Seamus Callanan: From unappreciated fall guy to the deadliest forward in Ireland
The winter of 2012 was a dark and painful one for Tipperary. Soul-searching passed the days for Seamus Callanan.
Aged 23, his Tipperary career hangs in a precarious balance. One that promised so much, it appears to be flittering away by the year.
In his prime he's meant to be. In reality, his stock has fallen to the extent that he's barely being used anymore.
Set straight, Tipperary were chewed up and spat out by Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final. Callanan, in his fifth year on the panel, remained on the bench while five other players were brought in.
This wasn't how it was meant to be.
A change in his mindset ensured it wouldn't be that way for long. Seven years on and Callanan has become one of the most feared and consistently lethal forwards in the country. An All-Ireland medal, three All-Stars and three Hurler of the Year nominations later and it's come full circle. From the flighty, expendable beginner whose work-rate was questioned to the inspirational captain who leads by a manic example. Now the Drom and Inch man is the face of those comeback stories and one of the most admired players in the country.
In Tipperary, his talent was never questioned. To understand his journey, we must go back to the start of 2008.
11 years ago, Callanan was hot property. Brought in by Liam Sheedy as a highly rated 19-year-old, his flashes of brilliance with the Tipp minors and the Drom and Inch seniors had the Premier public on tilt.
Maybe this was the young forward they so badly needed.
Seamie arrived like a man on a mission. Three points off the bench in his debut against Offaly, that was only the beginning. 1-3 was his tally in the Munster final win over Clare and his first season in the big time ended with an All-Star nomination.
There was no second-season syndrome in 2009. Callanan hit 1-7 in a League final, 1-1 in the Munster final and 0-3 from play against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland. If it wasn't for PJ Ryan's acrobatics he could have been the hero. Another All-Star nomination came his way.
Lar Corbett going into his tenth year on the Tipperary panel, was blown away by the newcomer.
"When Seamie came in at the beginning, he had a turn of foot, he had speed, he had the touch, aw it was unreal," Corbett told SportsJOE.
Then came the lean years. A few injuries caught up on him but to put it down to bad luck alone would be selective. In reality, Callanan's ability to work hard for seventy full minutes at an inter-county standard was counting against him. A couple of managers questioned him.
"He was in and out of the team. He had a bit of a dip in his own career, he fell out of favour with different managers," added Lar.
But a couple of landmark events helped the naturally gifted forward emerge stronger from the career cross-roads. In Drom and Inch, he was a hero. 2011 was the year when Callanan achieved immortality in a green and white jersey, captaining his club to their first ever county title.
And in 2012 he almost did it again. Three points separated Callanan and co. from a second successive Dan Breen. His form for his club was imperious.
Sean Prendergast never lost faith. He was the Drom and Inch coach (from 2011 to 2014) when Callanan was the best club player in Tipperary.
"I could never understand it," the Waterford man said of Callanan's struggles in blue and gold.
"I thought they were always premature to take him off or to drop him after one bad day out. He's one of those forwards, from my experience from 2011 onwards, he could do things that you just couldn't believe. His skill level was phenomenal, his hands were something else. He could have two or three goals banged in just five minutes, it's incredible what he can do."
A keen-eyed Eamonn O'Shea arrived in the nick of time for Callanan, and for Tipperary.
"It’s a good story and a bad story," the man himself said to Colm Parkinson in an interview on The GAA Hour last year.
"People take dips in form. Other players come into form and when lads are going well then - it’s hard to get a chance," said Callanan.
His chance was only around the corner.
"At the start of 2014, Eamonn O'Shea just gave me the number 14 jersey and just said to me 'look, I've belief in you, I've confidence in you that you can nail this down. That meant a lot to me because maybe my confidence was a bit dinted after a few years on the bench. He gave me great confidence and I suppose we haven't really looked back since..."
Indeed they haven't. By the end of 2014, Callanan had earned his first All-Star and had managed 2-5 from play in two All-Ireland finals. While marking JJ Delaney.
His game had Eamonn O'Shea written all over it. Non-stop movement, belief and mental toughness. He had them all.
And when you combine this with his new-found strength and physicality, he had become the perfect hurling forward.
"His first port-of-call has been to work harder than he's ever done before," says former rival manager Derek McGrath.
"Then the hurling has just kind of flown from that because he's just a natural hurler and a natural predator anyway."
Prendergast always knew it was only a matter of time for his marquee forward.
"In the Drom and Inch dressing room, Seamie was brilliant, he always was. That's reflected by the fact he captained Drom to that county title. Everyone respects him, all his teammates on the team get on with him. He really was a leader for that team even when he was so young.
"Some of the stuff he's doing now with Tipperary is amazing and the consistency with which he does it is even better, but he was always able to do stuff like that, Even when he was getting a tough time with Tipp, he was always able to make extraordinary things ordinary for Drom. I knew he was going to come through for Tipp..."
A couple of weeks ago, Brian Carroll was speaking on The GAA Hour podcast when he claimed that Callanan isn't yet considered as one of hurling's superstars. To the degree of Canning and Reid anyway.
His smoking stats don't carry the same weight, his silky skills don't garner the same headlines. The mind boggles as to why.
Nine points from play in the 2016 All-Ireland final. More championship goals than Ring and Carey. A goal in every game this year. That bullet of a ground strike against Wexford. We could go on forever. Callanan has more than likely achieved it in the blue and gold.
A big performance on Sunday, and he will have to wait no longer. The lack of appreciation will be put to bed. A Hurler of the year will follow and Seamie will be out on his own.
"He's one of the very best," says Prendergast. "They'll appreciate it all soon."
Equipped with analysis, highlights and key match-ups, get on it below. The analysis of Callanan's journey takes place from 33.00 below