IN these final few days before the All-Ireland decider, all the talk is about the players from both teams. Henry, Eoin Kelly, Eoin Larkin, Lar Corbett – these are the stars, these are the guys you pay to see, and the pressure is on them to produce.
From my own experience, however, I would say that the greatest pressure this week is on the respective management teams and on the managers especially – Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy.
Long before they got this far, the biggest challenge facing both Brian and Liam was to choose their own teams, and by that I don’t mean picking their best starting 15 – I mean choosing the guys who would be with them for the next year, and maybe the next few years. Those are critical choices, and yet you won’t know for a while whether you’ve made the right choice or not.
It’s my strongly-held belief that any manager, if he is to be successful in his job, has to be able to do four things. He has to be able to train a team at the top level, he has to be able to coach at the top level, he has to have the ability to know his best team, and know what changes he needs to make to improve his team as a game progresses.
This doesn’t mean that he has to actually do all those jobs, and I’d say all top managers nowadays delegate out much of the training and coaching duties. The critical thing, however, is that they are still in charge, they see everything that’s being done in those areas, and they have the last word on everything.
Brian Cody has shown, over the last decade and more, that he has all those attributes.
Another very impressive attribute of Cody is that he has been prepared to learn from his mistakes. Several times he has changed his management team, several times he has changed his approach, and every time it has been for the betterment of the team. His current management team, with Martin Fogarty as coach, Michael Dempsey as trainer/selector, and Noel Richardson as the expert trainer, is top class. I’ve always said this – strong men surround themselves with strong advisors, and Brian has done that. I’m not privy to what goes on behind closed doors at the ‘board meetings’ of this group, but I’d take a good bet on this – they get on well. There are no ‘yes-men’ in that group with all having proven themselves at other levels.
Let’s take Cody’s relationship with his players which is another important element of management. Over the years I’ve heard him criticised many times for his ruthlessness, his treatment of the likes of Denis Byrne, John Power, Brian McEvoy and Charlie Carter, to name a few. But I’m sure there are many more from down the scale who would also have personal gripes against Cody. I would take no notice of any of that – everything Brian Cody does, he does for the good of the team. If that means dropping a player, even a top-quality player, then so be it.
What’s really important here, and it’s been said many times also – you’ll always be popular with the first 15, and maybe there will be a four or five more who will like you, maybe a few who haven’t made their minds up about you, but among the rest, there will be those who absolutely hate you.
A good manager will know all this, will have his own instinct for it, and where he sees trouble brewing, dissent being sown, he will move to cut it out before it becomes a real problem. Those who are with him, in the management team, will also be alert for those signs. All of this is crucial. While I don’t think you need a happy camp you do need everyone pulling together. Kilkenny, under Cody, most certainly have that.
To Tipperary. If ever you saw an apprenticeship being served, Liam Sheedy has done it. And no, I’m not just talking about his time with the Tipp minors, I’m talking about his apprenticeship to Brian Cody.
Listen to Liam Sheedy talk, he always references Kilkenny, and by extension, Brian Cody; they are the benchmark in hurling with Cody the benchmark in hurling management. To succeed, you must match what they are doing, and then, try to outdo them.
In his first season, last year, I thought Liam was a little naïve at times in his tactics and in his dealing with the media (far too open), but this year – and much as Brian Cody after his early years, and after 2001 especially – he has learned. Now, he is mentally tougher, and as a result, Tipperary are mentally tougher.
Everything I said about Brian Cody’s management team applies equally to Tipperary; in Michael Ryan (selector), Eamonn O’Shea (selector/coach) and Cian O’Neill (trainer). Liam Sheedy has surrounded himself with top people, strong people, and it’s paying dividends.
These guys know their hurling, they know their players, and they are ruthless. There are no favourites here, people are started, substituted, brought on and off, and no apologies, because, as with Kilkenny, everything is ultimately for the good of the team. As with Kilkenny, a great balance.
On their relationship with the players, again I’d have to say that I’m impressed; remember, you’re dealing with a lot different types of character nowadays than what we came across ten and 15 years ago. These guys are far more confident in their own abilities, far more self-assured, which means bigger egos, which means bigger challenges for the manager. Remember also, guys are a bit softer now than they were before the Celtic Tiger came for his short visit, need more nursing – again, a challenge for management. And yet, even with all that, it would appear that Liam Sheedy (and Brian Cody, albeit in a different set of circumstances) has managed all that. The Tipperary camp is extremely unified, believe me.
I opened by talking about the pressures on managers, I’ll close with this – has anyone else noticed the physical strain, at this time of the year, on Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy? There is as much pressure on Liam Sheedy to guide Tipp to their first All-Ireland title in eight years as there is on Brian Cody to lead his team to the four- in-a-row.
On the day, there will be only one winner, but think of this – there will also be a loser.
Whether that’s Brian Cody or Liam Sheedy, I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes.
Supporters are great when you’re winning, but when a team loses, they look for the scapegoats, for someone to blame – who better than the manager?
They’re unpaid, they are every bit as amateur as the players but putting in a hell of a lot more of their own time, yet – within their own counties especially – they are seen in the same light as the likes of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger across the water. Remember that as Sunday approaches; remember it especially when it’s all over.
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