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Cairbre Ó Cairealláin's Influence On The Tipp Hurling Revival

Cairbre Ó Cairealláin's Influence On The Tipp Hurling Revival
Donny Mahoney
By Donny Mahoney
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We knew Liam Sheehy meant business the second his backroom team was announced: tactics consigliere Eamon O'Shea, Liam's brother John, Tommy Dunne and Darran Egan would have been very recognisable faces to Premier fans. Less was known about a Belfast man with a background in women's football who was appointed strength and conditioning coach. His name is Cairbre Ó Cairealláin and his appointment might have been the shrewdest of any of the people Sheehy brought with him.

In recent years, as hurling has become a game played by man mountains, the S&C coach has become arguably the most important member of a hurling manager's backroom entourage.  Lukasz Kirszenstein did an unprecedented S&C double with two different counties in 2016 and '17, working with Tipp and Galway en route to their All-Ireland successes. The remarkable physical transformation of the gifted generation of young Limerick hurlers played no small role in helping the Treaty county win their first All-Ireland since 1973.

After Sunday's frenetic All-Ireland semifinal between Wexford and Tipperary, many have naturally asked what caused Wexford to wilt in those vital final 15 minutes. Perhaps the question should be flipped around. Where did Tipp, down to 14 men, get the diesel to piledrive through the Wexford defense when the 'momentum' of the match was against them, outscoring them 7 points to 2 from the 60th minute onward? Where did the clarity of thinking come from when down five and all of the officiating calls going against them? Some credit must go to the man they call Carbs.

Ó Cairealláin is from Belfast and he hurled as a minor for Antrim.  He studied sports science at UL and has a masters in sports performance. He worked with the Limerick minors during Anthony Daly's tenure as head of the Limerick hurling academy, where he would work with the core of the phenomenal group of players who won the All-Ireland last year.


Ó Cairealláin took a role with the Arsenal academy in 2015 before graduating to head strength and conditioning coach with the Arsenal ladies team in 2016. A green streak runs through the Arsenal strength and conditioning department where Ó Cairealláin worked alongside the likes of Barry Solan and Johnny O'Connor. Ó Cairealláin returned to Ireland after the 2017-18 season.

This summer, Daly has spoken repeatedly about Ó Caireallan's influence on the current Limerick team back on those heady academy days, namely on Peter Casey, who was closer to a 'jockey in the Irish Derby' than an elite hurler until the Limerick academy S&C team began working with him.

Daly and Ken Hogan (Brian's father) spoke about how he got involved with the Tipp panel this year on yesterday's Irish Examiner podcast.


Daly: He was with the Limerick minors. And then the Arsenal academy, and then Arsenal ladies, which is a very serious operation. He was homesick and Liam got wind of that.

Hogan: But he's a top bloke and the lads absolutely love him.

What's interesting is that Ó Cairealláin brings a level of man management to strength and conditioning that many might not expect from the role.


Before taking the role with Arsenal, he told one interviewer: “I’ve always felt the biggest challenge for a trainer is to get to know the players well in order to get the best out of them, and that’s the immediate goal.”

That approach is obvious in the success Brendan Maher has enjoyed this year. At 30, Maher is doing some of the best hurling of his gilded career. Yet he was the precisely the kind of player who might have walked away from the game following his horrendous ACL injury suffered last June. Maher spoke to Dermot Crowe of the Sunday Independent and said despite his own serious self-doubt, Ó Cairealláin went above and beyond the call of duty to get him back into shape.

"I got a huge lift from just being back amongst the group. And our new strength and conditioning coach Cairbre (Ó Cairealláin) brilliant with me. He had actually rehabbed one of the Arsenal ladies' soccer players last year on an ACL so he had a full programme done out and we attempted to work off (that). We set out some targets.

I was meeting him inside in Thurles at 7.30 before work for an hour and going off to work and coming back and then I'd train that night with the lads so like he was with me for every session. He didn't have to do that. It wasn't part of his job. He fully invested in it. He saw that I was determined to get back strong and he helped me along the way."
Maher won the match's vital free in the 75rd minute, one-on-one with Lee Chin under a high ball, with Wexford chasing an equaliser. Not bad fora man 13 months removed from an ACL tear.
We'd go as far to project Ó Caireallan's influence upon the Tipp hurling manangement team, who are in phenomenal shape these days. Liam Sheedy looks like he could run through the walls of Semple Stadium.

On his Feed Me Strength blog, Ó Cairealláin provided a window to his own approach in his most recent post, posted just a few days before the Munster championship kicked off. Mindfulness is at the core:
A low-grade, imperceptible, form of stress, unknowingly permeates our being. It is imperceptible, however, only because we are not paying attention. We are surrounded by so much noise that we can’t hear the warning signals of our bodies. As Gabor Maté points out in his book, When The Body Says No, ‘people usually describe stress as the feeling of nervous agitation they experience under excessive demands…but sensations of nervous tension do not define stress – nor, strictly speaking are they always perceived when people are stressed.
The rhythm of the countryside has helped, more in tune as it is with our own nature. Every morning the countryside comes to life, the tractors motor along, the cows are milked and fed, the people say hello when you pass them on the road. As I type this out the back of the house, a few cows are grazing in the field before me. They are half-curious, and come over for a look. We nod, and after a while they go back to eating grass. They certainly aren’t in a rush, and neither is their attention divided.
On the 18th of August, Tipp will take on Kilkenny. Amongst the many fascinating battles will be the S&C battles. Cairbre Ó Cairealláin and his new school approach with mindfulness front and centre up against Mick Dempsey, the man who moulded the most ferocious teams to ever hurl.
It will be a battle to savour.
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