Liam Sheedy says Tipperary have the players to win the All-Ireland Final... if they perform.
In Association with Tipperary Pure Irish Water
Liam Sheedy's mother Bid was a great woman. She lived to be in her nineties having reared her family practically on her own after her husband died when the children were quite young. She knew the hardship of being mother and father to them all, and though she enjoyed great support from the extended family, it was still left to her to ensure that she steered them all along the tricky pathways which life can offer up.
A woman of great faith too, Bid had a saying which sticks with Liam and which crops up in the context of his role with Tipperary - “What's meant for you, won't pass you by.” As her son quotes this in the Horse and Jockey Hotel at the Tipperary press evening we get an insight into the kind if household the Sheedy home was. We understand where the hard work ethic comes from; where the belief was born; and the role fate and faith plays in the lives of the Sheedy's.
Liam has given other indications too of where his desire for, and love of, Tipperary hurling has been conceived – he speaks of making the trips into Thurles to see the championship games back in the '80's, as being formative. Those were the days when absolute support was more difficult from a Tipp perspective due to the lack of success. But still, he was there, brought by his siblings and anyone else who would be kind enough to make space in the car from Portroe with another young lad in toe – could those people ever have known how their actions would impact Tipperary hurling decades later.
In a letter penned earlier this year to his former Tipperary minor hurling coach, Paddy Doyle, who was being inducted into the Thurles Sarsfields Hall of Fame, Liam spoke of how the Sarsfields man was a real father figure for him during that minor hurling campaign of 1987 – they were beaten by Offaly in the All-Ireland Final on the same day that Galway beat Kilkenny, but the seed of Premier passion had long since been sowed in Liam Sheedy.
In that same letter he described how Paddy Doyle had nurtured the flame and allowed it to blaze brightly; he spoke about Doyle's brilliance with young players and of the huge wealth of knowledge imparted to them; and he spoke of the massive desire and passion for the game of hurling and Tipperary, which was instilled in each one of the panel members which included the likes of John Leahy and Michael Ryan.
So that's where Liam Sheedy's earthy qualities are drawn from; that's the source of his rawness; and that's why he does what he does. It would have been easy for him to have remained in the RTE studio sitting comfortably on The Sunday Game panel discussing hurling. There would have been no threat to his reputation; no questioning of his sanity; nobody to second guess his thoughts, analyse his movements and criticise his actions. But then, the buzz of being involved would have been lost.
Liam always felt that he wanted to come back and with his mother's words ringing in his ears, he made the jump. It was also curious that his predecessor Michael Ryan, who works under him in Bank of Ireland, was the one who helped him make his mind up. “If you can manage the time, go in and just do it,” the Upperchurch Drombane man told him. Ryan knows him better than most and knows what it means to Liam Sheedy.
And so, here is now – nine months later, pregnant with optimism and hope, having gone through many labour pains, about to deliver the Liam MacCarthy Cup – Kilkenny and Brian Cody, of course, will have something to say about that. Speaking of Brian Cody, Liam could not help but, signal his admiration for him, while also articulating an understanding for his longevity in the role.
“When you get the chance to be involved in your own county it is an honour. It is one I am really, really enjoying. People talk to me about pressure. If you can’t enjoy managing a wonderful group of players from you own county then what can you enjoy. When you see the man down the road (Brian Cody) and the length of time he is doing it, that is phenomenal. I have a deep affiliation with my county. It is a privilege to be asked to manage your county and I always said that any time I would get it I would give my maximum in the role. I have enjoyed being back.
“I have spent the last nine years managing people. Ultimately, whether it is hurling, banking or whatever you are in, it is about trying to get the best out of people. That is the challenge for any group. It is one I enjoy hugely. One of the biggest kicks I get out of management is seeing people grow and develop. I have built up a wonderful rapport and relationship with this group of players. I just couldn’t be more happy with the way they applied themselves. Look, we could have found ourselves outside the top two over the last two weeks. A little bit of Lady Luck helped,” Liam told the media this week.
He is adament too that both Tipperary and Kilkenny are very pleased to find themselves in the All-Ireland Final – four weeks ago, outside of their own counties, neither would have been backed to make the decider. But, both sets of players backed themselves, trusted their own character and capabilities and now find themselves squaring off in the final for the seventh time since 2009.
“Both camps will be delighted with where they find themselves. At the start of the year you want to be involved on All-Ireland final day. It is a tough competition. This is game number 8 for us. It is a long road -the last time I was here, if you won four matches you won the All-Ireland. It is a little bit different now but this is exactly where you want to be. The two semi-finals were two hugely exciting matches. Obviously for Kilkenny, toppling the All-Ireland, League and Munster champions was a phenomenal performance. I have huge admiration for their spirit, their style of play. They got off to a great start and never wilted. They deserve great credit for that.
“We had a job to do against Wexford. With 20 minutes to go it was looking like maybe it wasn’t going to be our day when were were five points down and a man down as well. The spirit and character we showed was something that was very pleasing for me as a manger. The way we reacted when the pressure was on, was terrific. That match was turned inside the white lines- that is what you need, leadership inside the white lines. When the ask is greatest and you respond, that is most pleasing for a manager. That was certainly a serious ask. I am delighted we came up with the answers,” he says.
Tipperary will need to come up with the answers again on Sunday and after a long period of preparation for the ultimate day of the championship season, Liam is happy that the many boxes have been ticked. His determination to climb the highest mountain to ensure that everything is correct ahead of the game, is legendary, and he has done all possible at this stage. He has cajoled, questioned, challenged, encouraged, riled and motivated himself and his players. And, he has brought in the backroom personnel to do the same.
“It has been a long season, but over the seven months I couldn’t have asked for more from the group. They have given me absolutely everything every night as has the team around them, the coaching staff and so on. They challenged them night in, night out, week in, week out. Irrespective of what happens on Sunday, I can look back and say these guys have given absolutely everything. They all come from proud clubs. They are very, very proud to represent their county.
“There is a stern challenge ahead -Kilkenny are the most workmanlike team out there. The way they go about their business and chase down ball is a credit to them and their manager. That is something we are really, really aware of. We also know we have good players, a good panel overall and we have players who, with ball in hand, can do really good things. That is what we are looking forward to,” he says.
This will be his third final on the sidelines against Kilkenny, the last being that most memorable of days back in 2010, when the Kilkenny Drive-for-Five was scuppered by Sheedy's men. But, that's history at this stage and it's all about the now.
“The final of 2010 is long gone and the game has changed. The teams have changed. Brian has built a new team again -this is more or less a new team in Tipperary as well. 2010 counts for nothing in this final. This is about two teams who managed to get themselves back into the All-Ireland final after losing provincial finals. They are both there on merit. Both were severely tested. From that perspective we are really looking forward now. All-Ireland final day is very special. We love being involved, being a part of it. We are enjoying the build up to it. Preparations are going really, really well and these guys are just enjoying their hurling.
“We know we have to be at the peak of our powers. We have seen enough over the period of play, to know that these lads can bring a really strong performance, and they have a chance of being champions. If they are a bit off at all, no better team than Kilkenny to turn you over. They are an exceptional side,” he says.