Liam Sheedy interview from The Irish Times

Sheedy looks to league for pointers  

THERE’S NOTHING like a rematch of the All-Ireland final to signal the start of another National Hurling League, although Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy isn’t exactly polishing his trumpet to welcome Kilkenny into Thurles on Saturday evening.

There’s nothing won in February – and although Tipperary came very close to beating Kilkenny in Croke Park last September, Sheedy hasn’t forgotten what happened in the early rounds of the league last year.

"It’s hard to gauge because league is always different than championship," says Sheedy – the point there being Kilkenny beat Tipperary 5-17 to 1-12 last March, in Nowlan Park, on a day when Kilkenny got a standing ovation. At half-time.

"Let’s make sure that we know that. League is preparation. It’s really, really good preparation. But, you know, league matches, and you may have seen it last year, there was a number of results that were very, very hard to predict. You might expect that there’d be teams that would be coming and all of a sudden they get turned over.

"I think what you can expect again this year is that you’ll have the eight teams all looking to get a good run going and to be really competitive and pushing for a league final place and I think that can only be good.

"And league form, in general, has been close to championship form, so a competitive team in the league is generally a competitive team in the championship as well. But it’s a new year, as far as we’re concerned. 2009 is a closed chapter. We’re now in 2010.

"You’ve got to try and blood new players in the league, give guys a chance to see can they handle it. The intensity does come up, but it still doesn’t reach championship. But if you’re expecting a player to perform in the championship he’s really got to show you something in the league, and I think that this year’s league will be an opportunity for us to give our players that chance."

Win or lose on Saturday, their performance in the All-Ireland final would appear to be ample evidence that Tipperary are poised to challenge Kilkenny’s dominance. "Not necessarily so," says Sheedy. "Nearly beating Kilkenny is one thing; actually beating them is another.

"Look, when you weigh it up there was only one winner and the winner was Kilkenny. Galway lost by four or five points, Waterford lost by five points, Dublin lost by five or six points, we lost by five points.

"At the end of the day there’s little for coming second in this game. It’s all about trying to get over the line first."

But surely now Tipperary believe they can get over that line?

"I think you always have a belief that you can win. I’m sure there’s no hurler going into training in any of the top intercounty teams that doesn’t believe they can be Leinster, Munster, All-Ireland champions. That’s why they go in there and I think Tipperary’s no different.

"Where we came from, we got into the semi-final, we met a team that it just didn’t happen for them on the day and we found ourselves in the final.

"That could easily have been Waterford or Galway, and Dublin had a really good day last year. I think it’s really heating up, but you can’t focus on 2009. We would have loved to have won the All-Ireland. We didn’t, and now our focus is on 2010."

Sheedy gives the impression that the focus is already on the Munster championship quarter-final date with Cork, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, on May 30th: That may well define their season, which is one reason why the league is important, particularly the closing stages.

"We’re all guaranteed seven competitive matches, and obviously at the end of May we have a massive challenge waiting for us. The reality is we’ve only won one down in Cork in 85 years so that tells you how tough it is.

"We have six months to prepare and at the moment our clear focus is to get on and get up and running in the league and try and get our team so that by the end of the league we’re getting close to our championship team."

Sheedy will announce his team after training tomorrow evening and there will be some enforced changes from his All-Ireland line-up of last September.

Midfielder James Woodlock will miss the entire league campaign as he recovers from the broken leg sustained in the county final last October. Thomas Stapleton and Pa Bourke are unavailable due to illness, while three new panellists are Jody Brennan, Michael Heffernan and David Young.

Eoin Kelly has been named Tipperary captain for 2010, having finally recovered from some chronic back problems, but Sheedy intends on trying out plenty of fresh faces, starting on Saturday:

"If you really want to find out about a player you give him a game in a league match, you’ll realise if this player has the potential to step up.

"Pádraic Maher and Noel McGrath, all these guys really found their feet in the league last year, and they proved that they brought that form from the league and carried it into the championship, which is really important."

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