“You’d go through a wall for either of them” is how Eoin Brislane describes his Toomevara clubmates Tommy Dunne and Mikey Bevans, who find themselves scheming against each other in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday.
For two men who were the very heartbeat of the club during their golden years in the 1990s and 2000s, who won eight Tipperary senior county titles together, were captains for half of them, and claimed two Munster titles, the idea of opposing one another almost seems wrong. But for two high achievers with the revere of their peers, it was hardly surprising they would reach these heights as Tipperary and Waterford’s coaches.
A year after retiring from a glittering inter-county career in 2005, Dunne was assisting, if not named as a selector, Liam Sheedy with the Tipperary minors. Bevans’ road began with Upperchurch-Drombane in 2013, bringing them to a mid-Tipp final a year later and linking up with Liam Cahill and the county’s minors.
Both Setanta College graduates, the pair’s coaching CVs are incredible. Before Dunne and Sheedy teamed up in 2019 to bring the Liam MacCarthy Cup to Tipperary, Dunne had assisted him and coached Declan Ryan’s side to All-Ireland minor titles in 2006 and ‘07 respectively. Dunne and Ryan worked the oracle again for an U21 All-Ireland crown in 2010 and later annexed back-to-back Munster SHC titles in ‘11 and ‘12.
Bevans also has three All-Ireland titles to his name as an underage coach, only that he and Cahill did it the other way around, one minor (2016) and two at U21/20 level (2018, ‘19), prior to bringing Waterford to an All-Ireland SHC final in their first season in charge in 2020.
“Tommy obviously had the more prominent profile,” says Tony Delaney, who was alongside Dunne for all 11 of the Dan Breen Cups won between 1992 and 2008. “I would have compared him with Roy Keane — everything had to be done spot on, there was no in-between. It had to be consistent and done to the highest standard. He put that demand on others and other players. You always knew where you stood with Tommy.
“I always said Mikey was the best pound-for-pound hurler in Tipperary when we were going well. What you saw is what you got. Two quiet, unassuming guys who liked to play by example rather than say it. I wouldn’t have picked Mikey to go into coaching but he was always very driven and had such an attention to detail.
“I think coaching suits them more than management — I’m not sure Tommy would have the patience for dealing with players because he has such high demands. But they’re so good at coaching and they’re allowed to get on with where they are sharpest.”
Brislane sampled Dunne’s coaching enough to know that he would get as much out of players as he did as a team-mate.
Like Delaney, he didn’t expect Bevans would go the same way but now it makes sense. “You had so much admiration and respect for the two of them. You want to play and win for them. The teams they have coached, they do that for them. Their teams perform and respond to the guys.
As a player, Mikey was small in stature but he was huge in heart. Every time he went out in a game or training, he’d give it everything.
“We would always say in Toomevara that he got a raw deal with Tipp, that he should have got more opportunities. His size went against him whereas in the modern game it wouldn’t have as much. The give and go’s, the quick movement, he would have relished the way hurling is played now. He took a lot of punishment for us, won a lot of frees.
“The biggest compliment I can give Mikey Bevans is that I can’t remember any game in which he didn’t stand out. A lot of us in the club would often be asked who was our best hurler, and it’s 50-50 between Tommy and Mikey. Mikey Bevans was as brave as they come, put his body on the line and work tirelessly. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Delaney laughs that now that Bevans has moved to Borrisoleigh, he and Dunne, who hails and continues to reside in the Curraheen townland that borders the rival club, have “never lived as close” — Bevans hails from Ballymackey on the north side of Toomevara.
“I don’t know if they are on the phone to each other every week but they don’t have to be,” says Brislane, who hopes to see Bevans following Dunne into the senior coaching role in Tipperary in the years to come.
“You don’t win that much together and not be friendly. Your life moves on when you finish hurling but it’s brought them to this stage now.
“Two serious men, two extraordinary leaders.”