Shane O'Neill enjoying inter-county role
By Cian O'Connell
It has been a hectic start to the year, but new Galway manager Shane O'Neill is encouraged ahead of an interesting 2020 campaign.
Sunday's Pearse Stadium Allianz Hurling League encounter against Tipperary is next on the agenda for Galway.
In his first inter-county role O'Neill is hugely optimistic about the potential in the west. Developing a strong panel for the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship is critical according to the former Na Piarsaigh boss.
"The average number of players used in the Championship last year was 25," O'Neill says. "That is a lot. Years ago you'd get away with 16 or 17, then you were at 20, now the average is 25 which is a lot of players. So you need a really, really strong 26.
"For a strong 26 you need a strong 36 so the in house games and training is competitive and at a very high level. Then with that the guys who are outside that 36, who are still in our thoughts and watching, they are putting pressure on.
"That was our most important thing coming in, to create that really competitive squad. We feel we are on line for that, but we obviously won't know until the matches start coming thick and fast."
Being involved at this level is an exciting challenge for O'Neill, who made a real impact with his home club, Na Piarsaigh.
"There is huge enjoyment," O'Neill admits. "With the collection of players that are there, being able to be involved with them, involved in the management team with them.
"You see how good they are, that is what makes it enjoyable. The management team we have get on well, we test and challenge each other as the players are testing and challenging us as well. "All of that creates for that competitiveness throughout the group.
"There is no point in having a dictatorial type scenario because the players are much too intelligent and educated now to be taking to dictators.
"It is more a collegiate type scenario that is there. Obviously you need leaders to lead, but generally it is about a combination of everyone working together."
Being such a key figure in Na Piarsaigh's dramatic rise to prominence in Limerick, Munster, and Ireland ensures O'Neill has sampled glory as a player and manager.
"It was a great time, we won our first county title in 2011 and I was by far the eldest on the team and lucky to be on it at the time," O'Neill recalls.
"I didn't think we would ever win a county at that stage, it was nearly 20 years of playing. After that nobody would have ever thought we'd have taken off after winning that first one the way we did with the All Ireland, five counties, and four Munsters.
"It was phenomenal over a nine year period which is an unbelievable statistic. It has shown and been of assistance here because you are dealing with elite players.
"You are playing against other club teams who have those elite county players as well. The standard of club at the higher level is fairly high."
O'Neill is adamant that being involved in those types of matches as an emerging manager offered vital experience. Lessons were learned.
"We had anything from four, five, or six to 11 guys in the Limerick squad at any one time," O'Neill remarks.
"Then you are playing the likes of Patrickswell or Kilmallock who have four or five each. You're always dealing with good teams and then you're going out into Munster playing the likes of Ballygunner, who have a lot of Waterford players, Sixmilebridge, who have a lot of Clare players.
"All that scenario, you have Cuala then who had a right sprinkling of Dublin players and Dublin footballers, who are exposed to inter-county.
"Absolutely it was definitely of benefit.