Interview with LIam Sheedy from Irish Examiner

If people have enough of me, they can tell me to go"
By Diarmuid O’Flynn

Monday, August 09, 2010

LIVERPOOL FC and Tipperary senior hurling – spot the similarities.

Number of national championships, fan base, home venue, annual expectation of success – the two correspond well.

Unfortunately, however, when it comes to recent success – or lack of – there is also a match. When Liverpool won their last league championship, in 1990, they were out on their own on 18; since then, a severe drought, and compounding matters, they have been joined on that number by their fiercest rivals, Manchester United, who have won 11 titles in the meantime.

Then you look at Tipperary: in 1971, when the men from Ireland’s Premier County won their 22nd All-Ireland title they justified that sobriquet, led both Kilkenny (a mere 17) and Cork (21) in the roll of honour. Since then, just three titles (1989, 91 and 2001), as both Kilkenny (32, and counting) and Cork (30) streak ahead.

In Liverpool, manager Rafa Benitez was recently replaced by Roy Hodgson; in Tipperary Liam Sheedy is the man in position, his third season at the helm, and after a fairly serious beating by Cork in their first championship outing this season, there were murmurings in the heartland.

Now, however, Tipperary are back in another All-Ireland semi-final, against Waterford on Sunday next, their third such appearance under Sheedy, and those murmurings have abated – for the moment.

If this sturdy son of Portroe is feeling any pressure, however, he’s hiding it well. "People are entitled to their view," he says of the criticisms. "They are entitled to what they want to say – you know this going in. Even when it gets personal, that does not affect me in any way, shape or form. I will give this job my heart and soul and wherever that takes me, it takes me.

"That’s all I ever ask of the players – give it your all. I really enjoy being involved with this group and I can assure you we give 100 per cent every night I go in. I never missed a training session yet and I have no intention of missing one. I really enjoy this job and once you see the commitment and the energy and effort that the players put in – ultimately I’m only facilitating what these guys are trying to do. I don’t take anything personal.

"If people have enough of me they can tell me to go." And here he pauses for breath, has a laugh, but you know he’s serious.

"Ultimately," he continues, "Whatever sport you are in, it’s a results game. When results are going well it’s grand and when they are not going well…" Enough said.

Unlike the highly-paid Rafas of this world, there’s nothing in this for the likes of Sheedy but the satisfaction of seeing players blossom under his stewardship, the criticism that comes when they struggle.

The former keeps him going, the latter, well, as he said himself, he knew what to expect when he took the job, and the frustration of the long-suffering Tipperary hurling fans is surely understandable.

More than ever, however, that frustration is there now, because they know – Liam knows – that this particular bunch of players has the talent to make that long-awaited breakthrough. And yet, even if they do manage to get past a well-drilled and highly-motivated Waterford on Sunday, there is still no guarantee of success.

"It’s a very competitive championship. The four semi-finalists are all of a very high calibre, then you have Galway, Dublin, Clare, Wexford and Offaly – there are a lot of teams out there who on their day who can turn you over.

"For me though, you have to focus on your own performance, get the best out of your own players; if getting the best means that you come second, you know you got the best out of yourselves – if the best means you come fourth, you come fourth. All you can do is try and get the best; you can’t be looking at the opposition, you can only control what you have inside in Thurles (Tipp training) every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

"That is what we have concentrated on, trying to get the best out of this group of players. And that is all the players want is to give their best every day they go out. They have their good and bad days but I always say that you just enjoy the highs and you learn from the lows. I think the lads learnt a lot in the loss against Cork.

"When Cork came at us maybe we just did not have the strength and resolve to go with them and that is just the reality of it, but you have to get battle-hardened again, get ready. The lads have trained at an intensity that has enabled them to get the show back on the road, and it is all down to them. I could not heap enough praise on the 31 lads in terms of the effort, commitment, workrate, their discipline on and off the field, the way they have conducted themselves in the last couple of weeks.

"If anyone had any doubts about the resolve of this group and whether they really want to get back into an All-Ireland final, I think they let everyone know in no uncertain terms the last day (win over Galway in the final minutes).

"They were put to the pin of their collar and they dug out the result. But that’s a distant memory now, and that is the beauty of sport; you just move from week to week, and we have moved on. It is all about upping it a notch again and getting ready for a massive battle ahead. We are in this position again and we just have to keep going and keep going."

HE’S a realist, Liam Sheedy, knows well the folly of over-expectation but knows also – the talent is now in Tipp to deliver, and sooner rather than later.

"You just have to ensure that your team is performing to the absolute maximum that it can and delivering on potential. Everyone would agree that this team is moving in the right direction. When it is, where it is and what year it will be (that they win an All-Ireland) I’m not sure, but I do know they’re really anxious to do well. They’ve got heart, commitment, they’re enjoying their hurling and they’re giving it everything. That’s all you can ask for. Any realistic supporter that’s been watching this team over the last number of years will know these boys are trying to do the right thing for their county and that’s all anyone asks of them."

Well, not really; after last year’s All-Ireland final, and because Tipp ran Kilkenny so close, there was an assumption by many that another appearance in the final this year was only a matter of form.

"We (the team) never made that assumption. There was a lot of silly talk on the back of what last year brought but we did not buy into any of that. When you see where we are now and see where we were after May 30th (the Cork loss), it would have been a long way away trying to look forward. From that point of view it has been a very pleasing few weeks.

"There is a lot of hard work and effort that has gone in throughout the whole panel. Most days you only see 18 or 19 (players), but you have to give full credit to the 31 we have on the panel. Everyone needed to up their game – management, backroom team and players – and we took that on board.

"They were wounded animals and thankfully they have showed the right approach. We have had a slice of luck along the way, could have found ourselves out of the championship the last day and without any complaints – Galway were in pole position.

"In fairness to the lads, they showed great strength in the last couple of minutes to get the three vital scores to win the game. To win a tight game is a big plus for any team. There was a real sense of hard graft and it’s always good to graft out a result. From that point of view it is good to be back in an All-Ireland semi-final."

They’re going to have to do it all over again against Waterford, however, themselves a team who have also recently had a big win, a Munster title won against Cork, the result of a late charge, and more hard graft. Waterford too are a team on a mission, and Liam is well aware of the challenge offered: "Look, we put a lot of time into our preparation and getting things right. Every game is different too. There were loads of open spaces up there when we played Waterford in 2008 (another semi-final, won by Waterford).

"Croke Park is a place where you’ll always find the open spaces – it’s a fabulous pitch, a fabulous stadium, fabulous atmosphere. You just have to make sure that preparation between now and then gets you ready for what’s going to be a massive Waterford challenge. They played in the final in 2008 having beaten us and they’d love to get back there. We played in the final in 2009 and we’d love to get back in there. This is what hurling is all about and whoever gets to that final will have earned it."


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