Captain Callanan appreciates being allowed to play once again
By Shane Brophy
The one question people from outside the county love bringing up when discussing Tipperary as All Ireland champions is their failure to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup since 1964-65.
Well, it’s so long since Seamus Callanan lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup in the steps of the Hogan Stand in August 2019 that it doesn’t feel as if Tipperary are champions anymore.
So much water has passed under the bridge since then and for the Tipperary captain it is just great to be back hurling.
“It's a bit strange,” he admitted of building up to a belated championship.
“It feels like it's nearly Liam's (Sheedy) third season with us, as if this year is broken into two years.
“As any other year goes it's all to play for, I know it's a cliche or whatever. It seems so long ago that we won the All-Ireland final. It seems like a lifetime ago now, through the current circumstances.
“That's the end goal for everyone, to be in a position to do that (defend the All-Ireland title). For us, the step is to get to the Munster final, that's the concentration now. You always say if you can win your first match it gives you good momentum going into the rest of the championship.”
Normally training in Dr. Morris Park in Thurles at this time of the year would mean pre-season work and the hard slog of getting the stamina built up but this year it is altogether different and while the temperatures maybe lower, for Seamus Callanan and his teammates, it doesn’t feel any different to building up to a normal summer championship.
“It is obviously is a very different challenge but the way the year went you got a real hunger for hurling again during the summer,” he said.
“It’s great to be going into a championship now, especially with the way things are it gives you a good focus as well. It gives people something to talk about for the next number of weeks.
“Obviously, it is a completely different challenge, but it is just great to be playing.
“The safety of the players and the health of everyone around is by far more important than any hurling match but at the same time it is great for people to have something to look forward to as well.
“We are looking into the next six weeks where we are at Level 5 and it’s nice, even if I wasn’t playing a match, last weekend we had Clare and Limerick and it was great to watch that. There are a lot of different sports on with soccer and that so it’s great to have the games on. It’s a conversation starter during the week and hopefully will keep us going through this and cheer up some spirits around the place.
So does the Tipperary captain have any concerns personally about playing in a championship during a worldwide pandemic that has claimed almost two thousand lives in Ireland alone?
“For the time that is in it, everyone is doing their very best,” he stressed.
“I am very happy that our Tipperary set-up has taken every precaution possible to make sure it is all done seriously and that is the most important part of it because we all love playing sport but sport takes a back seat when something as serious as this is going on across the country.
“We are happy to play it once it is being done in a safe manner and we are taking every precaution to ensure we don’t get it or spread it. Once everyone is healthy and happy, we are happy to go ahead with it.”
So much has changed since last March, the last time Tipperary togged out in competitive action from a period when we didn’t think there would be any more hurling of any kind for the rest of the year, to having club games returning and a hugely successful championship in Tipperary, to now playing an inter-county championship behind closed doors.
“Having the couple of months off really made you appreciate what you have by playing sport and that hunger is keeping us going and is fuelling us into this stage of the year,” Callanan admitted.
“The championship is so short as well, you are looking at it over a seven week period if you stay winning games so that wets the appetite to put it all in for the time you are there.”
He added: “It might suit the likes of myself – coming in a bit slower! It’s a new challenge but we all love the summer hurling and the ball flying everywhere. The team that adapts best to it will probably come out on top. It is different because it will be a small bit slower and the ground is giving a little bit underneath you. Your hard work and will to win more than ever will really trump it. It’s a new challenge but it’s great.”
Tipperary, like all other teams, will have to adapt to many new realities in this championship to playing under floodlights, using a yellow ball, and playing in empty stadiums which Seamus Callanan says has both positives and negatives,
“It was probably a bit pleasant actually, you don't hear the lads giving out to you,” he joked.
“Actually it was very strange, I suppose if a point goes over the bar you kind of expect to hear some bit of noise about it, if a big hit goes in you expect to hear something.
In a way you nearly have to create your own atmosphere on the pitch, with your teammates.
“It is strange, you do miss it, supporters miss it, everyone does, but these are the circumstances that we're in. If we have to go without supporters to make it safe, and supporters can still see it on television, I know it's not the same, but once everyone keeps healthy... if we can do it for this year and hopefully next year will be better again, but these are the times we're living in. We don't really have much of a choice in this, so you have to put the head down and get on with it.
“I think anytime you can get to play in a Munster semi-final, if that can't motivate yourself, if a championship being played off in 6-7 weeks can't motivate you to really put it all in for that. At the end of the day your medal is going to be the same, whether it's a 2020 medal, it will mean the same, so your motivation comes from within as well and from the people around you, and wanting to do the best you can for Tipperary. So that will always be there, and if it's not there you're in the wrong place.”
As the oldest player in the panel at 32-years-old, Seamus Callanan is fully appreciative that there is a championship this year and admits the shortened championship is something they could well play into his and Tipperary’s favour.
“I'm glad the year is going ahead, but at the same time if it didn't, and once everyone was healthy and okay that's far more important,” he said.
“But I'm 32 years of age now as well, so it's different for maybe a 21-year-old losing a year compared to us at that age.
“I'm still enjoying hurling, still loving every second of it, I'm glad to be playing.
“You never really want a break when it's in the middle of the summer, I suppose. It was a strange time to get a break, but at the same time it probably did us no harm to get a break either.
“It's not your standard year, but it was nice to get back and be able to play with the club, they're usually kind of left until the end of the year. It was nice for the lads there to have championship and have their inter-county players around the panels for the whole summer as well, which meant a lot to the clubs. I enjoyed the club (championship) thoroughly.”
One thing Tipperary supporters will hope hasn’t changed since 2019 is Seamus Callanan’s goal-scoring touch, raising eight green flags in each of the eight games on route to the All-Ireland title.
“I don't know how it all happened,” he said.
“We just kind of got on a bit of a roll and it just kept going. Maybe that was the touch of luck that you need every year if you're going to win something. It's not something I'm conscious of, obviously my job as a forward is to score, but there's absolutely no pressure on my shoulders going into any game. I know what I want to do but you're not going to get a chance to do it every day. There's another team lining up there to stop you from scoring.
“If they happen, they happen, but I would be more than happy if someone else was getting the goals this year and we were still winning games. It doesn't matter to me. Once I can contribute in the best way possible for a Tipperary win hopefully, that's all I want to do. If I could sneak one or two along the way that would be great as well.”