Liam Sheedy interview – Premier chief calls for patience

The new Tipperary senior hurling manager carries the hopes of a proud county. Liam Sheedy spoke to Michael Moynihan of the Irish Examiner newspaper.

LIAM SHEEDY’S coronation as Tipperary senior hurling manager was relatively low-key. It was November, he recalls, the media interest was minimal, and he had no great sense of his life being taken over by his new posting. Until he got out on the road. The Bank of Ireland insurance and investment specialist covers Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Kerry, and in three of the four counties opinions were plentiful: "The slagging started then alright. I was happy enough to get down to Kerry, they’re only interested in the big ball down there."

Sheedy took over after what was a strange year for Tipp and their supporters. Last year meant three games with Limerick, the qualifier win over Cork, the disappointment of the Wexford defeat, a campaign discussed at length within the county. "There’s been a lot of talk about 2007," says Sheedy, "But people forget Tipp were a puck of a ball away from beating Limerick three times. No matter who lost that game they hadn’t a chance; they were playing seven weeks out of eight – as amateurs – with no chance to work on teamwork or tactics, just recovery.

"The second day against Limerick lads would have been thinking ‘we’re out the gap’ at half-time, they looked home and hosed. Up until the time Eamonn Corcoran got injured they looked good, but that knocked Tipp back a bit and gave Limerick some impetus. "People said Tipp were lucky against Offaly in that first qualifier game, for instance, but it was an awesome performance to have the mental strength to win that."

Managers are born optimists; it’s no surprise that Sheedy is upbeat. "There was a bit of doom and gloom in Tipp about 2007, but I’d have a different view. The bottom line is the lads were very unlucky last year. Babs (Keating), Tom (Barry) and John (Leahy) blooded a lot of lads last year and the year before, so you have players now going into their second or third championship year. That’ll stand to them."

LIKE any county with a winning tradition, Tipperary have to deal with expectation, but that pressure travels on parallel tracks: the glory years of the sixties still cast a long shadow, while the recent crop of minors give Premier fans hope for the future. "The minors have been discussed, but look at Limerick’s three U21 All-Ireland-winning teams," says Sheedy. "It took from the early 2000s until 2007 for them to come through, and they were U21s; our minors will take time to come through too.

"There are always exceptions, but in general you need a stepping-stone between minor and senior, and we’re trying to bring minors through the U21 grade. That process takes time. Galway have had very good minor and U21s for a while but they haven’t quite come through yet.

"People need to realise that just because Tipp have won their first minor All-Ireland in 10 years, and then put back-to-back titles together, it doesn’t mean hey presto, the good times are ready to roll again. We need to be careful not to skin these youngsters completely this early in their careers."

Sheedy accepts that expectations can be higher in Tipperary than those in other counties. "That’s a fair point. You’re expected to be winning Munsters and All-Irelands, but the reality is that the last seven years have been barren when it comes to the league, Munster and All-Ireland championships.

"You’ll always have people talking about the sixties, when Tipp were successful, referring to the John Doyles and Kieran Careys and their medals, but that doesn’t count for a lot in current terms. "The guys nowadays have an
absolute hunger to be the best they possibly can, but it just hasn’t happened."

There are other good signs for Tipp: Sheedy points to the county board’s plans to create hurling academies and the existing development squads directed by the likes of Len Gaynor, Tadhg O’Connor and Dinny Maher . "I think that success will happen in Tipperary because there’s a good bunch coming through to grab the opportunity. Not everyone does, but you’d be hoping to make the opportunity available to as many of them as possible.

"But people need to be patient. Minors don’t become seniors overnight, and neither do U21s. We’ve seen examples of that in Galway and Limerick, as I say. It takes time." Having managed those minors in recent years, Sheedy is aware of the need to make training interesting for players, given the other attractions on offer.

"When I was a minor it wasn’t a hundred years ago – 1987 – but you had hurling and that was probably it. ”Compare that to nowadays, when you can tip into the nearest town and play whatever you want, not to mind a social scene that’s more hectic than it ever was.

"You’d hope that lads come to training and after a good hour-and-a-half’s work they’d say to themselves ‘You know what, I enjoyed that’. If you don’t create an atmosphere which lads enjoy then it won’t be long they start thinking about why they’re doing it."

That’s why Sheedy and his fellow selectors, Eamonn O’Shea and Michael Ryan, spent their first few weeks putting a backroom team together: "At senior you need to be a good delegator."

HOTPOINT Hayes is a constant in the Tipp backroom, where he’s joined by Mick Clohessy (masseur), John Casey (physio) and Keith O’Neill (trainer). O’Shea, Ryan and Sheedy himself take the hurling, and the manager hopes well-organised, enjoyable sessions will yield results.

"When you’re enjoying it I think that also creates a hunger to be successful – and that’s what we’re trying to create with Tipp. It’s the competitive edge that takes you through life, and I’m happy the bunch we have have a bit of hunger.

"Will it be good enough? Who knows?"

There are three months between now and Tipp’s date with Cork in the Munster hurling championship, but Sheedy fends off suggestions that the recent strike on Leeside means it’s advantage Knocknagow.

"If you go back to the last time Cork were on strike, I remember being in Thurles when they played Clare in the championship afterwards and hearing "The Banks" being sung in the stadium. Joe Deane commented afterwards that the hair was standing up on the back of his neck, and I was nearly the same.

"They’ve done this before, they’ve let their hurling do the talking.
Tipp last beat Cork in the championship in Cork in 1923. That speaks for itself, and no-one is underestimating the challenge. When the draw was made a few people were nearly giving me a vote of sympathy, but no matter who you get in Munster it’s not going to be easy. That’s why it’s hard for counties to win both the Munster and the All-Ireland championships; you’ve to do a lot of hurling.

"I’m enjoying it, we’re getting a good response, we’ve had a couple of good results in the league and even the drawn games have been positive.
But at the end of the day only one man can get his hands on the Liam McCarthy Cup."

Leave a Reply