Final result is not everything: O'Shea
Tipp boss is more consumed by solving performance 'puzzle'
PRESSURE? What pressure! Facing into his first All-Ireland SHC final as a manager, Eamon O'Shea says he won't be "losing any sleep" over the outcome.
If that sounds hard to fathom or causes the quizzical raising of a sceptical eyebrow, the counter-argument is that O'Shea is not your typical inter-county boss. He's a university professor at NUIG and views the pursuit of hurling excellence with his native Tipperary as a "puzzle" to be solved; it's all about unlocking a performance and then the result can look after itself.
At Tipperary's All-Ireland final press evening in Thurles, he was asked how much of an issue was it that Kilkenny have won all of their recent big encounters (in knockout championship and the last two league finals) dating back to 2010 when a Tipp team coached by O'Shea famously derailed the 'Drive for Five'.
"It wouldn't be an issue really except that you know we didn't win the games," O'Shea replied.
"It's not an issue given the way I think about the game. I know that if we perform, we'll be really competitive. The result may fall one way or the other but I'm not losing any sleep over it."
This refreshing philosophy was a comfort after Tipperary lost to Limerick last June. That left the year-two manager with a record of three SHC defeats from three - surely a hard place to be? "Not as hard as people made out," he clarified.
"I knew why I was here and that I was working really hard. The results weren't going the right way but I knew I was really trying everything I could."
In the ensuing win-or-bust qualifier, Tipperary trailed Galway by six points after 51 minutes before launching a spectacular comeback to win by nine. Defeat would surely have left management in jeopardy, but O'Shea "wouldn't have felt any less a person" if that had transpired.
They haven't looked back since, overwhelming Offaly, Dublin and Cork to reach Sunday's All-Ireland decider.
"What you saw against Galway, the qualifier match we came back in, you'd have to ask where did the last 20 minutes come from? It came from the squad having a baseline belief that they could do something," he surmised.
"We have a strong belief in ourselves and in our hurling. I was delighted for them that it came together in that 20-minute spell - I wish we'd see a bit more of it! That's the aim for the next day - can we get to that level?"
And now for Kilkenny on Sunday. In his previous incarnation as Tipp coach under Liam Sheedy, O'Shea helped to engineer two massive All-Ireland final performances against the old enemy - one ending in epic defeat (2009), the other in swashbuckling victory (2010).
"To me, the 2009 All-Ireland final was a tremendous game. It remained a tremendous game, whether we won or lost. Even five years later, we know it was some game to be involved in," he recalled.
"Equally, the qualifier in Kilkenny last year, that to me was outstanding in terms of being an experience.
"To be in Kilkenny and to see the passion and everything around it, even though we lost that game, there was a sense afterwards that we had participated in something special," he expanded.
"While it was a shortened year for us, you did look at it and say 'Yeah, we were alive.' There's nothing like being in a big event for that period.
"Sometimes, even when you lose, you can be aware that you're part of something special - and playing against a special team in a special place is special for hurling. There's something amazing about that, even though of course you'd like to win!"