Tipperary’s money man Declan Kelly aims to ‘embed a culture of excellence’

Michael Foley

The patronage of Declan Kelly and Teneo has raised expectations for Tipperary

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When they were younger men than now Liam Sheedy and the Kelly brothers hurled with Portroe and knocked around together, danced the odd Scór set and grew up quietly thinking bigger than home. From the moment Sheedy’s hurling career concluded with Tipperary, he talked about managing them. He was in charge in 2009 when Tipperary beat Cork in the Munster championship, five days before Alan Kelly stood for Labour as a candidate in European elections. The minute Sheedy spotted a gap in his post-match television interview, Sheedy squeezed in an endorsement. Kelly won the last seat on the final count. Every little matters.

Declan Kelly, by then, was entering a different orbit in a galaxy a million miles from home. He had begun as a journalist in Nenagh in the late 80s before moving to the Cork Examiner covering industry and business while also banging out a succession of spiky columns for the sport section that regularly brought him into angry conflict with Cork county board. Ideal sparring for a business life in the company of the Clintons and leaders of some of the world’s biggest brands.

<img class=”Media-img” src=”//www.thetimes.co.uk/imageserver/image/methode%2Fsundaytimes%2Fprod%2Fweb%2Fbin%2F4569f026-ea65-11e8-ae8b-93697427c437.jpg?crop=1253%2C835%2C664%2C66″ alt=”Future ambitions: Liam Sheedy talked about managing Tipperary from the moment his hurling career with them concluded”>

Future ambitions: Liam Sheedy talked about managing Tipperary from the moment his hurling career with them concludedOLIVER MCVEIGH

Having moved into public relations in the mid-90s and set up a company shortly afterwards in partnership with Jackie Gallagher, Gallagher and Kelly was sold for £7.1m to Financial Dynamics. Kelly partnered up again to buy out Financial Dynamics for €40m in 2003 before overseeing its sale a few years later for $340m, the highest sum ever paid for a public relations firm.

From there he became a key fundraiser during Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid in 2008 and was made a special economic envoy to Northern Ireland in 2009. He established Teneo with Paul Keary and Doug Band, a close aide of Bill Clinton’s, in 2011 as an advisory firm to CEOs and executives in some of the world’s major companies.

If work stretched out in all directions into all places, hurling kept leading him back home. Kelly had also supported the GPA from their beginnings in 2000 and was involved in the arranging their first breakout sponsorship deal with Marlborough Recruitment. The GPA’s Jim Madden Leadership Programme is named in memory of a former Portroe club man — father of Michael Madden, Teneo’s chairman of capital advisory — who helped guide Tipperary camogie teams to their first All-Irelands under Michael Cleary and was described once by Sheedy as the most influential person on his hurling career outside his own family.

The expectations now of Teneo as Tipperary’s sponsors for the coming year and Kelly as chairman of a committee charged with extracting the maximum buck from the Tipperary hurling brand is all there in last week’s statement from Tipperary county board, welcoming Teneo and Kelly as more than a sponsor, but an advisory firm “to create sustainable support and structures to encourage participation at all levels and embed a culture of excellence. Teneo will be much more than a jersey sponsor and very much a strategic partner”. Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola one day, Tipp county board the next. Imagine.

Upscaling Tipperary’s commercial earning and honing in on improving the environment around the players echoes back to Sheedy’s first time round as manager and the distance he has travelled since. When he started out with Tipp in late 2007, morale within the team was low. Important players had either been dropped or lost their way and a bursting bank of brilliant young players was ready to be released. Managing all that required skill, patience and good people. Sheedy ticked all those boxes. Another All-Ireland followed.

<img class=”Media-img” src=”//www.thetimes.co.uk/imageserver/image/methode%2Fsundaytimes%2Fprod%2Fweb%2Fbin%2Ffba877dc-ea78-11e8-ae8b-93697427c437.jpg?crop=1100%2C733%2C0%2C0″ alt=”It’s who you know: Declan Kenny established Teneo with Paul Keary and Doug Band, a close aide of Bill Clinton’s, in 2011 as an advisory firm to CEOs and executives”>

It’s who you know: Declan Kenny established Teneo with Paul Keary and Doug Band, a close aide of Bill Clinton’s, in 2011 as an advisory firm to CEOs and executivesLAURA HUTTON

The conditions for preparing teams have changed again since he stepped away but Sheedy has stayed in coaching and soaked up more knowledge of elite sport as chairman of Sport Ireland’s High Performance Unit. Getting Kelly and Teneo involved is a further reflection of how the requirements to compete have pushed on. At a time when Tipperary county board is facing into a €5m project to expand Semple stadium, Kelly’s links into Irish-American business should help fill any potential funding gaps for the hurlers. Everything else that Tipp need, Sheedy has accomplished before.

The looseness that affected their training and discipline over the last couple of years can be tightened up by a new management that already walks into the dressing room as made men. Back in late 2007 Sheedy filled his first training panel with players from Tipperary’s two All-Ireland winning minor teams from 2006 and 2007. The training panel announced last week was loaded up with a dozen All-Ireland U21 winners from this summer.

A year after Sheedy set off with Tipp, Pat Gilroy took over the Dublin footballers and faced into 2009 with a similar set of problems, particularly around the team’s finances. By the end of his time Dublin had a sponsorship deal with Vodafone worth €800,000 a year, a full-time fundraiser and a wave of secondary sponsors. At a time when spending everywhere was pushed down by recession, Dublin’s went up. The right investments and connections rooted down methods of sustainable good practice. That’s the model for most elite counties now. It’s what Tipp are trying to get back.


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