Sheedy's sudden impact has transformed Tipp
By John Harrington
When Liam Sheedy was appointed Tipperary hurling manager late last year, he didn’t come with a three or even two-year plan.
Immediate success was the goal and that’s why he has stuck with the tried and trusted players when many analysts and even Tipperary supporters were suggesting it was time to overhaul the team.
Sheedy was convinced though that the men he had won an All-Ireland in 2010 with still had plenty to give and so made them the spine of his team.
The graduates from the 2018 All-Ireland U-21 winning team were brought through slowly rather than immediately charged with the responsibility of ushering in a new era.
Tipperary’s presence in Sunday’s All-Ireland Final testifies to just how well Sheedy has got the balance right.
Veterans Padraic Maher, Seamus Callanan, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath and Patrick Maher before his injury have all hurled like men at the peak of their powers to lead Tipp’s charge.
While up and coming players like Jake Morris, Ger Browne and Mark Kehoe have now found their feet and are arguably primed to win Sunday’s All-Ireland for Tipp with the impact they can make from the bench.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised considering the immediate impact Sheedy also made during his first spell as Tipperary manager, but the manner in which he has immediately reenergised a team that failed to win a single Championship match from four attempts last year has still been hugely impressive.
“I don't time these things,” said Sheedy. “All we do is prepare to the absolute top of our ability. That's how we've gone about our business. There's no clock running here.
“It's just about going in night after night, week after week and preparing to a really, really high level.
“Some days that works for you, some days it doesn't. To be in an All-Ireland Final, the group are in there on merit. They deserve to be in there, because, ultimately, they saw it out the last day when the real hard questions were asked.
“It was challenging, but it was inspired by what was going on within the white lines. The leadership doesn't come from outside, it comes from inside, and they showed massive leadership the last day.”
That 2019 All-Ireland semi-final victory over Wexford will long be remembered as one of the great days for Tipperary hurling.
The old guard led the fight-back when Tipp were reduced to 14 men and five points down, while the young guns then finished the job when they were sprung from the bench.
It was the sort of victory that should ensure the Tipperary players are brimming with confidence going into Sunday’s All-Ireland Final.
“Yeah, look, you can't measure it to be honest but it certainly is very pleasing,” said Sheedy.
“The questions were asked and that wasn't turned around by me or any of my backroom team.
“That was turned around by those guys inside the white lines. The 15 that started and the five that came in.
“I suppose the way the bench reacted the way they came in, they really made the difference. And it just shows you what it means to this group. They were really keen to get on and get into an All-Ireland final.
“The spent all of last summer watching a great Championship develop and they weren't part of it. So, in other words, that burning desire to get back in there.
“I'm just thrilled for the group because since I've been involved with them from the 15th of November, the way they've applied themselves and gone about their business is heroic. I'm just hugely proud to be associated with them.
“They're challenged every night they go training and every night they keep coming up with the answers.
“They'll be challenged again on the 18th of August, but knowing that you've been through some of those challenges throughout all of the months leading up to it is what gives you belief and strength.”
It’s now 10 years since Sheedy first managed a Tipperary senior hurling team in an All-Ireland Final and it seems fitting that the anniversary will be marked by another joust against the same opposition, Kilkenny.
10 years ago Sheedy’s team hurled brilliantly but still came up short against one of the greatest teams in the history of the game, so he knows better than most that Kilkenny will provide the ultimate challenge.
“Look, Kilkenny have a massive spirit and a really strong work-ethic and they've got some excellent players,” said Sheedy. “These guys on the ball will hurt you.
“We know we've got to be at the peak of our powers, but that's what we're prepared for. We know exactly what's coming out the tunnel, two really well-prepared teams, two teams that on the ball can inflict real damage on the opposition.
“It's set up for a really, really outstanding Final. Two teams that will go toe to toe with some exceptional players on both sides. This is where you want to be. When you step back into a role like this, you do it for days like this.
“The three weeks building up to an All-Ireland Final is the best three weeks of your life.
“We're exactly where we want to be and we're loving every aspect of our preparation and we know now it's all geared towards bringing a performance out onto that pitch because if we come up any bit short or off-colour, we will be found out, because this is a serious, serious Kilkenny team.”