Séamus Callanan on the small changes that got Tipp back to the top
Hurler of the Year won the award after being nominated for it four times previously
Tipperary’s Séamus Callanan celebrates with the Liam McCarthy trophy. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Tipperary captain Séamus Callanan was revealed as the 2019 PwC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Year, voted by his fellow inter-county players. He has been one of the outstanding players of this decade and this year was the fourth in which he had been nominated as HOTY and his first award after a season in which he scored a goal in every match of the county’s progress to a 28th All-Ireland.
He spoke to the sponsors to mark the occasion.
Q: Séamus, what does it mean to you to be voted PwC All-Stars Hurler of the year for 2019?
It’s lovely, it’s fantastic, and I was delighted when I got the news. It just tops off what was a great year for Tipperary. It’s nice to be able to represent the panel that I played on throughout the year on nights like tonight. It’s something nice for Tipperary.
Q: Having been nominated three times previously, to win it at the fourth time of asking must make it that bit sweeter?
Ah yeah, it’s lovely. It’s always nice to be up in that bracket of conversation. To be nominated four times means you’re performing well and at a level that justifies you being in the mix for it. It is great.
Q: Is it all the more satisfying because it comes after a serious injury in your career. Did you ever worry after back surgery you would not get back to your very best?
I suppose after I got my back surgery you were always hopeful you’d get back to a level. But, you know, you were constantly battling a bit of pain too and trying to get back to that level. This time last year, to be back winning an All-Ireland Final and to win a Hurler of the Year, it might have seemed a distant dream. Look, it’s great to have done it now. Just to be here again back at this, and we have seven players who have All-Stars, it’s just been a great year and this tops it off too.
Q: Spectators don’t see what happens behind the scenes in terms of injury rehab and players fighting to get back to full fitness. You would have done a lot of gym-work and rehab with Brendan Maher at the end of last year. It does take a lot of effort behind the scenes to be able to perform at the highest level?
Yeah, the levels that inter-county hurling has gone to at this stage, it’s unbelievable really. The amount of collective training we do and the amount of individual work you have to do to be even able to train on a night with the collective group is unreal. So, I suppose, when you do get the rewards of it, you see Brendan Maher what he came back from, you know, and the shape he had himself in this year, I’ve never seen him in as good a shape after coming back from that injury. When you think about the extra hours that people like that had to put in to getting back at a level where they’re even able to play, never mind perform the way he has, it just really puts into perspective the commitment and the ambition and hard work that people do put in to get there.
Q: Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath would both have been in the converstation for this award. Paudie Maher had a great year too and so did Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher before his injury. As a group you have all campaigned together with Tipperary now for 11 seasons. What does it say about the group that you are all still performing at such a high level?
Yeah, it’s funny. During the League you would hear things like, ‘Ah, they’re an ageing team, the legs are gone’. Then I suppose you look around and you have myself, Brendan, Pádraic, and Noel of the older age-group picking up All-Stars tonight. I suppose after winning an All-Ireland Final and playing at a decent level all year, it shows that once you’re preparing right and once you’re doing the extra bits to keep your body in shape and be ready to perform, it doesn’t really matter what age you are.
I suppose the first thing anyone points to when you have a bad performance, which can happen to anyone at any age, is how many miles you might have on the clock. But once you feel good and once you’re doing all the work and you feel like you can contribute, then your age doesn’t really matter.
I’m just glad for everyone, really. I’m glad for the whole panel. We had a panel of 40 in Tipperary this year. It’s great that there are seven of us getting honoured with All-Stars, but there are another 33 guys there and without them none of this would be possible for any of us. We have very big panel but a hugely committed and disciplined panel too and, to a man, every one of them got Celtic Crosses this year and fully deserved. They put everything they had into Tipp hurling.
Q: It’s interesting that you and your fellow nominees for PwC Hurler of the Year, TJ Reid and Patrick Horgan, all made your Championship debuts in 2008. It backs up your suggestion that if you’re good enough you’re young enough.
It just shows how lads have to mind their bodies too, like. Age is only a number, but, at the end of the day, when you get to 30 or 31 you do have to do that little bit extra of recovery work. Because you do have miles on the clock compared to 21-year-olds coming through and that. And they’re the guys you’re going to be coming up against, really. You have to dedicate yourself to it.
Our S&C coach, Cairbre (Ó Cairealláin), came in this year and was excellent. He’d take us for individual sessions and constant mobility work and things like that which hugely benefited us. There’s a lot of credit goes to our physios, our doctors, our S&C, the whole set-up, really, like. I suppose having guys our age still being able to perform at that level, it’s a huge credit to the whole backroom team.
Q: Liam Sheedy put that backroom together. I’m sure all the players who previously worked under him were delighted to hear he was coming back as manager?
Yeah, well, you know we had Mick Ryan who had previously done a fantastic job with us for years. Liam came back then after winning in 2010 and that was a memory that people had of Liam. I suppose he put a tremendous backroom team around him as well and we’re very privileged and lucky as part of the Tipperary set-up to have the backroom team that we had this year. And we know that and we don’t take that for granted.
But, as well as that, the management had a buy-in from 40 players on the panel that I’ve never seen before. Everyone to a man just wanted to do his job for Tipperary. And whether that was on the field or off the field, they were ready to support the unit that was taking the field every weekend. Just really, really great guys and an absolute credit to their clubs and to their families. Without that...you talk about a jigsaw and the jigsaw is the players, it’s the panel, it’s the backroom team, it’s everyone. And without the collective, then you just wouldn’t have achieved what we have. It was huge.
Q: Was it all the more satisfying because of the way last year ended? Plenty of people doubted this group of Tipperary hurlers. Ger Loughnane said your generation had come to the end of the line and there was no way back. Is it nice to prove those doubters wrong?
Ah, sure, it is. But you’re going to have critics along the way no matter what you do. I’m sure that even after the year we’ve had, we’re still going to have some people that would still criticise some things we do or are trying to tell us we should be playing a certain way. Look, it’s not about answering critics or anything like that. It’s about trying to win medals for Tipperary and get Tipperary where we want the county to be in the game of hurling. We all play it because we love playing sport, but we also love representing our county and representing our clubs at county level.
You know, what people say about us doesn’t really matter outside of our backroom team and our panel. We have a very strong unit there and that’s the way you have to keep it. We’re all very lucky as well, we have great support systems from home as well that allow us to go and prepare as best as possible as we can. That’s huge. Having everything come together, that’s all that matters really. Any noise outside of that is pretty much irrelevant to what we’re trying to do.
Q: You were saying when we chatted earlier that as a player still in the process of trying to be successful in the future you don’t really take in your achievements fully as you go through your career. That’s probably a good sign because it means you still feel you have more to do?
Yeah, well, I think you’ll always feel like you’ll have more to do. Even when you retire you probably still feel you should have done this or that or you try to do more then in other aspects of life. But I just think that these are really special times as well. Don’t get me wrong, going back to Drom-Inch with the Cup and the homecoming in Thurles and walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand after winning the All-Ireland, they are memories that will live long in my mind. You know, those experiences have created a huge bond in our panel and we’ll always have that together.
I suppose the club championship happened the following week we were back and we were playing five or six weeks in a row and the focus changes too because the club guys are waiting all year for that to start and you want to go and win something with the people you grow up with too, like. The focus changes.
You’d love to stay in that bubble that was the week after the All-Ireland for a bit longer. But the way the club structure is, you can’t do that. You have to move on and you kind of move on to other goals. You’re not looking ahead to 2020, but you’re trying to get the most out of 2019 with a different group
Q: That moment when you as Tipperary captain with the Liam MacCarthy Cup in your hands were able to meet your family in the lower Hogan and share the day with them looked like something really special?
It was brilliant. My family are such a great support to me and to share moments like that, you’ll have them forever no matter what happens next year or the year after. You’ll always have those pictures at home and they’re special memories and it means a lot to the families of the players as well because they have to sit up in the stand when days are going badly and there’s maybe a lot of criticism. We get a chance to answer all that on the pitch, but they have to bite their tongue and say nothing and take it all. So it’s very special for them.
Since they were very young they’ve accommodated us by bringing us everywhere to all the club games when we were young. They have been there since. It’s special memories like that which mean so much because it’s been a journey for the players, but it’s been a journey for their families as well.
Q: Winning Hurler of the Year is probably as big a deal for them as it is for you?
Definitely, yeah. It’s very special, to be honest. Look, you have your team goals and they’ll always be your priority. But, look, to win an award like this, there’s no point saying anything else, it is huge. And it’s very special, you’ll always have it. But for your family as well the recognition means a lot. They’re obviously very proud of you anyway no matter what happens, whether you win these things or not, this is all bonus territory after winning the All-Ireland, basically. But it is very special and they’re very proud. They love their hurling as well and to be able to see me captain Tipperary and to win these awards is very special for them.