Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird has always acted as a sounding board for my thoughts on management and life in general.
Courage, integrity, vulnerability, difference and honesty are all wrapped up in the classic tale.
It also highlights people’s absolute entitlement to view aspects of life through their own distinct lens, more succinctly put by Judge Taylor: ‘People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.’
The same mantra applies to hurling and particularly to Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final.
In 2007, having spent five years trying to build towards the goal with De La Salle, we finally reached the Dr Harty Cup final.
Savage work had been put in by the players and particularly Dermot Dooley. Ahead of the final against the John Conlon led St Flannan’s our school principal suggested that we ask Brian Cody to address the team and management.
The connection was obvious in that Brian had taught for years in St Patrick’s De La Salle so there was a natural affinity for the La Sallian ethos and a more natural affinity to hurling itself. Brian arrived to the school and duly delivered an inspirational talk to the hungry audience.
It was inspirational in terms of all the attributes you associate with his teams with the emphasis on an unbreakable spirit, an immeasurable unity and a ‘savage’ attitude.
But the talk was also a masterclass in what the lads’ psychological approach to the challenge ahead should be. He spoke about waking up on the morning of the game nervous and because you had ‘told yourself and planned for this’ that you could now deal with turning these nerves into excitement thus easing the pressure and leaving you able to face the challenges ahead with freedom.
He referenced Cha Fitzpatrick’s first 25 minutes of the 2006 All-Ireland final where he hardly touched the ball but was doing his job for the team with his positional sense and his constant tracking of Tom Kenny.
Calmness on the ball through routine and practice will enable you to make the right decisions. The other noticeable aspect of his delivery was both his sheer physical presence and the fact that not one word of bad language was used. The example set was a perfect one.
When we hear Brian pre and post-game on Sunday this simplicity of message will again be conveyed.
Steve Jobs might not exactly be a hurling man but his summation of how to impart a message or a thought in a understandable manner reminded me of Cody’s message to the young men: “Simple,” Jobs said “can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple, but its worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
The mountain was moved with the school winning its first Harty Cup thanks in no small part to Brian’s
Liam Sheedy follows a similar doctrine. On the Tuesday night before our 2012 county final against Dungarvan I had asked him to address our team.
He bounded into the room, looking the players directly in the eyes and challenging them to go after Dungarvan from the ‘get go.’
His tone was aggressive, demanding, and challenging. A perfect mix for what was needed. In less than 10 minutes he commanded the room with a no-nonsense address, empowering and asking the players: ‘What’s your decision... what are you going to do?’
My brother in law John Mullane has often referenced it as the best motivational speech he has ever heard.
Therein lies the advantage for Tipperary on Sunday. The perception that they are mentally brittle when the challenge is put up to them should act as a perfect catalyst for Sheedy to turn that narrative on its head. Where is the evidence to suggest this anyhow? Last year under Michael Ryan they came from 10 points down to snatch a draw against Cork in the first round. Having been reduced to 14 men against Waterford and down 11 points they rallied to grasp a draw and if Jake Morris hit the net instead of the post last year could see us talking about Tipperary back in a consecutive final.
That said the nature of the comeback against Wexford, the influence of Sheedy, Dunne, O’Shea and Egan as well as the assurance gained from the impact of a hitherto subdued Morris, Willie Connors, Mark Kehoe and Ger Browne will have made the last three weeks electric in training.
Having watched Kilkenny learn and adjust from the Leinster final defeat has been interesting if not surprising. This dogs of war attitude continued for the semi-final with John Donnelly, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh performing their dual roles to perfection. Acting as auxillary wing backs to allow Fogarty, Walsh and Deegan not to follow and therefore protect and also getting forward to act as an offensive threat not allowing attacks to be built from the back. Donnelly in particular put his body on the line several times against Limerick and captured perfectly the spirit of the performance.
Conor Browne’s athleticism, will and doggedness could see him track and hound Tipp’s key playmaker Noel McGrath.
Browne has previous in terms of his stubborn tracking of Darragh Fitzgibbon and Cian Lynch thus far. Think Browne and think of Cha’s role in that 2006 decider.
The lessons of 2016 in terms of the prairie of space afforded to the Tipperary full forward line will ensure the gap between Murphy, Lawlor and Holden will never be significant enough to leave one on ones. If so Eoin Murphy’s role is more important than ever and his panther-like instincts in and around the 13/21 will be vital if such a scenario arises.
Murphy’s puckout strategy will also be crucial. Having had success by going long down towards a wandering TJ and Walter will this process be revisited — or will he look for options closer to home?
Tipperary’s conundrum is slightly different if even more intriguing. Trying to second guess their thought process, one looks for hints everywhere.
Think of the pre-match speeches of 2010 where both Lar Corbett and Brendan Cummins in their respective autobiographies recalled O’Shea and Sheedy’s emphasis on going after Kilkenny’s pillars at 5 and 7.
Think of O’Shea referencing the regret he had in one particular match where they had compromised their principles of
attack, attack, attack
and you just get the distinct feeling that the furious work ethic of the earlier round-robin games may present itself in an even more vicious costume this weekend. A costume that will then act as a catalyst for movement and pure power hurling.
Will their approach see Brendan Maher taking up TJ Reid and hound him everywhere he goes as he has done to Gillane, Gleeson, Kelly and O’Connor? If this is the case a potential match up between Paraic Maher at 7 with Walter Walsh may see the Sarsfields man double job, conceding perhaps a couple of points to ‘Wally’ while also minding the space in front of Fennelly.
That Fennelly dilemma is even more interesting for Tipperary. Will we see Ronan Maher at 3 or could we see a recall for James Barry or Seamus Kennedy relocated to the edge of the square? Fennelly’s ability to make a goal from nothing will have alerted Brian Hogan to the importance of an early smothering of the Ballyhale man if he gets possession so don’t be surprised to see TJ stepping up to a penalty awarded for a foul on his club colleague.
The demeanour of John McGrath and ‘Bubbles’ Dwyer after the semi-final was one of disappointment. Bubbles had notched three points but still looked slightly dejected while McGrath’s red card could have cost his team a place in this final. Expect both to be itching to right some wrongs this weekend.
The memory of 2016 may also prompt Tipperary to locate Dan McCormack right up on Pádraig Walsh, negating him with aggression and honesty.
This move may also see Callanan, Forde and the two other assassins come out the field on occasions to find a way past the Kilkenny cordon.
Anthony Daly noted on this week’s Examiner podcast how fitting it was that Kilkenny and Tipperary should finish the decade as All-Ireland finalists.
Whilst fitting it is hardly surprising.
Athletic Club de Bilbao is not exactly hurling heartland but when current sporting director Jose Maria Amorrortu in 2011 produced a planning document called “Construyendo nuestro future" (Building our future) the similarities with the cultural heritage of Kilkenny and Tipperary is profound. Amorrortu refers to the culture in the Basque as being based on “hard work, collaboration, common feeling, of something transmitted down the generations and from that we can say we form part of a legacy that comes from our ancestors”.
For all the talk of transition and team building there could be up to 57 All-Ireland medals between the starting teams on Sunday. If Cillian Buckley starts for the Cats they will most likely have 40 medals between them with their forward line alone making up 21 with TJ (7), Richie Hogan (7) , Fennelly (4) and Walter Walsh (3). Throw in the probable young hurler of the year Adrian Mullen and the hugely underrated John Donnelly and you begin to look differently at the word transition.
I remember reading the Kilkenny People’s preview for one of the All-Irelands some years ago and would always have been drawn to the pen pictures. Interestingly when it came to the Ballyhale lads all cited Joe Dunphy, their primary school teacher, as being the biggest influence on them.
There seems to be a seamless simplicity to the importance of what the game symbolises, a deep-rooted respect for what they do.
Perhaps some facts will sway you one way or the other. The Croke Cup All-Ireland Colleges trophy has since 2010 been won seven times by St Kieran’s. Kilkenny CBS were in finals in 2012, ’13 and ’14.
Interestingly the 2017 loss was to Templemore. Since 2002 the Cats have contested eight All-Ireland minor finals winning five and losing three.
In that time their blue and gold neighbours have contested six since winning four. Oh for a drought-like the above.
James Aylward, who captains the Kilkenny minors against Galway on Sunday, is a student at our school here in De La Salle College.
Integrity, respect, ambition and humility see James loved by staff and students alike. A lovely humour guises a steely edge and whilst the hope is that he climbs the steps of the Hogan Stand on Sunday next to collect the Irish Press Cup, it is to a Drom/Inch man that I feel Liam MacCarthy will be presented a few hours later.
Like Judge Taylor noted though the seeing and the listening will be the captivating part.
Dalo's All-Ireland Preview Podcast: Tale of the unexpected but familiar final