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07th Sep 2023

“What are we doing here? what’s going on?” – McGrath hails ‘one of the best forwards to play the game’ Seamus Callanan

Niall McIntyre

Shane McGrath remembers a speech Liam Sheedy gave before the 2010 All-Ireland final.

‘What more can a man do?’ asked Sheedy. That was all he needed to say because, all around the room, they knew exactly who he was talking about.

Seamus Callanan had just run-riot, racking up ‘2-13 or 2-14’ against Portumna in a challenge game but it wasn’t enough.

The competition ahead of him just a little too stiff to shake so he had to make-do with a spot on the bench. Would you have dropped Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Noel McGrath?

So when Sheedy started talking, the message was clear. This was so close-a-call that, first fifteen, you’d want to appreciate the chance you’ve been given.

Coming on as a second half substitute, Callanan went onto make a huge impact in the final, scoring two points off right and left as well as getting a hook and a block in as Tipperary put a stop to the drive-for-five.

In his Irish Examiner column on Wednesday, in the wake of Callanan’s inter-county retirement, Sheedy described Callanan’s contribution to that 2010 final as ‘among the best pieces of leadership’ he had ever seen.

The performance was one thing but it was the speech he gave prior to the game that really stuck with Sheedy.

It was one of the main reasons why, almost a decade on, when the Portroe man came back for his second stint, he chose Callanan as his captain.

Many will remember that 2019 season as Callanan’s best year, which is unsurprising given that he scored a goal a game and won Hurler of the Year. But as his former Tipperary team-mate Shane McGrath tells us, from the very first year he came into the panel in 2008, Callanan was an absolute gem for Tipperary.

In fact, McGrath is adamant that, in his very first year, he should have won an All-Star that year.

“From the get-go, we all found that Seamie was just outstanding,” McGrath tells SportsJOE.

“He had lots confidence, but backed it up with performances. Strength, speed, skill, touch, this man had everything.

“Hurling wise, there was never an issue. For me, I thought he was desperately unlucky not to get an All-Star in 2008,

“I thought he should have definitely got one that year. He was outstanding for us. If you look back at that Munster final in 2008, he was brilliant, and scored 1-3.”

“It was funny then that in 2010, he found it hard to make the team, maybe it was because of Bonner and Noel coming in and these guys.

“It wasn’t that he went out of form or anything, it was just that the competition was unreal, and everyone was in form.”

Whenever Callanan decides, some time down the line, to look back on his Tipperary career, it’s true he will almost certainly reflect on 2011 and 2012 as the lost years.

All young players have their ups and downs and in 2011, along with McGrath, Callanan was taken off at half-time of the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny. In the 2012 semi-final, against the same opposition, he didn’t even get brought on.

“Maybe he did lose a bit of form,” he says.

“Like every sport as well. Managements come in and maybe they just didn’t click.

“I remember sitting beside Seamie watching the second half of the 2011 All-Ireland final wondering, ‘what are we doing here? what’s going on?'”

“It’s just not happening for us for one reason or another.

“I think after that, and after 2012, he just drove himself onto another level.

“I do feel Eamon O’Shea getting back involved for a second round was also a major thing for him. And I know he mentioned Eamonn in his statement there.

“The belief Eamonn had in him. Putting him on the frees.

“Both of them were class forwards and I think they just got each other. And then he re-found his form and belief that maybe had gone missing. He came back with a bang and he just couldn’t be touched for a few years then.”

From 2014 to 2016 was arguably Callanan’s peak, as he won an All-Star and was nominated for Hurler of the Year in each of those three seasons. McGrath feels that, in those years, he was simply ‘un-markable.’

“People don’t realise how big and strong Seamie is too.

“He’s six three, six four, physically very strong and his hurling is unbelievable and because of his pace, if he gets out in front of you, it’s game over.

“He was just the complete, complete player.

“It all came out in that 2016 final.

“To have the perfect day on the biggest day, it takes a special player to do it with the anxiety and nerves that go with finals. Hurling-wise in 2016, that was unbelievable.

“What he did in 2019 as a captain, it can be a pressure that doesn’t suit everyone, but he took it on board no problem. And hurled unbelievable stuff, got his Hurler of the Year title that he thoroughly deserved.

“That touch he had against Laois in ’19, you can’t teach a guy to do that. I do think he was un-markable.”

“On top of all of that, he’s the first person from his club ever to lift Dan Breen (Tipperary SHC), So to have done that and to have lifted Liam MacCarthy, that’s a fair thing to say that you’ve done both.”

And it’s why, all things considered McGrath has him up there as one of the game’s greatest forwards. He argues that, while some don’t seem to hold him in the same esteem as a TJ Reid or a Joe Canning, Callanan should, for all he’s done, be seen on the same level.

“He was a big part, a major driving factor in all the three All-Irelands.

“He has four All-Stars, was nominated for Hurler of the Year three or four times. He has done it all and more.

“He’s in a minority to win as much as he has won. I would have him up there as one the best forwards ever to play the game.

“I would have him there with the best to do it.

“Maybe the fact that he doesn’t have five, six or seven All-Ireland medals is why he doesn’t get the recognition of a TJ, but he’s definitely right up there.”

And it’s very hard to argue with that.

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