Source: Nenagh Guardian
By Shane Brophy
He did it his way!
The lyrics of the Frank Sinatra classic ‘May Way’ come to mind when recounting the impact that Liam Sheedy has had on Tipperary hurling for much of the last two decades.
From player to selector and coach at intermediate and minor, level to two-time All-Ireland senior winning manager, the Portroe man has given a lot more than most to the Tipperary cause and it has always been to the betterment of the team.
They say you should never come back and having won 1 All-Ireland, 2 Munster’s and a National League in his first stint from 2008 to 2010, he didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, but there was an itch still there to have a go at it again and will go down as having the rare honour of winning All-Ireland titles in two different stints, with largely a completely different team.
SB - So why was now the time to step away?
LS - “We review it every year at the end of the year, that's generally how we run it.
“Obviously, we got where we wanted to get to in 2019, it was a wonderful year, we had one blip along the way but winning seven games out of eight was a huge achievement in that championship structure. We had to go to Clare, and we had to go to Cork.
“Last year was just difficult, I'll be honest with you. There was no real preparation. We got three or four weeks' preparation, Clonmel Commercials and Loughmore had long seasons, so we never really got a run at it last year and I think it showed in our performances. We nearly got over the line against Galway.
“This year the lads worked very hard on their individual programmes, I felt we were coming into the league in a good place, we had a lot of groundwork done individually. “We got back collectively three weeks before the start of the league and our league performances up to the last game (against Waterford) were good. I wasn't overly concerned about the last one because I probably felt we were overcooked a little bit. “Ideally a three-match league might have suited us a little bit better but at the same time we got to see some players and we got to see where the panel was at.
“Having got that lead up, the Munster final was a game we needed to win. We probably never really recovered after that, but we never stopped fighting and we never stopped trying.
“If you ask me what will haunt me in 2021 it would be the third quarter in the Munster final, we just got completely overrun and completely outplayed and couldn't get our hands on the ball. After being so effective for the first 35 minutes, that's something we were very disappointed with. I have to take some of that responsibility myself but that's it, that's sport, if we got another break or two on either of the two days (against Limerick and Waterford) it could have made the difference.
“We probably got a break in the first match but couldn't buy a break in the second or third match, that's life, that's sport.
“There's a lot of energy that goes into an inter-county season, and I would say an inter-county season with Covid would probably take up more energy, because it's just not normal.
“Having said that, the energy and effort I got from the same group was just incredible.
I loved every minute of it, I enjoyed every training session. I never came back from Thurles in bad form. You are talking about getting into the car at 4 o'clock, you're in Thurles at 5pm for a training session that starts at 7pm, and you're back home at 10 or 10.30. It is full-on but hugely enjoyable, it's been a privilege.
“I think it is a three-year project, there's loads of talent to come from, we didn't feel that one year was the right thing to do for this team right now.
“There's the core of a really good bunch there, but for me it was three years or no years. We (the management team) had a really good chat about it over the weekend, we took a good few hours on it and this is where we came out.
“If you're going in you've got to be all in, inter-county management is full on and it's a heavy load. I was thrilled I got two terms, six years at it, on top of what I did with the minors and intermediates. I've probably been involved in ten of the last twenty years with Tipperary teams across three grades.
“I have loved every minute of it, but I just felt the time is right for me and for the management team to step aside.
“For myself and Eamon (O'Shea) that's our second stab at it, but I would say that people like Tommy Dunne, Eoin Kelly and Darragh Egan are not easily found. I think they're three exceptional people, three people who can have a major role to play in the coming years in Tipperary, so I would like to think that those guys have a lot to offer. I couldn't be more impressed with all three, I think they're really good, they're really well respected and run an excellent pitch, they form an excellent group, so who knows what the future will bring for those guys. From where I sit, they're top-class men that have a lot more to give.
“For Eamon O'Shea, a man living in Galway and considering what he has given to this county over the last fifteen years is nothing short of incredible. He has been a massive support to me, a colossus beside me, and everywhere I went he was by my side and at my shoulder, so having him in your corner is a big thing.
It shouldn't go unacknowledged what that man has done for the county. He has to drive from Galway every night, so when I'm getting home to Nenagh he's only halfway there. It's exceptional really.
SB - Apart from winning the All-Ireland title in 2019, what are his highlights from his time in charge?
LS - There were a lot of special days. As a kid I went to enough games down in Cork and in Clare where we were really struggling to win. I think winning those two games away from home in the cauldrons of Ennis and Pairc Ui Chaoimh, they're special days.
“But I thought the second half performance against Wexford was probably, if you asked me what was the most incredible performance of the group, I think that was the day where the group decided we're not for turning. I think that the second half of that semi-final with a man down and we were down five, six or seven points, whatever it was at that time, we were in a corner, and they fought our way out of it with a man down, that will probably live long in my memory.
“Potentially one of the best 35 minutes of hurling we've had since I came back was in a game where unfortunately we didn't match that in the second half. I would say that the 2-16 performance and scoreline we had against Limerick, and we had nine wides so we should have been on 2-20 against what I consider to be formidable opposition in the first half of the Munster final.
“While we all know that the result wasn't what we wanted I feel that the first half performance was on a par with anything the group had done, I thought they were exceptional in that first half.
SB - Apart from the third quarter in the Munster final, has he any regrets from his time in charge?
LS – “No, I have none.
“Because every time I went to training, every time I went to a match, every time I did my pre-match speech, which was well rehearsed, and the preparation was always done for training.
“Every aspect that I could give for that team, I left no stone unturned in the preparation so that's why it's a really comfortable seat that I sit on right now, knowing that I gave it absolutely everything. I'm not saying that I got it all right.
“Everyone has their views, that's why we're all human, everyone has a view in terms of who should start and who should finish, who should come on, who should make the panel and who shouldn't.
“I haven't one ounce of regret because I gave it 100% and so did my management team and backroom team, and in fairness so did the players.
“I find myself in the very fortunate position to be walking away after two terms with two Liam MacCarthy cups, and we got two Munster titles and a league the first time around. We lost two Munster finals in the last three years as well, so this team has been hugely competitive.
“It's hard to get up the steps of the Hogan Stand and for us to have got up there twice, and for Mick (Ryan) to have done it in between is nice.”
SB – What was the key factor in the decision of the management to step away?
LS - “Really for us it came down to the energy required and the time commitment required to go at it again.
“People wouldn’t understand what energy Tommy Dunne uses of a Tuesday night, or Eamon O’Shea, or the rest of them. It’s full on but is hugely enjoyable.
“You can’t come in there half-baked; you have to be on top of your game. You would be washed up after a championship match and washed up after the season because you give everything to the cause. Myself and the ceiling would have great chats as well over the last few weeks thinking about what we could have done here and there, but that is what you sign up for.
“It is an honour and a privilege, and we felt we had given all we could for the three years, and it was in the best interests of ourselves and our own health, we felt we left nothing in the tank and gave it everything and from that point of view we are happy with what we have given and couldn’t have given anymore.
SB – With hurling moving towards power and pace, can Tipperary follow it?
LS - “Tipperary have their own style of play. I don’t think Tipperary will be winning All-Ireland’s by trying to copy Cork or Limerick. Tipperary had our own identity of how we want to play. We have all the skills and all the attributes we need in the dressing room right now to be mega competitive again in the championship in 2022, so I would have no concerns in that regard.
“That is a very good bunch there and those younger lads are growing and maturing every month and it is better and better they will get.
“Ultimately you have to try and put your own stamp and the secret in these top-class games is trying to impose your performance onto the opposition and we saw enough of that this year when we did that, we were doing fine but obviously when things got turned and the opposition get on top of us and got a run on us, we paid a heavy price. But that is the nature of the game, it is open and free-scoring, and we have no problem thriving in those environments.
“When I look back on my workrate and possession stats from the first half against Limerick, they were off the charts, so this Tipperary team knows how to play big moments and big games but unfortunately we didn’t sustain that for long enough in that Munster Final, but the first half was on a par with anything we achieved and when you have people that have played the game such as Donie Nealon saying it was potentially one of the best thirty-five minutes they have seen from a Tipperary team, that is when you sit up and take notice.
SB – How much was the Covid impact on that last two campaigns?
LS - “We can’t turn back the clock but we were certainly left frustrated in terms of 2020 but we all dealt with the same consequences but we thrive in preparation and getting that aspect of preparation right so we are going into games as close as you can to being bullet-proof, that is where you want to be.
“There are a lot of things we can control in life, but Covid struck. I would say over the last two years we have given a lot of performances where hopefully it lifted the spirits of some people that are sitting at home and can’t move. That is what we have brought, yes it didn’t always work out, but I would be as pleased getting a text from someone who says ‘ye showed an incredible spirit today and came up short but I am so proud to be from Tipperary’. That stuff matters to me and we have a team that are doing all they can to make sure Tipperary are successful, and you can’t ask for anymore.
“There will be days when it doesn’t happen and there will be ten or fifteen minute periods where the game doesn’t go your way but in the third quarter against Waterford, they got eight shots and scored 1-7, we got eight shots and scored 0-3 so we had the same amount of chances but that was the quarter where ultimately they got the gap but full credit to my lads and to think the clock was approaching seventy minutes and we had it back to two points and had three goal chances we would have taken on another day, so it shows you the calibre of player that is in this dressing room.
SB – Was it worth scratching the itch by coming back in late 2018?
“I would have a lot of close confidantes, people I would take a lot of advice from, and they were saying ‘jesus Liam don’t do it, you have too much to lose.’
“But my gut was telling me to do it and there was something left untapped in here and I have to try and tap into that, and it turned out to be a great decision.
“Over the three years of the journey I have enjoyed every bit of it. The players have given me absolutely everything. If any of them need any help or they need anything in a professional matter, I will be there for them. There is a really good group there, with a really good spirit.
“I am excited about what the future holds. In Tipperary sometimes, we have a habit of building ourselves up too high when we are winning. It’s not so long ago since 2019 that we were winning a senior and under 20 All-Ireland. This thing goes in cycles.
“There are a lot of people ready to say now we are in trouble but when we are down, we are not far down as people think and when we are up, we are not us as high as we think.
“This Tipperary dressing room is a serious dressing room, this Tipperary dressing room will be competitive, and they have ambitions of going on and doing great things and creating their own history and that is the challenge for some of these younger lads, the ambition they have is the same as the likes of Paudie Maher and the rest of them had as young lads so there is loads to look forward in this Tipperary team, no question.
SB - Brendan Maher has also stepped away as well, a player who have soldiered with since he was a minor?
LS - “It’s hard to believe, he would have been fourteen or fifteen tears of age when I first got him on a North Under 16 team, he was only a chap at the time.
“What he has gone onto achieve is incredible. He has been immense on the pitch and off the pitch, as well as the leadership he brings, an exceptional guy. We saw it with Borris-Ileigh when they went on the great club run, some the things he was going with a hurley and ball in that run were outrageous.
“He has given everything and could have easily after ten years when the knee went, said that is me done but true to form he came back. He was meticulous in his preparation and how he approached his rehab. He literally had to learn to turn again but did all that and came back out to being an All-Star and winning an All-Ireland on the pitch in 2019.
“If you want to resilience in action, when that happens to you in the month of June 2018 and within twelve months you are back on the steps of the Hogan Stand lifting up Liam MacCarthy.
“Any time we had a problem, it was mainly Brendan Maher that was sent on to sort it out, so he didn’t have it easy whether it was Aaron Gillane or TJ Reid, he took it on head on.
“He has given loads and doesn’t own anything to the jersey.
SB - What is next for Liam Sheedy?
LS - “If my two girls had their way, they’d like me to do this job forever.
“We have really enjoyed it; we have had a blast. We got to spend three years with some of the best players I have ever gotten to work with. That is very proud and very pleasing, and they were very open and accepting to my family.
“You get attached to these things; we give it everything as it does matter to us.
“It’s nice to be leaving at a time when we have achieved a lot, given it another three years when people said we shouldn’t have gone back. We have given it everything, left no stone unturned, have no regrets and will just move from the side-line back up into the stand, and god help anyone that is sitting beside me because I’ll still be jumping up and now leaping around the place because Tipperary hurling matters to me and I just want to wish whoever comes in to take the mantle the very best of luck and they will have a supporter up in the stand in Liam Sheedy.