Egan is enjoying learning on the job
By John Harrington
Tipperary selector/coach, Darragh Egan, gives off the vibe of a man who couldn’t be happier to be where he is in this time and place.
When you talk to him it’s clear that hurling coaching and strategizing is something he gets a great buzz from.
So to be helping prepare a Tipperary team for the ultimate challenge of playing in an All-Ireland SHC Final is very much grist to his mill.
His elevation to this level of coaching might seem like a fast-tracked one considering he was an inter-county hurler himself as recently as three years ago.
But even during his playing days Egan moonlighted as a coach with both his club Kiladangan and Kiladangan national school where he is headmaster.
He impressed as a manager of the Tipperary U-16s for the last two years also, so he was already on an upward coaching trajectory even before Liam Sheedy came calling.
It was still a serious promotion to be called into the Tipperary senior management set-up at the age of just 33, but Egan has relished the experience so far.
“It’s top class,” said Egan. “When Liam gave me the call last October, with clearance from home, I jumped at the opportunity.
“You’re dealing with top-class individuals, even aside from a hurling capacity. All these lads are just really trying to get better every minute of every day.
“I’m out of this panel three years as a player, it’s a very short time ago. The whole thing just seemed to go on an upward curve since then.
“What these lads are doing when they are out of our time, our training nights, is what’s setting them apart. And it’s the same in every county.
“All the hours that they’re putting in at the gym, preparing food their week, that type of stuff, that is what has taken on another level.
“The hurling, these lads can make the ball talk. It’s a joy to be in at that every night.
“Now, you need to challenge them. We do sit still at times in Tipperary and you do need to keep challenging the players. That’s what we’ve done this year.
“We have unbelievable coaches in Tommy Dunne and Eamon O’Shea, two brilliant minds that I’m learning a lot off.
“I’m contributing as much as I can to training but I’m learning an awful lot of them two lads.”
Egan had previously played with a good chunk of this Tipperary panel and been managed and coached by Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea.
There was a familiarity there, but the challenge was to renegotiate those relationships after making the transition from player to coach.
He couldn’t be one of the lads with the players anymore, and had to earn the respect of his coaching peers in the set-up.
“I went to college in NUIG so I would have had a very good relationship with Eamon, that was an easy sell,” said Egan.
“Liam was my manager. Ì didn’t tog in the 2009 All-Ireland final, I sat down with Liam and had a very straight conversation in the winter of ’09 and I did tog in the 2010 final.
“He’s a neighbour of mine as well and he would have been good friends with my brother growing up so I’ve dealt with him in both a personal and professional capacity.
“My first year on the panel, 2005, was Tommy’s last year. I have a good connection with all three of the lads.
“It hasn’t been that difficult to be honest.
“These players are just so professional. They crave information off you and if it’s the right information, they’ll digest it. It doesn’t matter who is giving it to them.
“The likes of Noel (McGrath), Paudie (Maher), Seamie (Callanan), Donagh Maher, lads who I have played with over the years, they are nothing but professional with me.
“They look for certain information on certain things, they will go to Tommy for different kinds of information and it seems to be working well so far.”
One of Egan’s role on match-days is to be in radio contact with the Tipperary’s statisticians and eyes in the stand and then share that information with the rest of the management team.
Parsing the most cogent message from the 100mph action on the pitch in front of him and the cold statistical analysis in his ear is a fine balancing act.
“Sometimes your eyes are the best judge, other times you are getting information in your ear that backs up with your eyes are seeing. I think that’s important.
“The stats are playing a part but they are only a bit part of your decision-making.
“Due to regulations in Croke Park, there is always one selector that can’t move. So I’m sitting down and I would be getting some feedback.
“These games are played at such a high intensity now that you need to keep your eye on the likes of possessions, tackles and how the game is going.
“I get some of the information. Liam is busy where he is, Tommy is flying around the place. Eamon is top water boy at the moment.
“We try to get together as much as possible and make some calculated decisions. They don’t always go well but we did well against Wexford and hopefully we’ll have a good day the next day again.”
Egan views the game with an analytical eye and believes the fact that he has hurled at the very highest level both as an outfield player and a goalkeeper has helped inform his coaching coaching philosophy.
“I didn’t think of this until I was there in 2014/15 as a goalkeeper,” he said.
“Looking back on it now, that has definitely informed my coaching philosophies and capacity.
“When you’re looking out at 15 lads, you’re looking at shape and structure.
“That is massive. Having that picture in my head, I know now what a full-back wants, what Brian Hogan wants to be looking out at.
“It has improved me, I hope, as a coach, and given me a different kind of a view on it.”
One area of his coaching philosophy it has certainly informed is the importance of restarts in the modern game, particularly puck-outs.
Hurling at the highest level is now very much a possession based game rather than a hit and hope one, so every time a goalkeeper has a ball in his hand the priority is not to give it to the opposition cheaply.
“When I was sub goalie in 2014/15, Darren Gleeson was top-class at puckouts,” said Egan. “We were heading in that direction.
“It has gone another notch and is going a notch every year.
“All the restarts. You see sideline balls in both the All-Ireland semi-finals, it’s a treasured commodity to have a ball under your feet.
“There are not too many going for shots anymore. It’s all about possession.
“A lad would prefer to tip a ball back 30 yards rather than drive it wide at his own side. (Even with) Ronan (Maher) who can hit it from 70.
“Every single time you have a dead ball, it’s so important now, and that has changed in the last three years since I was a player.
“The shift was coming, it is just after rocketing over the last three years.”
Tipperary were accused last year of not adapting to that shift in the dynamic of inter-county hurling. They were viewed by some analysts as being too orthodox and tactically inflexible.
“I wouldn’t massively agree with that,” said Egan. “I think two or three counties were flying it with it and the rest were coming a small bit behind it.
“In Tipp, we’re always conscious that we’re trying to develop a very particular style, a Tipperary hurling brand.
“That’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to give these players a platform to hurl in the Tipperary style.
“I was at an U-16 county tournament last Saturday, actually in memory of my father at my own club, where Tipp, Galway, Kilkenny and Cork were playing.
“It was like watching the seniors. Even though they were lighter and smaller, the styles were the same.
“Cork were still trying to play their particular style, Kilkenny were still robust, aggressive and ball-winning, Tipp were trying to play their style. It doesn’t change.
“We need to be flexible as well, from a tactical point of view. We need to be able to play with the sixth back as a free man, or five forwards as we did against Wexford.
“But we have traditional styles and we just want to give our players a platform to perform in that style.
“I don’t think there is a definition but movement plays a big part in it and ball-playing ability.”
Tipperary’s movement and ball-playing ability has been a joy to watch at times this year so Egan and the rest of the Tipperary management team are clearly doing a lot of good work behind the scenes.
Now comes the ultimate test, though, Kilkenny on All-Ireland Final day.
Egan has played against the Cats as a forward and a goalkeeper and now he’ll pit his wits against Brian Cody and his management team from the sideline.
It’s a test he’s looking forward to.
“Definitely. And I’m sure the intensity I’m going to face, sitting down watching the game in the cauldron that is Croke Park next week is going to be different to anything I’ve experienced.
“But it’s going to be interesting.”