KILLINAN END - Callanan was a man for the big occasion
Séamus Callanan’s retirement brings down the curtain on a remarkably fruitful and prolific career. From the days as a young fast energetic centre-forward who scored a critical goal in the 2008 Munster Final to the veteran status of 2023 with much achievement already behind him he will stand the test of time in any company.
It was not a career without its ups and downs. Back in 2008 there was a freshness about Tipperary with the arrival of Liam Sheedy and an injection of new players, with the successful Minor teams of recent years beginning to bubble to the surface. Callanan was one of those and was just 19-years-old when a landmark win was achieved in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the Munster semi-final.
That was a far from straightforward affair with Cork on top early on but was what they call these days ‘a statement victory’. As events would transpire Cork were in decline, some of it self-inflicted, but whole aura of the county’s record in the Páirc still loomed large at that point. Likewise, Clare under Mike MacNamara in 2008 were still considered a threat based on the reputation that still lingered from their glory days. There was also at the time a sense that MacNamara would be able to wring extra fire and brimstone out of Clare. All seems rather quaint now in these days of I-pads and tactic boards.
Nonetheless Tipp were on a roll heading into that Munster Final with the Cork win confirming the form shown in an impressive League campaign. Callanan’s first-half goal helped Tipp to an eight point half-time lead, and he was one of three Drom players on the starting team along with Séamus Butler and Éamonn Buckley in a high-water mark for a small club.
A year later the team went a step further with Séamus Callanan welcomed to an All-Ireland final by a full frontal charge by Jackie Tyrrell who specialised in that area. It was a game which Tipperary were edging in general play for long periods and Callanan’s three points from play reflected this, as well as giving an early indication of his unrivalled potency from play. The save he brought from PJ Ryan early in the second-half would hardly have happened ten years later and might have sent the match beyond Kilkenny’s reach.
When Tipp did crack the Kilkenny puzzle a year later Séamus Callanan was a brilliant substitute. Two points from play - one after an exquisite first touch - pushed significant weight to the wheel when keeping 'scoreboard pressure' on the opponents. Yet, there was a sense of several false dawns in his career at that point. The abundance of talent was clear but quite how his skills could be maximised in a team context was another matter.
Perhaps the evening in Thurles against Galway when all looked lost as it rained goals at the wrong end was when it all fell into place. In a glorious twenty minutes period the Tipp forwards laid ruin to their opponents and the Drom man led the way. Many remember Callanan's 3-9 against Galway in the 2015 semi-final and the goals of 2019 but what of that night in 2014? He hit 3-8 against the Tribesmen that evening in the Stadium and scored more championship goals in 2014 than he managed even in that golden year five years on. Except for injury - and there were a few - he scarcely looked back after that.
He was not a man you wanted excavating dirty ball. Nor, for a tall man, was he particularly effective in the air, a knowledge which made his last appearance against Galway where he was fed high ball while outnumbered, a frustrating watch. He was unequaled in his areas of strength. No player exploited space better, and his impact was direct - no relying on being "influential" or bringing others into the game. Not of course, that the latter was beyond him as his pass to John O'Dwyer in 2019 final showed.
In full swing he was unplayable as Padraic Mannion found out in 2015. The Kilkenny full-back in 2016 had a thankless task but nine points from play in an All-Ireland final is an astonishing return. It's hard to imagine any other player has been as lethal on the big day – 3-20 from play in seven All-Ireland Final matches (all against Kilkenny as it happens) is a figure not easily dismissed.
The individual scores will live long in the memory. The goal to the top corner against Cork in 2014 in Croke Park; another on the run five years later against the same opposition after Niall O’Meara’s off-load. A particular favorite might be when he ran onto another Niall O’Meara pass in the semi-final against Wexford, torqued his body to get the sweetest strike off the ground past the goalkeeper. The necessity to rise that ball would have scuppered the chance. Never was an All-Ireland winning captaincy and Hurler of the Year award more deserved than in Séamus Callanan’s year. Hurling is indeed lucky that his many deeds are recorded for posterity.