Shane Stapleton: Seamus Callanan is eyeing a place in the record books against Galway

The Tipp man has been finding the back of the net with alarming regularity

Seamus Calannan, hurling, Tipperary,

Image: INPHO/James Crombie

Not Henry Shefflin, not Eoin Kelly, not DJ Carey, not Dan Shanahan; not even TJ Reid, Joe Canning and Richie Hogan combined.

None of them have ever been in goal-scoring form quite so hot as Seamus Callanan these past three seasons. Sixteen, read ’em, 16 championship green flags from open play since Eamon O’Shea slapped number 14 on the Drom-Inch man’s back in 2014.

There’s an interesting correlation between the heavy-scoring hitters left in the championship this season: Callanan, Hogan, Canning and Reid all made their championship debuts in 2008, nine seasons ago. All four have been nominated for Hurler of the Year since then: Canning in 2012, the other three in each of the past two seasons with Hogan and then Reid picking up the awards.

Callanan’s development from potential to powerhouse has been dramatic. The 27-year-old was a substitute at the end of 2013, brought on only after Lar Corbett pulled up injured at Nowlan Park, and by then he'd amassed 8-46 in the championship. O’Shea then decided to build his team around the attacker and, imbued with that confidence, in the following season alone he more than doubled his career tally by smashing in 9-50. It’s teed up what has been a remarkable run of hay-saving in front of goal.

Image:  ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

With a semi-final and perhaps more to play, Callanan is chasing what is a formidable three-season goal record set by Corbett form 2009 to 2011 inclusive, when the Thurles Sarsfields man creased the net on 19 occasions. Not only that, but the 2010 Hurler of the Year’s overall tally from open play outstrips all four active players we’ve mentioned, with 19-32 (89).

While Hogan and Reid picked up Hurler of the Year titles in 2014 and 2015, their preference ahead of the Tipp man perhaps largely goes down to where Liam MacCarthy has hibernated for winters. The evidence shows that in the past three seasons, Callanan has scored 16-30 (78 points) from play, compared with 2-44 (50) for Hogan and Reid’s total of 4-23 (35), with the Galway star nestled in between on 5-29 (44). Strikingly, Callanan is just a point shy of Reid and Canning combined.

But Kilkenny have been winning Liam MacCarthy through the front door, so surely Tipp and Callanan have played more games? Not so, he and Hogan have played 13 games and the other two men have actually lined out on 14 occasions; Corbett, meanwhile, needed 16 games. Shefflin's best run of goals from play in a three-year period was ten (2004-06), while Shanahan plundered 13 at his zenith (2005-07).

Those are lovely numbers, but the resulting question surrounds stemming the tide. July’s player of the month Daithi Burke will mark Callanan, it seems an obvious match-up. While that may give Galway some joy on Tipp’s key man, particularly in the aerial stakes where they were struck so mercilessly one year ago, it could be a case of smothering one fire but opening the door for a backdraft. That’s because the best man to play centre-back for the Tribe is the same Burke, and he’s far better equipped physically to deal with Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher’s drive than John Hanbury or Padraig Mannion, who may move out.

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

So even if Callanan is prevented from scoring a third hat-trick in successive seasons — bringing him level him with Corbett — the door should also be more open to Bonner, John McGrath, his brother Noel, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, and Michael Breen.

Twelve months ago, Anthony Cunningham’s side won more dirty ball and generally were more feral than their neighbours, meaning goals for once didn’t win a game. The bout was always in question but there was little doubt over who was laying more glove on who.

That started in midfield and it’s an area that has been overhauled by Tipp boss Michael Ryan. Brendan Maher is back there, as he should be, and Breen is currently heading for an All Star. So too is Davy Burke, who dominated in this fixture last year, and he was also fighting to the bitter end against Kilkenny last September when others disappeared. It’s an area where the Premier must improve (and it would be hard not to) but it’s only the first area. Primarily, they must get to the same intensity levels, because Galway will be out to bully them.

Michael Donoghue knows that you first need to slow down the blue and gold down and stop them from hurling, turn it into a dogfight. It’s been the rock Tipp have perished on so often against Kilkenny and it shipwrecked them in 2015 too, but Ryan has changed the focus. Dan McCormack is now in the side, Seamus Kennedy, Breen, John McGrath — each brings a work-rate that isn’t ordinarily associated with the Premier and in varying lines of the field.

There were six changes for the Munster final from the 15 that bowed out of the All-Ireland semi-final last time. Donoghue has moved his team on too, no doubt cursing the loss of Jonathan Glynn, but promoting the talents of Adrian Tuohy, the physicality of Geared McInerney, while Conor Cooney has come back in to return as much from play as Canning and Conor Whelan combined (2-10).

Image: ©INPHO/Ken Sutton

We can’t ignore thatTipp got the break of every ball against Waterford, the Deise hitting ten wides and Shane Bennett leaving behind a glorious goal-scoring chance long before the levee sundered. Tipp came through a huge test to beat Limerick with 14 men and, while Cork are Cork these days, they neatly buried the Rebels too. However, Bubbles has played just 13 minutes of championship in 85 days so that’s a concern, and while Callanan’s timber cannon is the subject of this piece, he has also missed 15 scoring chance in his last two outings.

Galway will push Tipp physically, ask Ronan Maher questions that he hasn’t yet been asked at six, perhaps send Canning roaming as against Clare (Kennedy to pursue him?), and hope to put their inside pace into space. Ryan’s men conceded an average of just 0-15 cantering through Munster, and they seem to be where they want to be, but we’ve been here before. So too have the Tribe. Come Sunday evening, one set of fans will be able to tell us they knew all along, that their team is yellow.

That criticism is coming for Tipp or Galway players, they’ve long made peace with that. Words don’t matter though, not from hurlers up on the barstool, not from experts out on the ditch, not from mouthpieces talking through keyboards. All that matters is what’s on the field for 70 minutes: man, ball, the whole lot. Oh, and one more thing: goals.