remember learning a few line of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem Xanadu which begins

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree :

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

There were all sorts of efforts at comprehension by us students. I’d say Coleridge would have had some laugh if he heard the efforts at understanding his beautiful (opium inspired apparently) creation.

In my teaching career there was a much greater emphasis in understanding poetry rather that aimlessly learning off lines. I often felt that many off the poets would be greatly surprised with the interpretation of their works. So apologies in advance to Eamon while I try at analyse his thoughts on “liking the ball”.

Should it be the goal of the forwards to get a good shot every time they have possession? Is it correct to say that good teams value every possession and look for a good shot every time?

Are turnovers the scourge of all players? Possession, over the past decade, has become so important .

So giving away possession often is anathema to winning it seems. Often players just want to use their athleticism and strength and play away, without worrying about losing the ball. As a result, too often a player is in too much of a hurry, and loses the ball. Coaches have to try and teach their players to value every possession. Am I making sense Eamon?

You want your players to be aggressive and attack, but there is a fine line between playing on the edge and slightly beyond it .The best players have control that looks effortless. They get the sliotar to hand quickly creating time and space. But getting players to that level is where it’s at really. Having the touch spot on creates confidence.

A confident player is a more relaxed player. On the training field if a coach focuses on his players' improvement rather than the results they achieve, it will have a tendency to instil confidence.

First touch
But is it really all down to good first touch and creating the time and space to set up something productive? Is that it Eamonn?

Are you trying to create a team of Messi-like players who seldom lose the ball,who play one- and two-touch hurling and hold on to it when there’s a chance to make something happen and who are more than happy to set up players who are in a better position than themselves.

But of course you need a team with a really high work ethic to play like this. I suppose that’s the bottom line really in today’s fast-paced game

But, just like the poetry, it's all about interpretation. In this instance though, the only opinions that count are those of the boss and his assistants Michael Ryan and Paudie O' Neill. On Sunday they'll need to have made some improvement because they are meeting a team who do like the ball. Clare are the best example of what Eamon O Shea is espousing. They like the ball.

Or maybe we're overcomplicating things. A tweet by Ray Boyne last (Palm) Sunday evening after Dublin footballers' second-half resurrection read "it's a simple game when you have great players in every position, no panic, win possession, move it to your shooters and score"

Oh that it were that simple.