For an alternative view of the original Hurling computer game, please visit the game’s official bebo site @: http://bebo.com/Bainisteoir-Hurling.
The emails have been really flowing in these past few days, and although we do read each and every one of them, there are unfortunately not enough hours in the day to reply to them all. So we put together a further list of Q & A’s, which we hope will respond to your current queries.
Q. Could you give me an insight into how the News (i.e. Inbox) Section works?
A. All the News stories have a knock-on effect, which affect the fans’, sponsors’ and team’s satisfaction/confidence levels in different ways. If any one of these stakeholder groups is neglected by the game-player and their approval rating drops below a certain point, the County Board will act upon their unhappiness and sack you from your managerial role.
Each News or ‘inbox’ story is very specifically written and the more intuitive game-player will be able to calculate the knock-on effects more accurately than the less talented player will.
Some inbox stories will be dealt with there and then by the player while other inbox stories will permeate their way through to the Media section.
Certain inbox stories will also instigate a knock-on effect, which bring related inbox stories into being. What’s more, some inbox stories are inter-related on different levels. Therefore, it is up to the gamer to analyse the overall situation as best he/she can and make the decision that suits his/her season best.
With these inbox stories, we really wanted each decision’s knock-on effects to be subtle, as this would best stimulate the game-player’s imagination.
In classic adventure/strategy game style, we wanted the player to have to search for ‘significant’ information. The typical game-player will imagine/strategise potential outcomes until he/she has deduced the situation faced.
We also didn’t want to curb the player’s imagination and answer/follow-up each story the following ‘week’ with another story that spelled out exactly what had previously happened. We wanted it to be like real life where you cannot always be fully sure what is going on in other peoples’ minds; we just felt that if we were to have done it any other way, the News Section would have become too predictable, not to mention slightly unrealistic.
Q. Is the match analysis statistics package in Pitch View Statistics a converted Opta Stats package?
A. No, it doesn’t actually touch on Opta but elements of Pro-Zone were taken into account when we designed it. However, the package’s greatest contribution would have come from hurling experts. One or two real-life managers have actually asked us if it would be possible to produce a version of this package, which would allow them to analyse their real-life teams’ performances. I suppose it’s the way Hurling has gone with inches now deciding the outcome of championship games.
Q. How do the half-time speeches work?
A. Based upon an intricate Group Dynamics framework model, these speeches work the exact same way as they do in real life. As summoning the best out of your players should be your target, you are highly likely to focus on emotions that they are likely to respond to. As a rule of thumb, you should factor in how the match is going and who you are playing against. Furthermore, you should note that certain players with certain personalities/morale levels are likely to respond more acutely to certain words than they will to others.
Q. Who would you recommend as a selector?
A. All of the selectors/coaches bring different attributes to the table but I feel as a rule of thumb that it is best to pick a selector/coach that complements your own abilities. For example, if you feel you are weak in a certain area, a selector/coach who is strong in this same area will help the panellists to improve, as his qualities will “kick in” in the game’s background once you have appointed him.
Q. Is there a rule in the real world that states an inter-county manager is only allowed to have a panel of 24 players?
A. The ruling on panel sizes did change back and forth whilst we were designing the game but for playability’s sake, we decided that each county should have a panel of 30 players, basing this judgement upon Jose Mourinho’s logic of having 2 champions competing for each position!!
Q. Will Underage/Club players be included in future versions?
A. Due to the grey area that currently surrounds image rights in Irish case law, we were unfortunately not in a position where we could include up-and-coming stars/club players in Bainisteoir – Hurling©. However, we are confident that these issues can be overcome and that future games will include such players.
Q. I found changing a training session’s content to be a little tricky, any advice?
A. When one alters the time of a training session etc, the outcome may seem a little complex at first but upon reflection, I think you will see the logic of the situation shining through. However, for the first time user, the best idea is probably to cancel all of the default training session routines and to plan your training session from scratch.
Q. Ross O’Carroll played for Dublin against Wexford recently but he isn’t on the Dublin panel in the game. Why is this?
A. Unlike in professional sports, GAA players are not under contract, which means that they are never guaranteed a spot on their County panel for a set period of time. Although the vast majority of today’s inter-county managers maintain rigid squads, it is always possible that one hurler will be dropped from a panel with someone else coming in to replace him. To have Bainisteoir – Hurling© available for sale in late June, the master copy had to be handed to our replication experts in early May. Throughout the 2007 NHL campaign, we continuously updated each squad to ensure Bainisteoir – Hurling’s database was wholly accurate. However, it was almost inevitable that certain players would be added to, and dropped from, their respective panels during this ‘closed window’. It was during this window that Ross O’Carroll was added to the Dublin Senior Hurling panel. However, if certain legal matters can be overcome, we hope to make available for download an updated database of all new panels (Dublin’s would obviously include Ross) once this year’s Championship concludes.
Q. Did you ever consider putting in a fictitious player generator like the one’s used in other games?
A. This was something that we seriously contemplated but after a lot of discussion, it was felt that having fictitious players would cause too much damage to the game’s realism. Furthermore, we really wanted to produce a game where the manager had to concentrate upon “coaching” the players at his/her disposal to improve, as is the case in real life hurling where the majority of squads are rigid.
However, we have an open mind on this issue and will take the opinions of fans upon this when it comes to including this feature in future games.
Q. Did you ever consider putting a “transfer market” into the game?
A. In Bainisteoir’s Research and Design Phase, we actually did contemplate it for a while, as it would obviously add a certain intrigue to the game but there could be no doubt that such a feature would kill its overall realism. Our overall aim was to replicate the inter-county scene as accurately as possible and introducing a transfer system would simply contradict the game’s goal. However, as every conceivable aspect of modern day Hurling is incorporated within, we feel that the game-player will definitely experience more than enough drama throughout the game’s course!
The first time you play Bainisteoir – Hurling©, it will obviously be with a degree of unfamiliarity. After all, its ‘world’ will be new and salient and it will pose both challenges and mystery. But once you adapt to the game’s conventions, it is pretty likely that you will lose yourself in its environment.
As is indicated in your opening News story, the panel of players you have inherited will not be in prime condition i.e. they are in pre-season mode. Because of such, it is advisable that you devise a training strategy that will develop your hurlers in the areas they need to improve in.
Each team in Bainisteoir – Hurling’s database has a history and a complex set of motivations, so you and your team’s desire to succeed must be considerably strong to defeat opposition sides of similar or greater ability!
As will be truly exemplified in the Media and News game sections, the different in-game hurlers possess different personality traits. These personality traits should be taken into account when you are decision-making. For example, a hurler of timid character may back down from a challenge, while an impulsive character’s mood will often change.
Each hurler in the game will also act in his own way, often depending upon his audience – for example, some are big day players, whereas others may not necessarily be. It is your job as the team’s manager to get to know the unique personalities that exist on your panel and strategise thereafter.
If a hurler has a ‘plan’ to execute (e.g. a point to prove/something to say), he will move to the ‘stage’ that will most likely permit him to carry out his plan, taking into account such factors as the presence or absence of other characters, and so forth.
E.g. In the Media section, the majority of the interviewed hurlers will take into account the likely emotional reaction of the listener (i.e. team’s manager, team’s fans, team’s sponsor, County Board, opposition stakeholders) before making known their feelings.
In other management simulations (particularly soccer ones), gamers often tend to view the match-day event in a fast-forwarded, highlights package mode. But as a Hurling manager must constantly make a large number of tactical alterations and be able to read the game’s ‘play’, it is highly recommended that you closely analyse every puck of the ball. Remember that every match in a Hurling season is a crucial one and that players often lose/find form in a five minute spell!
No two gamers will ever play Bainisteoir – Hurling© the same way, but it is worth mentioning that the most successful of the game’s play-testers spent between 50 and 100 hours before they won the Modern Season Competition mode.
In everyday life, we all repeat the same actions over and over again in an attempt to gain mastery. Because of such, Bainisteoir – Hurling© was designed to provide you with what is known as an ‘aesthetic of repetition’. In other words, one should learn and control by ‘repetitive rehearsal’ to overcome the overall challenge the game presents.
As a new gaming experience, it was essential that Bainisteoir – Hurling’s ‘world’ is of a size that can be fully explored. It cannot be stressed enough that the game was created to embrace every imaginable aspect of the GAA; it’s just that it was very important for the game to present its content to all first-time players in a logical, understandable format.
Bainisteoir – Hurling© offers a very high level of ‘social realism’ as the majority of elements in its ‘world’ conform identically to what a manager does in the real world of inter-county Hurling.
It is worth remembering that an alteration of the environment caused by you WILL be clearly perceived by the game’s other participants.
Bainisteoir – Hurling© would have sold the GAA-loving public short if Tailteann Games were to have taken the easy option and focussed on ‘perceptual immersion’ as opposed to ‘psychological immersion’. After all, a prop can only ever facilitate a story. It’s just that hotshot digital cinematography can never make a story immersive. What will make it immersive is a world where no territory is off-limits, where anything you see is fair game, and where all your actions have consequences. This is what Bainisteoir – Hurling© offers its players.
In addition, pioneering computer game academics such as Vassar College’s Alison McMahan maintain that the majority of computer game-players value games at a non-diegetic level i.e. at the level of devising a winning (or at least a spectacular) strategy. Once again, Bainisteoir – Hurling© provides all of its players with the tools to achieve this.
On a side issue, it may be worth remembering that lies and mistruths are often just as an important a component of drama as the truth is!
In conclusion, remember that the smallest, most insignificant looking thing is often the most important…and the closer you get to winning, the more you have to lose!
Tailteann Games receive a huge amount of enquiries from the public and always try to reply as soon as possible. Naturally, a lot of the same questions are asked, so we decided to put together a list of Questions and Answers (which are listed below in no particular order) to immediately respond to the majority of your queries.
Q. Who did you have in mind when you designed the game?
A. Pure and simple – it’s a game created by G.A.A fans for G.A.A fans. It has been designed in a logical, user-friendly manner that will allow everyone with basic literary skills to pitch their wits against the computer. We feel it is a game that everyone can play but one that not everyone can win (bar perhaps at difficulty level number 1). The greater your Hurling intelligence and instincts are, the more likely you are to succeed. I suppose it is like everything else in life, those who are good at it will really enjoy it while those who are unsuccessful at it will pick faults in it!!
Q. Is Bainisteoir like soccer management games in that you need to give it time to get into it?
A. It really does depend on your own personality and your own likes/dislikes. For example, some play-testers took a huge amount of time deciding upon which back-room staff members they would bring on board while other players are very keen to go straight to the match-day. What we can say is that the game is like real-life Hurling, in that it will increase in drama and intensity as the season progresses. It is also akin to other strategy games in that the more you invest in it; the more you are likely to get back in return. My personal recommendation is to explore the 32 County Single Elimination Tournament at Beginners level, as it is a nice way to introduce you to the game.
Q. How reactive is the game to my moves?
A. As Bainisteoir – Hurling© is a microcosm of human behaviour; it focuses on the relationship between you and your stakeholders, stakeholders including your individual players, your panel as a whole, your team’s fans, your County Board, your team’s sponsors, the media, opposition managers, opposition players and opposition teams. Every move you make in the game has a knock-on effect that is likely to affect a large number of these aforementioned stakeholders. The game-player will quickly see that Bainisteoir – Hurling© is very much a human story that will never be played the same way twice. Nigh on two years were spent play-testing Bainisteoir – Hurling© to ensure it fully works so rest assured that the game processes your every strategy. Indeed, we have good reason to believe that the game is one, if not the, most intricate and reactive piece(s) of software to be ever developed in Ireland, which is something we are very proud of.
Q. Where did you get the idea for Bainisteoir – Hurling?
A. The Bainisteoir – Hurling© project commenced in 2003 to ensure Tipperary would once again be capable of winning an All-Ireland title! All joking aside, I suppose like many a hurler it was blatantly obvious that we would never be able to play like Eoin Kelly or Henry Shefflin. However, like many a hurler on the ditch, we thought to ourselves that surely we could do a better job than the real life inter-county hurling managers do! So off we began to research the game and it was only then did we realise the exact detail that their job entails and just how difficult it is to succeed at the elite level.
Q. Who were the biggest influences on the game’s designers throughout the process?
A. To produce the game that the Hurling public deserve, the design team incorporated into Bainisteoir – Hurling© techniques and strategies employed by top Hurling, Gaelic Football, Rugby Union, American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Soccer managers. We also drew on inspiration from numerous business strategists, psychologists, strategic theorists, motivational speakers, dramatists, game designers, social commentators, authors, scientists, artists, musicians, athletes, philosophers, entrepreneurs, politicians, inventors and comedians, integrating their respective wisdom into Bainisteoir – Hurling’s design. A list of these individuals can be seen in the “All Credit” Section of the game’s manual.
However, we also had to show faith in our own judgement. As life-long GAA members and hurlers, we felt we had a good knowledge of Hurling to form the game’s base. But to further our understanding of Hurling management, we completed GAA coaching courses while we also trained underage Hurling teams at our local clubs. Furthermore, we have worked with a number of excellent hurling managers both on and off the field, while we based our postgraduate careers around producing a management game.
So as you can see, the development of Bainisteoir – Hurling© really was a hugely intricate process but based upon the feedback we have got from the sport’s top managers and players, we feel it was worth the effort.
Q. How did you research the players in the game?
A. Researching the database of hurlers became a bit of an obsession as we strove to capture every minute detail of every player as accurately as possible. However we must also state that as Hurling fans, we found this probably the most enjoyable aspect of the game’s design process!
Anyway, to accurately capture each player’s persona, we started our exploratory research by attending a great number of matches while we also conducted a huge degree of video analysis on the matter. Numerous articles by top GAA journalists including Enda McEvoy, Tom Humphries and Vincent Hogan were also examined to help devise individualised player profiles of the higher profile players. In the so-called “weaker counties”, articles by local journalists were of untold value as was first hand information that we received from these individuals themselves. GAA Chat-forums also played a part as we interacted with forum posters to learn even more about the game’s cast. We also received great assistance from Hurling Development Officers and from “Hurling” people in a number of different counties. However, to proof the game’s database, the aid we received from both top level managers and players really was invaluable to us, as it assured us that the game’s content was wholly accurate.
Q. How long did it take to enter each hurler into the game?
A. It took an average of 5 hours to craft and input each player’s personal details & unique statistics into the Bainisteoir – Hurling© database. As there are over 1,000 real life hurlers within, this was one of the more time-consuming aspects of the game’s design process.
Q. Did you draw on much from Championship Manager?
A. We have a huge respect for Sports Interactive Games and the quality of their work really is evident in their produce. However, we were anxious not to overly indulge ourselves in the Championship Manager series, as we didn’t want to become conditioned by it and then just produce a mere replica of it. After all, Soccer and Hurling are very different sports that have different cultures, so it was vitally important that we produced a standalone game and not an imitation of another simulation. It obviously has numerous features that Football Manager and Championship Manager both have but in the same vein, it also has numerous features that neither Football Manager nor Championship Manager have. Put simply, Bainisteoir – Hurling© was designed from an inter-county hurling manager’s point of view and from none other. To be honest, we would prefer if it is judged on its own merits and if it is not necessarily compared to CM/FM (and not just because they are long-established games with mind-blowing budgets behind them!!)
Q. Were you expecting more from the GAA-licensed Gaelic Football game that came out at Christmas 2005?
A. I can understand why people were disappointed with IR Gurus’ Gaelic Games: Football but in saying that, I don’t think the majority of the public had very realistic expectations of it. It was heavily criticised by many for being ten years behind the current generation of soccer favourites but the reality of the situation is that the developers of FIFA/Pro Evolution etc. have had a huge head start upon Gaelic Games: Football, not to mention having much larger budgets to work with.
I know it is not something that would play too heavily on the minds of consumers but IR Gurus could only afford to apportion so much of their budget to Gaelic Games: Football’s development as GAA games are more or less confined to the Irish market and have a very limited earnings potential. Without knowing their budget, I would be surprised if they could breakeven on the project if they were not to have charged a premium price on their game. It’s an unfortunate situation but the stagnancy in the Irish Games Industry for so long and the economics of game design (developmental costs in the industry are currently spiralling out of all control) mean if Gaelic Football fans want a good Action football game, they will probably have to keep patience with the likes of IR Gurus until they get it right.
Q. Is your game similar to Gaelic Games: Football?
A. To be honest, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Bainisteoir – Hurling© is a strategy game, which means it places an emphasis upon contemplation. It was designed to test the GAA public’s intuition and cognitive skills i.e. you think like an inter-county manager after becoming one. Like a good book, the more time you spend playing Bainisteoir – Hurling©, the more you will become involved in it.
Gaelic Games: Football was an Action game, so its emphasis was on more of an immediate sensual gratification, where colours and action attempt to arouse its player at every opportunity. I suppose if I were to summarise the differences between the two games, I would say that theirs is a graphic-based game with supporting text whereas ours is a text-based adventure with supporting graphics i.e. their game attempts to appeal to the eye, whereas our attempts to appeal to the mind.
Q. Would you see Bainisteoir as a rival to S.I.G.’s soccer management games?
A. We can understand why Bainisteoir – Hurling© is being compared to Championship Manager but we must admit that we are uncomfortable being pitched beside S.I.G. as we are very much David to they Golliath. To exemplify, S.I.G. sold over 5 MILLION copies of Championship Manager 4 and had over 2,500 people working on the project! Indeed, an analyst within the industry predicted that if Championship Manager’s sales were predominantly restricted to the Irish market (as Bainisteoir – Hurling’s are), they would have to charge approximately €7,500 a copy to keep the company’s ship on course!! I hate to say it but I doubt the GAA will ever be popular enough to allow us to establish a team as large as S.I.G’s, but God is good so you never know!! However, although we may not be able to match S.I.G. in terms of research power, we are very confident in our own firm’s innovation and creativity levels and believe we have something very unique to offer the Irish game-player.
Q. Is there a particular area I should focus upon to succeed in Bainisteoir – Hurling?
A. Right, here goes my big tip! Several outstanding managers were quizzed as to what “makes” an inter-county hurler, and they had but one answer – Training. As no transfer market exists in the GAA, they felt that the greatest challenge in the sport was working with a fixed squad and trying to develop them into the type of players they need to deliver success.
Each training session is where they get the chance to develop the hurlers at their disposal, where they try to rectify negatives in each individual’s “game”, indeed where they try to further improve each individual’s “game”. It is also where they can speak to the players on an individual basis, where they can implement both individual & team tactics and where they can liase with their backroom staff.
It really is impossible to underestimate what good “coaching” can achieve in the Hurling world. Therefore, we ensured that the Training Session game option would be extremely developed, which provides the game-player with the opportunity to achieve great things in the sport.
Q. Have Tailteann Games an interest in producing a Playstation Action Hurling game?
A. An Action Hurling game is certainly something we would love to try and develop. First and foremost, we would have to see if the technology is out there to do the extremely intricate sport of hurling justice. I must admit that I do have doubts about its’ feasibility because as great a sport as it is, hurling computer games are unfortunately a niche market that is more or less confined to Ireland, and that quality Action games take millions upon millions to develop. Therefore, unless there is a dramatic improvement in technology, it would be extremely difficult to develop a high quality Hurling Action game and come anywhere close to breaking-even upon it. But we can live in hope!
Q. Is the game all about getting training sessions and matches right?
A. While taking care of training sessions and matches are the most obvious duties of a Hurling manager, the sport has evolved so much in recent times that there are now a huge number of other critical issues that fall under their jurisdiction. The game challenges you to tackle the everyday dramas, human dilemmas and controversies that arise from interacting with not just your team’s fans, sponsors and back-room staff, but with the media, opposition managers, opposition teams as well as your own panel of players. The truth of the matter is a manager’s job is never complete in this game!
Q. Any tips on how to win the All-Ireland in Bainisteoir – Hurling!?
A. Read the manual thoroughly and then never stop thinking! It’s hard to describe just how reactive the game is to your moves, but trust us when we say that every decision you make has a knock-on effect. To exemplify, the most successful play-tester we had would often spend up to four hours on a training session the week before a big championship game!! That is not to say that level of thought will guarantee you success but it is unlikely to hurt your chances either!! A hurling genius may be able to win the championships in a rather short space of time but mere mortals can expect to put in a huge number of hours before they taste All-Ireland glory!
Q. Is it true that your background as a company is very similar to the guys who came up with Championship Manager?
A. Ya, I suppose we do have a similar beginning to S.I. Games in so far as we were both founded by sports fans who strove to produce as good a strategy game as we possibly could. It would be a dream come true if Bainisteoir – Hurling© does for us what the first Championship Manager did for Sports Interactive Games; i.e. provide the company with the launch-pad to provide even better management games from then on.
Q. How hard was it to design Bainisteoir – Hurling?
A. It is hard to convey just how difficult it was to develop Bainisteoir – Hurling©. The words “challenging, complicated, frustrating” certainly all come to mind when describing the game’s design process! It probably is just too complex a process to fully explain, it being not just a huge technical challenge but also a very artistic one. Without trying to big ourselves up too much, the game is one of the most intricate pieces of software to be ever developed in this country. Pound for pound, it is arguably as intellectually stimulating a game as there is currently on the market. All in all, we are really happy with the start we have made in the industry. But like an inter-county hurler in his debut season, we are still learning the whole time and know the experience we are gaining everyday will allow us to produce even better games in the future.
Q. In the past year or two, a lot of music fans have rejected the over-processed diet served up by many major labels in favour of something a little more homemade, which led to the emergence of the Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Cribs, Spinto Band and Nizlopi. Would you consider yourselves the computer game equivalents of these bands?
A. If you are comparing us to acts of such quality, we will gladly say yes!! I suppose in recent times a good few people have sought an alternative to the efficient but somewhat empty stuff that certain big labels are pushing. I would always hope that there is room in the entertainment industry for the underdog and it is great to know that many out there value something other than predictable, commercially motivated produce.
From the outset of the project, we promised ourselves we would maintain our independent status, as we were simply unwilling to “commercialise” the game as was requested by interested publishers. We just didn’t want Bainisteoir – Hurling© to be everything to everyone. Our stance will probably cost us in monetary terms, but generating as great a profit as possible is not what we are about. We just wanted to tell a unique Irish story, which is something no gamer has ever got the chance to experience.
These past few months, we at Tailteann Games have been asked by a huge number of the public as to how Bainisteoir – Hurling© plays. So to give you a taste of the game, please find a ‘diary’ written by a well-known hurler who was involved in the game’s play-testing phase.
The pressure was certainly on from Day 1. As a Clare native, I knew I, the first ‘outsider’ to ever manage the Tipperary Senior Hurling team, would have it all to do to endear myself to the Premier County public. As fate would have it, Tipp had drawn the Banner County in the first round of the Munster championship, which probably did its bit to further the unrest that surrounded my appointment. I can also appreciate that I wasn’t the big name the suffering supporters were looking for so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that my welcome was only lukewarm. Not that any of this bothered me, I wasn’t here to win popularity contests; I was here to restore the self-titled ‘Home of Hurling’ back to their winning ways. The Tipp County Board had come in for a good bit of slack after my appointment but in fairness to them, they stood by their man. They even let me sit in on negotiations with different potential sponsors as we together brokered a very satisfactory deal, which would go towards my season’s budget. However, I knew from the demeanour (and indeed the generosity) of the sponsors that they had no intention of backing a loser, and that if I couldn’t deliver success, someone else would get the opportunity to do it. However, I also knew that if I lived in fear, I would never succeed at this level so on I simply got with the job.
As I now had a very healthy budget at my disposal, I could start to put my back-room team in place. No man is an island and I knew to compete at Hurling’s top level that I would need a top quality coach. Possessing a vision of how I wanted my team to play, I felt it was essential that I employed an individual whose Hurling beliefs either corresponded with, or complemented, my philosophy. I must admit that I was in the very fortunate position where there were a number of excellent coaches available at that moment in time, but alas, none of these good ones came cheap. I had no problem in splashing the cash if I felt I would genuinely be getting value for money but I also appreciated that there was no point in hiring a great coach if he was not the type of individual that the players would respond to. I had plenty to occupy my thoughts.
Realising that I had numerous forwards who were capable of playing an ‘expansive game’, a coach who could train players both to find space and to make off-the-ball runs was obviously going to be of use to me. Furthermore, an ex-hurler with a good management track record was also something that very much appealed to me. Knowing my weaknesses, I accept that I am capable of being a little bit abrasive at times so a good personal communicator could act as my ideal foil. After much thought, it had become obvious to me that one candidate was more suitable than all of the rest so I was really delighted when Declan Corrigan, a coach of the aforementioned gifts, agreed to join the Tipperary back room staff.
In recent times, I believe Tipp’s defence has perhaps lacked in structure and in confidence but definitely not in talent. It was for this reason above all others that Owen Stapleton was employed as my selector. Recognised throughout the Hurling world as one of the game’s outstanding defensive co-ordinators, I really believed his appointment would be of huge benefit to not just the backs, but to the entire squad.
Before I completed my full-time back room staff, I researched what the different available physios could do for my players. Understanding what I now wanted from such a professional, I was delighted to add Johnson McIntyre to my support staff. A first class honours graduate, a man whose injury prevention techniques have revolutionised the field, a man who is the preferred choice of many a world class athlete; I felt bringing McIntyre on board would show my panel that they were getting the best so that they could become the best.
With my back room team now in place, I couldn’t wait to meet the panel of players to pass on to them my philosophy on the game. I, like many cocky fans within the County, am a firm believer that Tipp have a squad that can compete with anyone in the sport. But if they are so good, why are they not winning All-Irelands, I hear ye ask? Well, it is my opinion that they were not fulfilling their considerable potential because they lacked both leadership and direction. So no prizes for guessing what I intended to infuse into the squad! But my immediate aim was to lay down a marker with my first training session, which I had fixed for the first of January. And with the gruelling session I had planned, I hoped for the players’ sake that they would not over-indulge themselves on New Years Eve!
When I arrived at my first scheduled training session, I felt such a buzz to have great hurlers like Eamon Corcoran, Brendan Cummins, Paul Curran and Eoin Kelly hanging on my every word. However, I did not instantly recognise all of the players present, as I must admit that I am not overly familiar with the Tipperary Hurling club scene. So imagine my delight when I received a stats file on each panel member, which included their height, weight, age, favoured striking side, club, position, favoured position, personality type, current morale level, style of play, fans rating and sponsors rating. What’s more, a hugely detailed list of current on-field attributes, a hugely detailed list of current tactical attributes and a specific Hurling biography on each player were all provided for my benefit. Upon meeting the players, I could see that their general attitude, their morale and their confidence were at the high level I had hoped they would be at. Both a suspension and injury free squad were further bonuses.
But before I could get carried away with my thoughts upon dominating the Hurling world, the harsh realities of the job struck me. To begin with, the stamina levels of too many of the players were totally unacceptable when one considered that the League, a competition we would be taking very seriously, was less than 2 months away. On the spot, I knew that quite a number of these players were going to have to train separately as a group, which meant having their schedules customised so that extra cardiovascular and gym work could be put in. To further improve these desperately unfit players’ situation, I immediately advised them as to what they now could and couldn’t eat. On a separate issue, I would be lying if I said anything other than I was disappointed with the majority of the squad’s ball control levels. Obviously, the players in question had not spent their Christmas holidays Hurling in ball alleys!
There were certain areas such as their striking, their accuracy and their speed levels that I was not overly worried about, as I knew time was on our side to improve these. After watching a number of videos of recent Tipp matches, there were several other aspects of the team’s overall play that I knew I would have to develop such as their aerial game. But doing all of that was not high on tonight’s ‘To Do’ list; tonight was about pushing these players to their physical limits to see what they were made of, while I also had hopes that from the torture, a true leader would emerge.
As all of the lads were now togged out and ready to go, we started into the session. Feeling that a full 15 minutes was necessary to adequately warm up the players, I allocated that amount of time to the task. After the players had completed two laps of the field, I ensured that they conducted stretching upon their upper and lower legs, upon their shoulders and upon their backs. They were going to need it, as an hour and forty minutes of high intensity stamina training lay ahead of them!
However, on this same night, I wanted to give the panel an indication of what style of play I would be bringing to the set-up. Therefore, I gave the players a broad description of the Hurling strategy we would employ for the coming year. Here, I told the panel how often I want them to play the ball on the ground and how often I would like them to take it into their hand. When they do take it into their hand, I told them to what extent I want them to strike, to solo, to shoot and to pass. Of course, I didn’t want to limit their ability to improvise but I think that stating all of this ‘from the off’ helped to give them a real indication of how I wanted them to play the game. I then conducted some ball drills (including the ‘control-pass-move line’ drill, which I feel it is the key to developing a passing styled game) with the panel so all would get an idea of exactly how I wanted these drills to be executed. Finally, I told the players that I would be employing man-management techniques and that each player would be coached to play a specific role within the team once I had a better feel for them.
Having spent the thirty minutes I wanted to on this tactical aspect of the night’s training session, it was now time to get down to ‘the test’, which comprised of 1 hour and 40 minutes of gruelling stamina work. I knew it was too early in the season for the boys to be able to train at their maximum capacity but by no means did that mean I would go easy on them. Lap after arduous lap of the field were first conducted, which was followed by an abundance of sprint work. Having a training ground gym allowed all of the players to be put through their paces on the treadmill, on the exercise bike and on the rowing machine. There was no letting up on the free weights either as each player was put on a regime that focussed upon their shoulders, their lower back, their arms and their legs. As the night’s stamina work neared its conclusion, I knew that there was not one squad member out there who wasn’t suffering. To be honest, no man could sustain such punishment on a regular basis, but this persecution was a once off; a ‘test’ to see who would go through the metaphorical brick wall to bring glory back to their County and its people.
After the 100 minutes of hurt had elapsed, I warmed the boys down with a couple of slow laps of the field in addition to a lot of stretching. I also asked Johnson to give each player as much physio attention as was needed once we had finished up. These boys were going to be beyond sore and his healing powers were going to be key to a quick recovery.
When the lads had arrived back into the dressing room, I spoke to them about dietary requirements and that under my stewardship; they were going to have to strictly adhere to a controlled diet. I knew my demands could upset several of the panel as many top class hurlers feel that their diet should not be strictly controlled, as after all, they are mature adults. In fairness to those players, I can see their point but the line between success and failure at inter-county level is so fine that I don’t believe you can afford to leave anything to chance. Therefore, I told them that from now on, they would be eating from a high-carbohydrate menu. What’s more, I recommended every player to start a dose of cod liver oil tablets and multi-vitamin tablets.
My first training session was complete and the time had come to put my analytical hat on to study the players’ different reactions to it; and I must say I was far from impressed with what I observed. It was not hard to notice that the players’ overall confidence in me had deteriorated from the training’s start to finish, but why was this the case? Maybe they feared that I was the type of manager who adopts a very physical approach to training. If that was their attitude, I could slightly understand it, as I wouldn’t fancy training like that every second day either. My mind started to wonder. Maybe some of the backs felt there was not enough time spent upon defensive drills. Perhaps some of the ‘glamour-boy’ forwards were unhappy that too little time had been devoted to stick-work and shooting practice. I’m sure that both Stapleton and Corrigan would have liked to spend more time with the players too. During the session, I know that Corrigan disagreed with some of my approaches and I am open-minded enough to admit that he was in fact right when he said that I was not allocating enough finances to conduct a modern-day training session. This was the first time I had ever worked with Corrigan and I was really impressed with his knowledge of the game. By and large, the advice he provided on each player was very accurate and he definitely wasn’t afraid to put his points across to me.
I continued to soul-search in an effort to discover the reason why the players had hardened their attitudes towards me. I know I wasn’t exactly the ‘big name’ they were eager for but I was hoping that I would not be too harshly judged upon one meagre training session. Whatever the reason was, the majority of the players’ morale had visibly plummeted; although I was starting to think that I might have over-estimated how high it was before the session had started.
Which or whether, I had made up my mind that I was going to live and die by my methods. I had a plan, haphazard in no way was it, and I would stick to it. If I were to look on the bright side of life, the players were both fitter and faster because of the session. Plus any deterioration in areas such as striking, shooting and ball control could easily be rectified.
Looking on further positives, I had found my captain. Prior to this training session, I had never actually met Eoin Kelly but like all genuine Hurling people, I was a huge admirer of not just his unearthly skill levels but also of his ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck. Being an inter-county captain can be a daunting task but I felt Kelly had the personality to be a great one, with he being an approachable kind of guy who could capably communicate with me, with his fellow players and with the press (which is so important in this day and age.) What’s more, he is a huge favourite of the fans while my business contacts assured me that he is also a sponsors dream. In addition, I don’t think a captain can be an injury prone individual who is as often on the treatment table as he is on the match-day team-sheet. Thankfully, Kelly cannot be described as an injury prone individual. But what I really liked about him was that he came off the training field with his morale higher than he went on it. He carried out all of this demanding training session without a single moan and after it; I could visibly see that his overall confidence in both himself and me had improved. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was the right man for the job but I knew that in choosing him, I would upset the County Board, as I would be disregarding the old tradition where the captaincy is awarded to a player from the current County Senior club champions.
With Hurling being a religion in the County, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of fans had turned up for our first training session. From what I gathered, I don’t think they were overly impressed with what they saw either, but then again fans want to see action, action, action so it was no shock to me that they were in such form. Anyway, I can live without their love and one can be sure that I will perform my role as I see fit. Having made arrangements for our next get-together, off home I went from my first days training session.
The following day, I checked up to see how all of the boys were feeling and much to my dismay, Ryan O’Dwyer and Willie Ryan had both suffered hip injuries. After consulting with Johnson as to the severity of their injuries, I learned that Willie would be out of the game for 5 weeks while Ryan would not return to action for a massive 9 weeks. I was not just disappointed but surprised that the boys had suffered these injuries as we had carried out appropriate warm up and warm down exercises. I’m also sure that Johnson, an expert in injury prevention techniques, would have already explained these methods of his to the squad. Which or whether, the fact of the matter was that the duo were now injured. Then, a thought struck me. Maybe the players had found that their ‘pre-season bodies’ could not sustain the level of training I put them through and that they could have suffered serious injuries because of it. So perhaps my plan to lay down the law on Day 1 wasn’t exactly the best way to go but you can only learn from your mistakes. In any case, the players would be relieved to hear that I had no intention of conducting a similar training session in the near future.
One of the joys of working at this level of Hurling is the numerous pages of exhaustive stats that I am constantly provided with. With the help of such information, I could see from as early as the very first training session exactly how my players were developing. In my one and only training session to date, I had put little time into conducting defensive drills so I was delighted to see that players like Benny Dunne and Pa Burke had not just picked up some tips but that they were willing to learn. In particular, I could see that Pa Burke was keen to make an impression upon me as his aerial play had also improved despite my session concentrating upon this aspect for no more than a few minutes.
I was also starting to get a better feel for not just the players’ different on-field abilities but for their different personalities. Because of such, I now had a much better idea of how to communicate with each player. Indeed, for future reference, I was now making mental notes as to who would benefit from tongue-lashings, who from putting my arm around their shoulder, who from a mentor speech and who from being cajoled.
Perhaps I had been guilty of entering this job with my eyes half closed, as I couldn’t believe the amount of off-field incidents that I would have to deal with. I was not two days in the job when I was informed that a so-called Tipp fan had posted some libellous comments about my family on an on-line Hurling chat-room. Obviously, I was disgusted with these happenings and sure, I could have resigned from my post in order to protect my loved ones from further abuse; but after much deliberation, I felt I would only be giving in to this mindless idiot’s wants if I were to leave the job.
Another aspect of the job that I was not entirely prepared for was having to deal with the media. I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the level of media interest that surrounds Tipp Hurling; after all they are not just one of the game’s traditional powers but one of the most enigmatic and interesting teams on the scene. Anyway, I had accepted an invitation to be interviewed by a certain journalist, to whose prejudices I was ignorant of. Before I conducted the interview, I was thankfully tipped off that he may be less than amiable as in the past, the paper he writes for were harsh in their words about Tipp Hurling. With this in mind, I gathered my thoughts until I had a clear idea of what I was going to say. Been inexperienced in such matters, I decided to keep the interview nice and simple. However, that is not to say that I was not going to pass up on this opportunity to ‘big up’ the players; as I now had a great medium to give them a psychological boost and to show them I was really appreciative of their abilities. Therefore, I based the interview upon praising the players’ talent. Pleasantly surprised with the way this journalist conducted himself throughout the interview, I gave him permission to interview my new team captain, Eoin Kelly, and Paul Ormonde. When the local newspaper asked me if they could interview Paul Kelly, I gave them two thumbs up, as I was anxious to get such a vital stakeholder onside.
I made a decision not to put a press ban on anyone until I was more aware of each individual’s ability to cope with the media. In the coming weeks and months, maybe I would choose to restrict a few of them from doing interviews as reliable sources told me that some of the journalists out there are not to be trusted. I suppose only through experience will I learn which journalists are honourable and which ones are not.
Next up on my schedule was the training session that would define my reign as the Tipp manager. This time, I took each player aside and in great detail, I described to him the individual role I expected him to perform. For example, I called Micheal Webster to one side and described to him the game I wanted him to play. In my view, this player is an excellent ball winning forward and with the likes of Eoin Kelly feeding off him, I see him as an integral part of the team. So to begin with, I told Webster that I expected him to take at least 90% of the ball that comes his way into his hand. When such “ball” was secured, I told him that his priority should be to try and find a co-forward with a pass. Indeed, I let him know that he would be doing his job well if he passes it around over half of the time that he is in possession. However, I still wanted him to be relatively unpredictable so I said that he should never be afraid to have a shot himself. I then informed him that I didn’t mind him taking a few steps with the ball in order to make space for himself but that I wouldn’t agree with him soloing with it much.
I really do believe that teams should train together as one but with Webster playing such a different ‘game’ to the rest of the forwards; I felt the need to customise his training regime. As an aerial ball-winner, I felt the need for him to concentrate on both his fielding and his passing skills. However, I don’t think a forward can survive at inter-county level without having a great first touch or an ability to finish, and Webster was no exception. Therefore, his regime was constructed in a way that would help to develop these skills. I also told him that he was going to have to spend a lot of time in the gym to ensure that he remained unrivalled in the air. Furthermore, I told him not to worry about developing his ground Hurling or his ability to solo, as I didn’t want him playing a game where these skills were to its fore. All in all, I had spent a considerable amount of time discussing these tactics with him, so I was pleased when he told Coach Corrigan that he appreciated it. I continued to advise all of the panel members in a similar manner in an effort to preach to them my Hurling beliefs.
After conducting this training session, there definitely was a much better atmosphere within the squad. Team Confidence had improved (if only marginally) while the different ball skills that I had the players executing were definitely helping them to improve in the areas I wanted them to. But I would be fooling nobody bar myself if I said that I had secured the panel’s respect; certain players still weren’t looking entirely satisfied with the set-up. I knew I had to earn the trust of these aloof players but this was something I was convinced I could do.
I couldn’t wait to get a proper run-out with my boys so looking forward was I to my next team event, which was a practice game versus Derry in Thurles. This was a fixture that had been pre-arranged prior to my arrival. I had been given the option of cancelling it and fixing another game against a different side if I so wished. But Derry suited me just fine; as this game would give me a chance to see the lads up close and personal against a team who we were not going to be facing in the League. Indeed, even though we were only starting up for the year, this game afforded me the chance to try a few things and still come away with the win. I would describe myself as a meticulous manager so prior to Saturday, I analysed the Derry panel of players, studying not just what positions they played but who their big players were. However, I was not going to overdo it for two reasons; 1) I felt they were not a team to fear, and 2) We would not have to adapt our style of play to overcome them.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve a real idea of how we will play and to implement my game-plan, I will have to choose the players who can best play that system. Due to restrictions placed by the Governing Body upon match-day squad sizes, a few panel members would not get to tog out on this occasion. I quickly underlined all of these players’ importance to the squad, a move that was appreciated by the majority of the omitted. It was really hard to exclude one or two of these players, as they have been so likeable so far but unfortunately sentimentality has no place in this job.
As the majority of my squad members were available for selection (all bar Ryan O’Dwyer and Willie Ryan), I decided to play as strong a team as I could. At the beginning of the season, one is always keen to get off to a winning start as it lays a good foundation for the remainder of the year. Therefore, I sent out the following line-up to take on Derry:
Micheal Webster and
I do not feel the need to justify my selection, as all of these guys are undeniably excellent hurlers in their own right. However, I will state that unlucky to only make the subs bench were Gerry Kennedy, Conor O’Mahoney, Shane Maher, Hugh Maloney, Lar Corbett and Darragh Egan. Prior to the game, I was given a handout of the Derry match-day panel but it was something that neither worried nor interested me to any great extent. With all due respect to the Oak Leaf County hurlers, if we were to go anywhere this year, we would have to blow them out of the water regardless of who they had playing. Unsurprisingly for the fourteenth day of January, it was wet outside but thankfully, if any field could ‘take it’, Thurles could. I was also more than satisfied to have Sean McMathunaigh ‘refing’ the match; however, I still warned my players to show ice-cool temperaments as I felt Derry may try to play a physical kind of game. Pre-game, I also asked my players to show a positive mental attitude, as every game from now until summer is an opportunity to stake a claim for inclusion in my championship team. In my motivational speech, I focussed upon been mentally prepared for the upcoming game, upon been ambitious (as Tipp hurlers have no alternative but to win every game they play) and upon showing character as this is something I feel that we must have in abundance. I also took the opportunity to reiterate the game-plan I had begun to develop in training, which was based around passing the ball to each other. Last but definitely not least, I asked the players to demonstrate both cavalier attacking play and off-the-ball movement.
My next duty was to inform the team of the tactics we would employ; I like my goalkeeper to puck the ball ‘long’ and after selecting a physically strong half forward line, I knew I had great aerial options available to me. Therefore, I told Brendan Cummins to initially puck the ball both high and long to our right wing forward, John O’Brien. Moving on to my full back line, I told them that they were excused from our passing game and that they should simply play it safe by distributing the sliotar long to the midfield (and if possible to the half forward) area. However, I had different expectations of my two wing backs and therefore I asked these two skilful players to distribute low, cross-field balls at every possible opportunity. As for my centre half back, Diarmuid Fitzgerald, I told him that the high ball straight to Webster was the one I would most like him to deliver. At midfield, I had selected 2 slick moving, ‘hands’ hurlers and although in training I mentioned to them that they should be unafraid to have a shot, I made it clear that their main objective was to deliver high quality ball to the team’s forward division. And with Eoin Kelly inside, it would be foolish not to find him with a huge degree of regularity. The three individuals in my half forward line are not just excellent ball winners but excellent finishers. Because of such, I would expect them to have a shot at the target whenever a good chance came their respective ways. Nonetheless, I did not want them to simply shoot-on-sight so I gave them specific instructions as to who, and to where, they should pass the ball. Moving on to the full forward line, I view Webster as an entirely different hurler to the rest of my forwards. In the previous training session, I had already instructed him on the specific role I wanted him to play for the team. If he could perform his role as I envisaged, how two excellent finishers like Kelly and Butler would benefit from his generosity. Finally, I told the lads to take their points and that the goals would come before appointing Eamon Corcoran as the backs’ free-taker. I also let it be known that Eoin Kelly would be responsible for converting any close-range frees/penalties that were awarded to our team. Happy that we were now ready for action, I let the players hit the field and once all were ready, the game began.
As I had predicted, Derry were quick to impose themselves on the game with some hot-blooded pulling. But Danny O’Hanlon gave an early indication that he was not going to be bullied by anyone while another hardy hurler, Micheal Webster received a yellow card before either side had even managed to register a score. Normally, I would not tolerate indiscipline from my troops but if a player acts in self-defence, as I believe Webster did, I would not condemn him for his actions. Having responded to their physical play, the lads could get down to playing some good Hurling. In these early minutes, the forwards played around some ‘nice ball’ to each other but I should not have been surprised at having to witness a little rustiness in their finishing. However, this was nothing I was overly concerned about as shooting practice on the training ground was something I was planning to conduct on a regular basis.
As the half took shape, I realised just how privileged I was to get the chance to work with such a talented group of players. One particular piece of play exemplified their genius: first of all, John O’Brien used his hurley to bounce the ball off the ground and into his hand before delivering a 70 metre cross-field pass to an unmarked Tony Scroope. After controlling the ball with an immaculate first touch, Scroope feigned to go one way before going the other. Now bearing down on the Derry goals, he delivered a wonderful no-look hand-pass to Seamus Butler who in turn, threw a great dummy hand pass, which bought him the time to put over a magnificent point.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had taken Eoin Kelly a while to settle into his role as team captain, especially as my decision to hand him the ‘armband’ was a controversial one. However, he was turning out to be everything I wanted in a skipper, as he was eager, unselfish and always willing to take on responsibility. Nonetheless, I realise that because Eoin is one of the top score-getters in the game, he will always be judged upon his personal scoring tallies. During this half, his short-range free-taking was perhaps not up to his usual very high standard but how he made up for it by burying two penalties before the break.
As I watched the half unfold, I realised that I was blessed to have hurlers in the backs that are every bit as skilful as those in the forwards. For example, it would take no Hurling expert to recognise that Benny Dunne’s ball skills are extremely developed. What’s more, I could already see that Paul Curran was a real leader amongst the backs and that Paul Ormonde lacks nothing in tenacity. And as I could access up-to-the-second player, team, scoring and match statistics, I could make judgements on the match facts and not just on my presumptions/instincts.
Indeed, it was from a quick glance at our link-up play stats that I realised our puck-outs had become predictable, as the opposition had cleverly begun to crowd out our target-man. To rectify the situation, I told Cummins of the need to vary the re-starts, which he then did to great effect. I must say I was delighted with the hunger the players showed in this half as they were nigh on always first to the breaking ball. On the other hand, I could see that our striking was clearly not up to scratch; so into my note-book I jotted down that our next training session needed to include a segment upon clean, crisp striking.
The half-time score of 3-7 to 0-2 was one I was relatively pleased with. It was only when we were heading for the dressing rooms that I noticed that the TV cameras were covering the match. It just goes to show how much interest there is in Tipp Hurling that a mere practice match on a wet January day was deemed attractive enough to be televised. Having access to a hand-held TV, I found the half time analysis that the studio guests provided to be a very interesting one. These analysts were surprised that I had afforded Derry’s no.11, John O’Dwyer so much leeway in the half that had just passed. I had a feeling that O’Dwyer, a Tipp native, might have been up for this one alright! However, I was not going to make any drastic moves on the back of these ‘experts’ comments. My number six, Diarmuid Fitzgerald has already proved himself in championship Hurling to be a player of real substance and I am going to give him every chance to settle into the pivotal centre half back position. In fairness to the analysts, their comments upon our style of play, our scorers, our leaders and our best performers were very incisive and it was likely that they did know their Hurling. Anyway, it was high time that I got back to the lads so I quickly turned off the TV and headed into the dressing room. Respecting the motivational skills of my selector, Owen Stapleton, I asked him to deliver a speech that would see us ‘up’ our game in the second half. However, I was keen to enforce a few points so I also spoke to them to make it very clear of what I expected from them in the remaining 35 minutes of Hurling.
The lads seemed to pay heed to my half-time words as they started to fully express themselves and it wasn’t long before the scoreboard read: Tipperary 4-14 Derry 0-4. On the 55th minute, with the game long up, I felt it was time to give a few of the subs a run. When making the changes, I ensured to only take off players who had been doing very well. So on came Hugh Maloney, Lar Corbett and Darragh Egan for Benny Dunne, John O’Brien and Micheal Webster. In hindsight, I believe that these substitutions robbed the game of its fluency as the final quarter of an hour became quite scrappy. All things considered, I was happy with the final score-line of 5-18 to 1-4 but it was the enthusiasm and eagerness the vast majority of the team showed that pleased me the most. However, I was not going to let one decent result against a pretty average to weak team go to my players’ heads. Indeed, I would let them know in the next training session that their touch and their striking would not have been good enough to overcome a top tier side.
The local newspaper covered the game and they were pretty generous in their praise of our performance. Having been given all of the day’s papers, I spotted the articles that I had allowed Paul Ormonde and Eoin Kelly to do. In Ormonde’s article, I was delighted to read his comments (which I later thanked him for), with he stating that I had already brought many pluses to his game. Team captain, Eoin Kelly (who by the way was the official man of the match versus Derry) was quoted as saying that he was happy with his current form; and indeed he should be. However, the journalist criticised several of my management techniques in his article summary, which angered me greatly. I voiced my disappointment with this journalist’s behaviour and although the people at his paper were angered by my words, my actions were met with widespread approval. In a different publication, I read of Paul Kelly’s plea to the fans to give both the team and the manager the necessary time to gel. I really was thrilled to hear such a respected player asking for this, as I knew that many of our supporters would respect his wishes. All in all, I felt my press strategy had been successful (or at least lucky!) so far but I had already learned that there were going to be many staged traps for all of us in the months that lie ahead.
Before our next get-together, I was handed an incredibly detailed breakdown of the Derry match. Every ball that had been touched during the game was broken down and categorised into its appropriate grouping; and when such was analysed, I could see exactly where we were both succeeding and failing. For example, I could see that our Passing Success Rate was 78.6%, which I was pretty pleased with. However, I could immediately see that our Chance Conversion Rate from Open Play was only 59%, which is totally unacceptable at this level of Hurling. Every aspect of every player’s performance (including individual match ratings) was given to me, so I could pinpoint exactly where my players needed improvement. To be honest, it was a pleasant surprise to be provided with such rich information; there was no doubting that it would make my job infinitely easier.
As I planned our next training, I was left word that our sponsors had decided to pay for a short break away for the entire panel to a 5-star hotel on the western coast. So in my head, I had to quickly conduct a cost-benefit analysis; could the players afford to skip training in order to avail of what would essentially be a free bonding trip? Before making a decision on this, I took a moment out to review my situation to date. Even though I was only in the Tipp job for six days, I was gob-smacked by the intricacies of modern day inter-county management. What a challenge lies ahead of me! But what fun it will be! After all, here I am, living the dream. For a plethora of reasons, thousands upon thousands of people would give their right arm to be in my position. The hot-seat is mine, and I’m going to take my chance to prove myself to be the most knowledgeable Hurling person in the Country.
For some time now, people have been wondering what I’m like, what I’m about. So, if I were to describe the tip of my iceberg, I would say…
…I’m a controversial umpiring decision,
I’m a two month suspension for abusive language,
I’m a spiteful journalist baying for blood,
I’m Eoin Kelly versus Eoin Kelly in an incredible shoot-out,
I’m an unwelcome Aussie Rules scout at work,
I’m the Artane Boys Band leading the players’ pre-match parade,
I’m an ill-timed floodlight failure,
I’m a surprise in-house drugs test,
I’m a dummy hand-pass,
I’m Pat Daly’s celebrated OTu Coaching model,
I’m a success-hungry panel of Waterford hurlers,
I’m Leighton Glynn’s sprained ankle,
I’m a training ground brawl,
I’m the hard side of the Munster Championship draw,
I’m a healthy training expenses account,
I’m the Archbishop of Cashel throwing in the sliotar to start an exhibition match,
I’m the Hogan Stand website looking for value for my sponsorship cash,
I’m Ollie Moran battling to the very end,
I’m a pre-match plea for passion, courage and determination,
I’m an intricate player performance rating system,
I’m a shoot-on-sight policy,
I’m Eugene Cloonan’s peripheral vision,
I’m a meddling opposition manager,
I’m an old school County Board chairman,
I’m an angry mob of so-called ‘fans’,
I’m Mayo’s Urslan Afzal trying to keep tabs on Sligo’s Fabio Cretaro,
I’m a high-risk puck-out strategy,
I’m a terribly disappointed substitute who is itching to prove my worth,
I’m an honest, hard-working back-room team,
I’m a Feng-Shui expert examining the layout of Wexford Park,
I’m a cross-country run on a cold, wet February day in Athleague,
I’m the McCarthy Cup on the Banks of the Lee in mid September,
I’m Davie Fitz complimenting Clare’s Senior Hurling team manager,
I’m Joe Canning pulling on a Galway Senior Hurling shirt this summer,
I’m Henry Shefflin receiving yet another Man of the Match award,
I’m Sean Og’ O’hAilpin’s story, I’m Sean Og Brady’s story, but above all, I’m your story,
In a nutshell, I’m the ultimate GAA experience.
Ollie Canning has revolutionised corner back play with his daring, cavalier style of play and there appears to be little doubt among Hurling connoisseurs that the number four slot is his optimum position. But is he under-utilised when selected to operate there? In the modern era, many top Hurling managers have chosen dogged, focussed and tight-marking hurlers to man the team’s corner back positions and such a tactic has earned several of them considerable success. Therefore, would Canning’s undoubted class be put to better use in a more influential, skill-orientated position? Although his primary function was to mark Eoin Kelly when the Tipperary wizard moved out to the ’40’ in the All-Ireland quarterfinal of 2005, Canning looked at home in the centre half back position. In recent times, the Galway management team have tried many talented hurlers in this key defensive position but none of these players have looked wholly comfortable when asked to ‘hold the centre’.
Canning’s positional sense, determination, first touch and speed of the mark ensure that he has the makings of a top class number 6 and perhaps he is worth an extended run in this problematic position of Galway’s. One may be forgiven for thinking that Canning’s versatility is restricted to playing defensive roles but such is most definitely not the case. He has starred as both a midfielder and a centre half forward with Galway kingpins, Portumna, and those who have witnessed him play for his club have few doubts that he could play exceptionally well in either of these positions for the County team. Indeed, both of these spots really do provide him with the scope to exert a major influence on a game’s proceedings while there is also a school of thought that suggests the Tribesmen could do with Canning’s experience and leadership qualities in the ‘middle third of the field’. It must also be stated that Canning began his Senior inter-county career as a skilful corner forward, thus there is no risk that he will suffer a nosebleed if asked to play so high up the pitch! In fact, Canning received the Man of the Match award after his goal-scoring exploits helped Galway capture the 2000 National Hurling League title, which more than proves that he can cut the mustard as a top-level attacker. Indeed, when one considers that he now understands the mentality of an inter-county defender, Canning would certainly be capable of using his ‘insider knowledge’ to capitalise on the frailties of said opponents. A truly adaptable hurler, it is obvious that Ollie Canning can operate in any of the aforementioned positions. But where would you play him?