Tipperary fret over possible O’Shea exit

Manager under increasing pressure due to academic and personal commitments

Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea, who received the backing from his players following the All-Ireland defeat by Kilkenny, urges his side forward. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea, who received the backing from his players following the All-Ireland defeat by Kilkenny, urges his side forward. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

There is mounting concern in Tipperary hurling that manager Eamon O’Shea may no longer be able to commit to the post.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s All-Ireland replay defeat by Kilkenny, O’Shea is believed to be considering his future because of the difficulties posed by combining work, family life and living in Galway with the demands of running a senior, inter-county team.

Although O’Shea’s initial 12-month appointment was extended by two years, the reality of the arrangement is that it is open to review by either party at the end of each year. The manager is expected to take a couple of weeks to think about whether he can continue, but all of the other stakeholders in the county, supporters, players and county board, are anxious that he continue.

Coach when Liam Sheedy’s management last brought home the All-Ireland in 2010, O’Shea returned to take up the reins two years ago and after a difficult 2013, registered a big improvement this year when the team came close to beating Kilkenny in the drawn final.

Sources in the county say, however, that the pressures involved in the manager’s juggling his various commitments were clearly visible this year. O’Shea is an economics professor in the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology in NUI Galway and leads research projects requiring his absence at times for overseas travel. These commitments contributed to his decision to step down almost immediately after the All-Ireland victory of 2010.

It was known that he found the diverse commitments a struggle this year and that even the extra three weeks eaten up by the gap between All-Ireland final and replay made inroads into the academic year, now under way, and created additional challenges in reconciling work and hurling involvement.

After coming so close to winning another All-Ireland, the view in the county is that O’Shea is needed to build on that achievement.

At the post-match dinner last Saturday, there was further anxiety created by the manager’s remarks that the occasion would be the last time this particular group would be together. But it is thought probable he was referring to the likelihood of retirements among the more senior players.

Should O’Shea decide to step down, it would be a devastating blow for Tipperary. His enthusiasm and ability have made him popular with the players and has helped to restore career trajectories for many of them.

In the light of expected retirements of stalwart players, such as former All-Ireland winning captain Eoin Kelly, Paul Curran and John O’Brien, there will be a major developmental aspect to the ongoing management, which again O’Shea is seen as ideal to oversee.

Exacerbating that loss would be the simple fact that the county has no obvious replacement. It is believed that the county board would be extremely anxious that he could give it another year so that a planned succession could be put in place.

County chairman Seán Nugent said that the players were adamant they would like the management to continue. “The players would be hugely supportive of Eamon O’Shea and the management team staying on. I got that message very clear. Eamon O’Shea was appointed as manager for the 2013 season on a one-year term.

“That’s all they wanted at the time, a one-year term. But at the end of the 2013 campaign, the matter had to come before the county board. Eamon O’Shea and his management team looked for two years and the county board approved that.”

Speaking on radio one of the players, Noel McGrath, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s hard to think ahead at the moment. But there’s a good group of players, there’s a good management and we hope that everyone will . . . come back and go again in 2015.”

The team nearly rounded off an impressive comeback through the All-Ireland qualifiers after losing the Munster final to Limerick in June, reminiscent of a similar run in 2010 to contest the All-Ireland final.

Despite playing well in a match that attracted widespread praise for the quality of play, Tipperary came up narrowly short in last weekend’s replay.

There was much local criticism of the team after the semi-final – Limerick’s first championship win in Thurles in more than 40 years – O’Shea masterminded an impressive comeback, which so nearly led to another All-Ireland victory.

McGrath felt that the team had been vindicated: “I think there’s a lot of people that we have proved wrong. A lot of people will be looking back on what they said about us during the year and will have to change their minds about the Tipperary team.”

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