Callanan bows out as an all-time Tipperary great
By Shane Brophy
The retirement of Seamus Callanan from the inter-county game after sixteen years provides an opportunity to finally reflect on his career and there is no doubting that he will go down as an all-time great according to his former manager, coach and friend Eamonn O’Shea.
“In the pantheon of Tipperary hurlers, I can go back to seeing players of the 60’s and hearing of the players of the 50’s, if there are better players than Seamus Callanan in terms of delivering, he deserves to be mentioned as one of the great Tipperary forwards,” he said.
“He was different. I saw Jimmy Doyle when I was younger, and he was a sticks-man par excellence. Watching Nicky English and then Eoin Kelly in their prime were different kinds of hurlers, going back to Liam Devaney too, he was an unbelievable hurler, but Seamus Callanan’s physicality and size, plus he had to fit into a style of play. “Eoin (Kelly) carried Tipperary for years in his younger days when he was the go-to guy before he then found a niche in a collective team as well.
“Callanan is under-estimated in my view as an outstanding player.”
O’Shea was name-checked specifically by Callanan in his retirement announcement as it was the Kilruane native who was key to the Drom & Inch clubman becoming the player he was, firstly as a novice nineteen-year-old when drafted onto the panel in late 2007, managing him when he came off age in 2014, and then being part of the 2019 success when Callanan skipped Tipp to All-Ireland glory.
So how does Eamonn O’Shea reflect on Callanan’s Tipperary career as a whole?
“Longevity is not to be underestimated,” O’Shea added.
“Anybody who stays that long is not going to have a perfect career.
“He started young, had his ups and downs, and yet stayed at it and learnt along the way and was keen to learn. There was an awful lot of development as a player and a person.”
Eamonn wouldn’t have known much about Seamus Callanan prior to him being brought into the panel for the 2008 campaign but saw enough in his potential in those early sessions.
“It was Liam (Sheedy) who identified him but what struck me when he first came in, he was a rangy hurler,” O’Shea recalls.
“He was striking the ball away from the body, so everything was stretched and lacked a bit of control, compared to the likes of Eoin Kelly who always had control. But by the end of his career Seamus was able to get a ball and strike it any way so he subtly changed from a rangy hurler to one that could operate in a congested space.”
From 2008 to 2013, Callanan’s contributions were good but from 2014 he went to a different level, coinciding with Eamonn O’Shea’s second involvement with Callanan, this time as manager.
“I felt that the more responsibility that Seamus Callanan had, the better he was going to become,” he revealed with Callanan give the responsibility on placed balls, as well as a surety of a position at full forward.
“What that gave to Seamus was, someone is now saying that they have confidence in me,” O’Shea added.
“From there we started to work a lot more on him in a particular position because we were losing key players as Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett were coming to an end, so I took the view we needed a new central player for the next four or five years and it was going to be Seamus.
“He began then, and lot of credit has to go to him, for how he began to talk about the game and enquire about the game. When a training session would be winding down and we’d do one-on-ones, in front of all the players he would want to show the rest of the players that I am working hard to be the best I can be and if you give me the ball you can trust me. That is not easy to do.”
In scoring forty championship goals, all from play, Seamus Callanan was a finisher of the highest quality.
“He was clinical across a range of strikes,” O’Shea added.
“He was quite clever putting a ball in the net by scuffing it in, or measuring it in, so the range of his shots was huge.
“He did a lot of work on the mentality of his execution of shots. He knew he had a responsibility and took it seriously. He knew why he was there (as a forward), and the players knew why he was there. He really worked hard on his responsibility as part of a collective team, so even though he scored forty championship goals, they were different goals in terms of being important goals, or ones that gave teams confidence, goals that kept us in games, goals that won games, so he knew his role.
“The goals he got against Galway in 2015 (All-Ireland semi-final) where we felt we could let it in high that day, he still had to catch them. That was Seamie Callanan saying, if that’s the way you want me to play today, I’ll get on the end of them, for the team. He had the instinct of a finisher but always in the context of how it fits into the pattern of how this team wants to play.
“He had other strengths, the pass he gave to Bubbles for his goal in the 2019 All-Ireland final, he gets the ball in the right corner, and he decided a goal was going to be scored there, it wasn’t going to be by him. Bubbles made the movement and slipped inside but Seamie still had to get the ball to him, and he put it into him on a plate for a finish.”
That year saw Callanan skipper Tipperary to All-Ireland glory, a role few would have seen him fitting into at the start of his career, but leadership was a trait he developed and became comfortable in, in the second part of his career.
“Post 2013, I would have seen that on the training pitch as much as anything else,” O’Shea said of his leadership characteristics.
“He was showing the rest of the players, I will prepare properly, I will work hard, I will take my punishment in a training match, I won’t go under.
“He never let standards slip and delivered that performance in the 2016 All-Ireland Final, then he realised that this is what I have been working towards. That was one of the most complete displays I have seen from him.”
That is something 2016 All-Ireland winning captain Brendan Maher agrees with.
“Nine points from play, you kind of felt like, every time he got the ball he was going to score. On the pitch, it was get the ball into him,” he recalls.
“I remember that day how relaxed he was in the lead-up to the game. I remember in the Gibson Hotel before our team-meeting he was asleep on a bean-bag, he was so relaxed and was ready to go and went onto do what he did.
“For me, that game, I have never seen anything like it in an All-Ireland and I don’t think I ever will.”
Across the divide in nearby Borrisoleigh, Brendan Maher would have known of Seamus Callanan at a young age through blitzes, then in their time in school at St Joseph’s College in Borrisoleigh where both would go onto play at minor level with Tipperary, winning an All-Ireland title in 2006, with Callanan’s winning point in the semi-final against Kilkenny propelling Tipp to the first of back-to-back titles in the grade, providing the platform for Tipp’s recovery at senior level in the coming years.
Big Game Player
“He was the big player for the big day,” Maher added.
“All of his best performances came on our biggest days which is a testament to him and that is enough in itself to say everything about him.”
Callanan is a year older than his contemporaries from those minor teams, including Maher, Padraic & Patrick Maher and Noel McGrath who all won second minor medals in 2007, so Callanan broke through onto the senior squad first in late 2007 after new manager Liam Sheedy seeing first hand in a club game hurling for Portroe against Drom & Inch the potential he had.
“The year he had in 2008 being so young, nineteen years of age, he drove it on for the rest of the younger lads to say we can do this as well”.
Callanan scored three points from play in his senior championship debut against Cork in 2018 in the cauldron of Pairc Ui Chaoimh and goaled in the Munster final win over Clare.
However, things didn’t always run smoothly and was unable to retain his place on the team in 2010, although making major contributions off the bench in the final against Kilkenny with two points, and that resilience is something that Brendan Maher feels is underestimated in evaluating his former team-mate.
“It wasn’t all straightforward for him,” Maher continues.
“He had his ups and downs, more than most at his level. That actually made him a better player and is why the belief he had in himself was challenged and when he got over that and showed he could do it, that is what made him unplayable and unstoppable, almost bullet proof.
“A big change was Eamonn (O’Shea) moving him to full-forward and more or less challenging him that it is now time to step up. Eoin Kelly was coming to an end, and Lar, and that was the moment for me where Eamonn passed the baton onto Seamie that you have to step up here, you are my main man, and show me what you can do. That encouragement, and also the challenge of it got Seamie going. He was like a man possessed, he was always good to prepare and train, but he took it to a new level from 2014 on, he was more focussed. You also started to see the leadership traits come out in him.”
He added: “People also don’t realise how much Seamie struggled and fought physically to get himself right. When I did by cruciate in 2018, Seamie was struggling big time with his lower back and hips. I did a lot of my rehab with Seamie so for him to get back, he had as much of a journey to get back as I had that year and to come back and have the year he did, scoring a goal a game, being hurler of the year, captain, it was dream stuff.”
Seamus Callanan Fact file
128 – Senior appearances
66 – Championship appearances
63-482 scores in League & Championship
40-226 Championship scores
3 - All-Ireland Senior titles (2010, 2016 & 2019)
1 – Hurler of the Year (2019)
4 - All-Stars (2014, 2015, 2016, 2019)
6 - Munster Senior titles (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016)
1 - National League (2008)
1 - Munster Under 21 title (2008)
1 - All-Ireland Minor (2006)