James Woodlock was the youngest of the four Tipperary players to announce their inter-county retirements after the 2015 season. The Drom & Inch midfielder was 29 at the time but insists he has no regrets.
Q: How difficult was the decision to retire?
I had thought about it for the previous two years. A new management came in and I had to look at the panel of players, looked at management coming in, and then I made my decision. Weighing it all up, that was my time to go.
Q: We’ll go right back to the start of your senior career with Tipp, when you made your championship debut in 2006. Tipperary’s manager then was Michael ‘Babs’ Keating. A colourful time?
Very colourful! What do you say about Babs? The older generation have great time for Babs, the younger generation, paint it up whatever way you want to, wouldn’t have a lot of time for Babs. I totally disagree with him cutting the back off players, management, Tipperary County Board, who, for years, have been nothing but supportive of the senior hurling panel, including myself.
Q: He name-checked you a couple of times?
He picked out other players, Larry, Shane McGrath. I don’t think any young player, my generation, even a bit older and younger, have any time for Babs. The younger generation don’t know what he did for Tipp and he obviously set up the Supporters Club. He did massive work and I’m not putting any of that aside, he absolutely did, but the way he treated players when I was on the panel…Benny Dunne started centre back one day, centre forward another, dropped him another day, dropped Brendan Cummins, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, messed around with the team, messed around players. You can’t do that. The way he spoke about players, including myself, over the years, the county board, it’s just a laugh at this stage. He’s a joke.
Q: Liam Sheedy came in then and managed to steady the ship, ultimately steering the team to All-Ireland glory in 2010. After the devastation of losing the 2009 final, he vowed that ye would be back a year later to win it. How good was that to hear at the time?
Words are easily spoken but we believed we would be back. When Liam took over, he instilled that in all of the players. I’ve never seen a man to do what he did — 36 players on the panel at that time and the 36 couldn’t hurl any better. That’s what made him so good.
Q: At the end of 2009, you suffered a serious injury when you broke your leg but Liam ensured you weren’t forgotten about?
Under Liam Sheedy, I had never failed to start a game. It would have been the same in 2010 only for the injury. He was down to me two or three days after I broke my leg, visiting me in hospital in Waterford. The encouragement he gave me was great. He stayed in contact with me all year. He probably didn’t have to but he did and kept me involved, kept me talking to the other players. He used me that way, to chat to younger players. I remember Seamie Callanan at the time, he had me in his ear for months. Then Seamie came on and scored two points in the All-Ireland final (2010). Liam was priming him for that but he was using me to get to him.
Q: Declan Ryan took over then?
Declan tried to impose his own way of doing things and then the trainer was Tommy (Dunne), and he brought different elements to it. It just didn’t work out as well. We were flying it, won two Munster finals comfortably, but got caught by a superb Kilkenny team at the time. Was the camp as coherent, as close and playing together? Probably not.
Q: And then it was Eamon O’Shea’s turn, a man who had been coach alongside Liam Sheedy.
I have superb time for Eamon and he knows it, he’s the best trainer in the country and I felt he might have been out of his comfort zone in relation to management. He had the respect of the players, he had everything, but he wanted to be on the field. That’s where I felt he got caught. He had to stay to his managerial role but I felt Eamon O’Shea was wasted in that regard. He was the best trainer in the country — he should have been left to train.
Q: Before Eamon’s last year in charge, it was announced that Michael Ryan would be his successor. What did you think of that?
I’ve never seen that done before. One man leading the ship and another waiting to take over. Then, are they all going to pull their weight together? Is one man going to step back from players when he knows he’s taking charge next year? I don’t think it was a good idea. That’s my opinion. I’m open to correction and this year is going to tell a lot.
Q: We’re sitting here in the Templemore Arms, in the town where you’re based as a garda instructor. What’s morale like in the force?
Morale is at an all-time low. Guards don’t have resources on the street and are beingassaulted every day. It’s a tough, tough job on the street. With me in the college, I’m not out there much but (wife) Michelle is and it’s a very tough role outside now.
Q: Do you worry about Michelle out on the streets?
Of course I do. She’s out on the street where everything happens. The problem is she’s probably in the car on her own a lot. That’s how far resources have dipped. You could be going to a domestic call or a burglary on your own.
Q: To the uneducated, surely there should be a male with a female officer?
No, the force just doesn’t have the numbers. That’s why the Garda College opened recruitment back up from late 2014. They’re talking about bringing in more and more. That’s great to see but it’s only a drop in the ocean compared to what’s retiring. They’re only filling the gaps. It’s not like they’re increasing Garda numbers, they’re not, and we need to get them through the college as quick as we can and out on the street, to supplement what’s already out there.
Q: You have a baby daughter Hazel. Has she changed you?
Of course she has, softened me a small bit! Now I want to get home a bit more to see herself and Michelle. I’d work all day every day but now, there comes a time in the evening where I need to get home, to see her before she goes to bed, to see if she wants to go out and see her ducks or the sheep, whatever it is, out on the swing.
Q: You seem very happy?
I am. You have to understand it’s a massive pressure gone. I had a wedding a couple of weeks ago and I could go and enjoy it. And it’s not about alcohol. I could stay out until 4 o’clock in the morning. If that was any other day I’d have the meal and be gone home to bed. I’d have drank three or four litres of water.
Q: Will the time come for Tipperary to break with tradition and look outside the county for a senior hurling manager?
If there’s not one good enough inside, they should go outside. Liam Sheedy came through because he won a minor All-Ireland, Declan Ryan the same, Eamon O’Shea was a part of Liam Sheedy’s backroom team and would have been highly thought of and to a lot of people, the mastermind behind Tipperary’s All-Ireland final win in 2010. There’s pedigree, that’s where they learned their trade. Managers catapulted into a position without a proven record, I don’t know if it’s a win-win situation for manager and player. I’m looking forward to Brendan Cummins, Eoin Kelly, Paul Curran, they’re leaders, men with pride, men that I can see leading the ship for Tipp in years ahead.
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