An emotional day: Dinny Hogan pictured celebrating Portroe’s 2012 North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final win over Toomevara at MacDonagh Park, Nenagh.
Liam Sheedy’s greatest achievement as a manager was not the 2010 All-Ireland senior hurling success with Tipperary nor was it the All-Ireland intermediate title which he guided the Premier County toward in 2000. And, if you thought that Liam Sheedy should be most proud of the 2006 All-Ireland minor success you would be wrong there too; the same goes for the Munster titles won in 2008-09 and the Allianz National League title which he collected in 2008. No, Liam's greatest achievement as a manager materialized in 2012 when Sheedy inspired Portroe to win the North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship.
Put those eyebrows down immediately. Seven years ago Liam Sheedy worked alongside his brother John, Fr Séamus Gardiner and John Hogan to deliver the Frank McGrath Cup to the village of Portroe; a truly extraordinary achievement given the resources of that tiny club.
The key aspect to that 2012 success (and to understanding the rejuvenation of Tipperary this season) was that none of it happened by accident - then, as now, Liam Sheedy got the physics of performance just right. And, that tells you everything that you need to know about Liam Sheedy as a manager; the man does the work necessary to create an environment where success becomes inevitable.
PERSONAL PLAYING HISTORY
As a player Liam inspired Portroe to the club’s first county title when Port saw off the challenge of Mullinahone (2-12 to 1-11) in the 1990 intermediate final at Leahy Park, Cashel - in the North final Portroe beat Silvermines (3-8 to 2-9) and Golden-Kilfeacle in the county semi-final (1-13 to 2-7).
Since that day (November 11 1990) Portroe, despite drawing on extremely limited resources, have been a senior club. Portroe famously appeared in the 2009 North final (lost to Nenagh Éire Óg), but prior to that some of the club’s most enthralling contests materialized as Portroe battled to avoid relegation back to the intermediate grade.
In 2003, for example, Liam Sheedy featured when Portroe beat Silvermines (5-17 to 6-11 aet) to avoid the drop and three seasons late in a relegation semi-final Sheedy was sprung from the bench, scored 1-1 and steered Portroe toward a vital win over Cashel King Cormacs (3-12 to 0-13).
Liam, however, reserved one of his greatest performances for 2007. In the relegation play-offs Portroe lost to Cappawhite (0-13 to 3-15) and Carrick Swans (2-10 to 1-15) before facing Éire Óg Annacarty in the final at The Ragg. Liam Sheedy emerged from retirement and Portroe survived (3-12 to 0-17).
Evidence initially emerged that Portroe had turned a significant corner in 2012 when Liam Sheedy’s men beat Templederry Kenyons 3-14 to 1-16 in the opening round of the North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship. Port followed that win up with victories over Borrisokane (0-17 to 2-7) and Lorrha-Dorrha (3-13 to 0-11). The side captained by Jimmy Creamer then fought back from six points down to draw with Toomevara (1-14 to 0-17) and duly booked their place in the knock-out stage of the competition.
The round robin stage of the competition came to a close with a bad-tempered defeat suffered at the hands of a thirteen-man Burgess (1-13 to 0-17), but Portroe had done enough to reach a quarter-final against Roscrea which they won well (3-15 to 0-18).
Next up was a famous semi-final win over Nenagh Éire Óg on a Monday evening at Dolla (1-14 to 0-16). A memorable goal materialized in the 14th minute of that contest when Éire Óg failed to react to John Sheedy's quick free and Liam’s nephew found the completely unmarked John Ryan who buried a rousing three-pointer.
Éire Óg led by three at the break (0-10 to 1-4), but Portroe were now playing with the wind and with Darren Gleeson’s puck-outs landing inside the Éire Óg 21-yard line the Nenagh lads appeared to panic and duly coughed up 0-7 from frees in the second half.
Entering the final quarter Éire Óg led by two points, but Portroe closed out this semi-final emphatically when out-scoring their opponents 0-4 to 0-1.
Mark Gennery notched the equalizer and the game-clinching score arrived in the 57th minute when Justin Conroy fired a hopeful ball toward veteran Dinny Hogan who was loitering on the edge of the square. Hogan caught the projectile over the head of Richie Flannery in spectacular fashion and fed the effervescent Mark Gennery who belted over the winner.
2012 NORTH FINAL
On July 20 2012 MacDonagh Park, Nenagh hosted the final of the Hibernian Inn North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship and despite playing with the aid of a very strong breeze in the opening half Portroe trailed at the break (1-7 to 0-11) and looked in real danger of suffering a heavy defeat.
John Ryan had plundered a precious goal two minutes into first half injury time - Darren Gleeson found Michael Sheedy with a long-range free who won the ball over the head of Benny Dunne before passing to John Ryan who carefully guided his left-hand shot past the advancing Darren Cuddihy. That strike gave Portroe supporters something to cling onto, but the fact that Toomevara had managed six points without reply during a dominant period of the opening half was a concern as was the quality of the Greyhounds team which featured Ken Dunne, Francis Devaney, Mark McCarthy, John O’Brien, Willie Ryan, David Young, Eoin Brislane, Paddy O’Brien and Benny Dunne. Toome, of course, were also chasing a first three in-a-row of divisional titles since 1962 and their 34th Frank McGrath Cup in total; that record contrasted starkly with a Portroe team who were vying to win the divisional senior hurling title for the first time.
Portroe captain Jimmy Creamer pictured lifting the Frank McGrath Cup at MacDonagh Park, Nenagh in 2012.
Portroe were absolutely outstanding in the second half. Indeed, playing into the wind appeared to suit Liam Sheedy’s men. The Toomevara defence was helpfully spread out that little bit more; John and Michael Sheedy found the room to work their terrific combination play in the half-forward line while Mark Gennery and John Ryan loitered with very real intent inside.
Mark Gennery had proven himself as a key leader for Portroe during the campaign and he struck for a goal in the 38th minute which appeared to have a transformative effect on the entire team - in this instance Jimmy Creamer won Darren Gleeson’s puck-out, passed to John Ryan who, in turn, found Gennery and Mark squeezed in a right-handed shot.
Portroe’s third goal materialized in the 49th minute when John Sheedy treated us to a wonderful hurling moment. John Sheedy won possession at half-forward and with three Toomevara defenders closing in Sheedy conjured a wonderful stick pass which floated over the heads of the Toome men and into the hand of Michael Sheedy who was roaring up on the blind side of the Greyhound defence. And, before ‘keeper Darren Cuddihy could set his feet Michael Sheedy flashed home a rasping left-hand shot. Port now led by seven points and then by eight with just three minutes to play (3-15 to 0-16).
Toomevara rallied with a late surge (1-3) and although Ken Dunne did enjoy a late, late chance to force a replay Portroe were well worth this magnificent win (3-16 to 1-19).
There is simply no getting away from it, but this was sensational stuff.
Portroe had heroes in every line. Darren Gleeson hit his targets again, again and again with his deliveries. Christopher O’Riordan and Colm Gleeson were immense in defence as were Jimmy Creamer and Justin Conroy in the middle of the field. Up front John Sheedy, Michael Sheedy, James Ryan, John Ryan and Mark Gennery all had their part to play while a special mention must go to veterans Noel O’Halloran and Dinny Hogan who featured on the Portroe team which won the county intermediate championship as far back as 1990.
But, perhaps, the man who best illustrated the hard-working approach of this Portroe team was the immense Michael Creamer - Creamer spent most of the evening at right wing-back and utterly dominated his direct opponents.
THE PHYSICS OF PERFORMANCE
When Liam got involved with Portroe he had a clear vision of the environment that he wanted to create. In order to succeed Sheedy knew that he had to get the mechanics of the thing right. So, he worked to develop a culture of excellence and establish a learning environment - he knew that the players would prosper in an environment where each individual player was challenged to improve and shown exactly how to do so; that environment was demanding, but also respectful and fun.
Liam Sheedy is famed for his ability to build relationships, but he is also exceptional at piecing together a framework of support around his players. Sheedy installed a management team which had the ability to develop each individual member of the squad and cater for the needs of the players. A competent strength and conditioning programme developed the ability of the players to get to the tackle area, deliver the hit, win the ball and accelerate away out of contact while each player’s technical deficiencies were also addressed. In the 2012 North Tipperary senior hurling final, for example, John Ryan, Mark Gennery and Michael Sheedy all scored goals off their weak sides.
Sheedy also understood the requirements of the game and what it would take to ensure that his team could compete with best teams; he developed a system of play which his players could lean on and which actually suited the individual players at his disposal.
Meanwhile Sheedy established a sense of mission about the thing: that the Portroe players represented something more significant than themselves. He helped the players to realise that how they performed and behaved mattered to the people who mattered to them; that there was more at stake than just winning.
And, Liam Sheedy developed his leadership group.
When Liam Sheedy, for example, was appointed as Tipperary senior hurling manager in late 2007 he organised meetings with six players that he had identified as becoming potential leaders and met them one-by-one to present his vision for the team. Sheedy knew that whatever success Tipperary would enjoy would to be driven from within the group.
The physics by which all successful organizations operate reads as follows: the team leaders build the culture, in turn that culture drives behaviour and behaviour produces results.
Management can do, say and think what they like, but the environment of all successful teams is driven by the players. There is no technique and no strategy that is going to overcome an absence of leadership.
Critically, Liam Sheedy had all of the bases covered: the individual development needs of each player were catered for, the group could lean on a system of play which delivered those players to the ball (in defence and in attack), the players were conditioned to meet the demands of the game and had the technical skill to realise Sheedy’s vision for a top class display and, finally, the players were motivated to do the actual work required to win.
The 2012 North final win over Toomevara represented the perfect culmination of that particular body of work. And, now Liam Sheedy is at it all over again. The Portroe man has pieced together a management team featuring top class people who ensure that the needs of the Premier County players are addressed. Caibre Ó Caireallain is heading up the strength and conditioning programme while men like Darragh Egan, Tommy Dunne and Eamon O'Shea ensure that Tipperary are as sophisticated as they come in terms of their hurling. And, most critically of all Liam Sheedy has ensured that his leading players are driving the entire project.
And, just like Portroe seven years ago the Tipperary players find themselves working in a high performance environment, under a manager they respect and for a jersey that they love.
You can watch highlights of the 2012 North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final by clicking here.
The Portroe team, which beat Toomevara in the 2012 Hibernian Inn North Tipperary Senior Hurling Championship final, read as follows: Darren Gleeson, Christopher O’Riordan, Dermot O’Halloran, Simon Kelly, Colm Gleeson, Michael Creamer, Noel O’Halloran, Justin Conroy, Jimmy Creamer (captain, 0-1), James Ryan (0-2), Michael Sheedy (1-1), Kevin O’Halloran (0-1), John Sheedy (0-8, 0-6 frees), John Ryan (1-2), Mark Gennery (1-0). Subs: (42nd) Dinny Hogan for Kevin O’Halloran, (45th) Shane O’Brien (0-1) for Justin Conroy, (56th) David Gleeson for Mark Gennery.
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