IN ALL FAIRNESS - Callanan’s impact will endure
What more can you say about evaluating the impact Seamus Callanan had had on Tipperary hurling. For the entire time I have been with the Nenagh Guardian, the career of the Drom & Inch club man has gone hand in hand, right back to 2006 when he scored the winning point in an All-Ireland minor semi-final against Kilkenny. That subsequent All-Ireland final success spawned the great generation of players that would go onto win three senior All-Ireland titles, but it might not have happened but for Callanan’s late contribution that day at Croke Park.
While Callanan struggled to break into that Tipperary minor team under manager Liam Sheedy, you could see the potential, a big rangy forward with an eye for a score. These kind of players are gold at senior level and when Liam Sheedy assumed the mantle of senior manager just over twelve month later, Callanan was one of the first players from that minor group he brought into the fold.
The impact from Callanan was almost immediate, scoring three points from play off a player no less than Ronan Curran in his senior championship debut against Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 2008, a goal in the Munster final against Clare and another in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Waterford. What a first year to have!
A lot of Tipperary fans bring up the shoulder into the chest of Callanan by Jackie Tyrell in the 2009 All-Ireland Final but that was arguably a little payback from Kilkenny to Callanan for what they perceived was a big hit by the Tipp man which broke the shoulder of Brian Hogan in the classic league final in Thurles earlier in the year.
That challenge and indeed game set the tone for what this new Tipperary team were about under Liam Sheedy in his second year, there would be no stepping back and while Kilkenny won the battles that year, the platform was laid for Tipp to win the All-Ireland in 2010, Callanan playing a key role off the bench with two classy points as a second half substitute.
The remarkable thing about Seamus Callanan’s inter-county career is what it can almost be evenly divided into two halves. The first half from 2008 to 2013 was good, but from 2014 onwards was on another level altogether. It coincided with the return of Eamonn O’Shea to the fold as manager in 2013, although Callanan was still a peripheral figure to some extent in that first year.
However, something changed in that winter of 2013 when the new Seamus Callanan emerged. We first got a glimpse in it on one of those hurtful league games in Nowlan Park when Tipp hurled well but ended up losing 5-20 to 5-14, but that was the game Seamus Callanan came of age, scoring 3-6 from full-forward and was handed the free-taking responsibilities. Before our eyes he became a new player, no longer was he hurling under pressure with half an eye on the side-line, wondering would he be subbed off if not performing well.
From there he never looked back, with his 3-8 in the qualifier win over Galway in Thurles cementing his place as the leader of the attack and would score 9-50 in seven games in that campaign, including 2-12 in the two finals against Kilkenny when he arguably gave the great JJ Delaney his toughest ever examination.
Callanan wasn’t just a classy finisher, he was a tough son of a gun as he showed against Limerick in the 2015 Munster semi-final when he lost teeth for the cause, but still scored 2-5 in that win before one of his great individual performances in scoring 3-9, 3-4 play in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Galway when Tipp underperformed as a team.
However, the 2016 All-Ireland Final performance against Kilkenny will go down as one of the best individual performances ever when scoring thirteen points, with an incredible nine from play. It was as close to perfection as you will see in an All-Ireland Final as every touch turned into a score. The only let-down is how he didn’t win hurler of the year that year is still a mystery.
He finally got that deserved accolade in 2019 when he scored 8-18, with a goal in every championship game, culminating in the ultimate honour of lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup in the Hogan Stand.
However, one of my abiding memories of that campaign was the semi-final against Wexford when Tipp were beginning their revival with fourteen men, and Brendan Maher had just won a free and you can clearly see Callanan on the footage shouting, keep it going. It epitomised his leadership as a captain, a role few would have put him down for earlier in his career, but one he developed and grew into an outstanding leader.
While in recent years, he wasn’t the player he was in his peak, injuries playing a large part, it was great to see him go out on his own terms in 2023, including bringing his championship goals tally to 40 in the win over Offaly. That total, all from play, is a record that will take some beating and will ensure Seamus Callanan goes down as an all-time Tipperary and hurling great!