Stephen O'Meara has steered Tinryland into a first Carlow SFC Final since 2011.
Stephen O'Meara has steered Tinryland into a first Carlow SFC Final since 2011.

O'Meara making an impact with Tinryland

By Cian O’Connell

As a player, coach, performance analyst, and manager, Stephen O’Meara has been involved in matches at every level from a variety of different angles.

It is precisely why O’Meara is completely aware that the good times must be appreciated. For every sportsperson demanding days must be endured so there is a real sense of anticipation ahead of Tinryland’s appearance in Sunday’s Carlow SFC Final against Palatine at Netwatch Cullen Park.

O’Meara has operated as a performance analyst with the Galway and Donegal senior footballers in recent years, but coaching was always high on the Dubliner’s agenda too.

A stint with Carlow ensured a good connection was forged with some of Tinryland’s key performers. “When I was in with Carlow in 2020 pre Covid as a coach you had four Tinryland lads there,” O’Meara reflects.

“I got on very well with the four of them and had a lot of regard for them as footballers. That connection was there. They are good lads, they are very coachable.

“They are very mature too, even when it comes to team selections and what not. You can only put 15 lads on a team. A lot of lads who have been left out, they have been very good about it. There is a very good mutual respect.”

That element is vital for O’Meara, who acknowledges it is a particularly exciting time for Tinryland -as they are set to feature in a first Carlow decider since 2011.

“It is a funny one, we spoke about it the last night, even some of the players, who grew up playing in Division Two and had never even been to a Division One semi-final,” he says.

“I'm 41, I have played a lot of football, it is actually my first Division One final as a player, manager or coach. Obviously I have been involved in a few in the distant background as a performance analyst. To be there as a coach is obviously something a bit more special.”

So how did O’Meara specifically become interested in analysis and statistics? “Even as a player I always felt that most people were missing the key points of what was actually going on in games,” he replies instantly.

“I was a very frustrated corner back growing up. You would keep a top class forward quiet and the next thing you'd be out of the team. Nobody would realise what you had done. It probably stemmed from there.

“It is a Moneyball type thing. I built my own software which is what I operate from. It is an actuarial model, somewhere along the Moneyball lines. I'd like to think it is going towards that anyway. I built software actually with a view for commercial sale initially.

“Ultimately I often quote that mathematics is the language of fact. I have actually tried to put actuarial theory to prove points of Gaelic Football and hurling - which are generally not quantified, but frequently misunderstood.

“I have come up with a mathematical, actuarial system with a view to getting beneath the first layer and getting to some maybe hidden truths.

“Initially I was writing articles trying to advertise software when I got a call out of the blue from one of the analysts in the Galway hurling set-up. He got me to do a very small bit of work there in the background, I do want to emphasise, a very small bit of work.

“I did a small bit of opposition analysis with Corofin for a few years. I ended up as the head analyst with Galway for two years under Kevin Walsh in 2018 and 2019, then with Donegal under Declan Bonner for a few years. You hope you can bring a different idea of certain things.”

It has been a hugely encouraging campaign for Tinryland.
It has been a hugely encouraging campaign for Tinryland.

O’Meara always wanted to learn lessons. Seeing how Galway and Donegal prepared offered a significant opportunity to observe others.

“I've been a coach since I was 18,” O’Meara says. “I was player-manager with St Pat's college hurling team when I was 18. I was coaching a long time before I was doing analysis. That only took off seven years ago.

“Definitely I learned huge amounts under Kevin Walsh and Declan Bonner. I was only saying last week that we have fellas that were in with the county, one county legend, didn't start last week. It probably raised a few eyebrows even though they were all unavailable for the Éire Óg game.

“We started 14 of the 15 that beat Éire Óg. An example I gave one of the Carlow reporters was I remember Ian Burke and Seán Kelly, Kevin Walsh leaving them off against Mayo in the first round of Connacht in 2018. My analysis had them as two of Galway's key players, that was something that was understood in Galway.

“Kevin Walsh let them off. I thought he had lost the plot, but I realised with the benefit of hindsight that the experienced manager was calculating what his team was going to be in the last 20 minutes. Ultimately Seán Kelly and Ian Burke probably had the biggest impact coming off the bench. So I learned huge amounts from Kevin Walsh.

“The same thing with Declan Bonner. Declan won a senior championship as manager of Gaoth Dobhair - his experience of the different dynamics as a club manager as opposed to a county manager. He imparted great wisdom, just his football experience, it was an incredible experience to be learning from first hand.”

O’Meara has relished managing Tinryland, who have enjoyed a hugely productive campaign in 2022. It has been a remarkable journey with O’Meara stressing the relevance of sessions carried out early in the year.

“We put a huge amount of time into technical work,” he says. “Generally teams don't go back training in Carlow until maybe the middle of March, if I'm not mistaken.

“We were back in early to mid February. We needed that time to do technical work.”

Footballers have been developed, but O’Meara highlights the craft of the panel. “You get to improve players, but more you get to get the most out of what is already there,” he says.

“Five lads on this team played for Carlow when they beat Kildare in 2018, three starters and two subs. The talent was there already, we have had a host of county U21 centre forwards and corner forwards over the last couple of years. The talent was there. Obviously I'd like to think coaching has improved them, but ultimately it was about harnessing the right talent, getting the right mix together.”

On Wednesday morning O’Meara visited Tinryland National School. Undoubtedly there is a real buzz and excitement in the area.

“Going to a school isn't going to affect how we do on Sunday,” O’Meara says. “If you go the wrong way about it all it could negatively affect them. We are trying to keep the fanfare as low as possible for the players.

“In terms of the five, 10, or 20 year view for the club it is a huge opportunity to expand the club in the hearts and minds of people who are already in the club or maybe people who aren't in the club. It isn't a highly populated parish, but it is a good sized parish.

“I was in the school, more than half the children are wearing Tinryland jerseys. So it is great, there is a great buzz. It is 11 years since Tinryland were in a county final, 41 years since they won one.

“So it is alien territory for the children in Tinryland National School. It is great to go in there, to create that bit of excitement, to tell them we hope to visit them on Monday again.”