Halfway through the year and instead of the hay being saved, everything smells of roses in Tipperary. No controversy, no problem about the designated captain not making the team, no dispute over favoured players losing their places. Liam Sheedy even delivered a league title, building on his previous reputation. However, he knows his real examination as senior boss starts tomorrow in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Jim O’Sullivan reports.
HE’S everything you would want from a manager, polished, easy to deal with, a good communicator — and that’s only from a media perspective.
The Tipperary County Board is delighted with Liam Sheedy, remembering how much he impressed with his handling of the minor team which won the 2006 All-Ireland title and, most important of all, he has the respect of his players.
One important difference between the two roles is that while at minor level “he had “more of a handle” on coaching and training, this time it’s much more about delegation.
“With all the other things that are going on, you just need to trust the guys you have with you,’’ he explains. “Eamonn O’Shea does all of the coaching, Michael Ryan is a top-class selector. Both are a real plus and Cian O’Neill does the physical training. It’s all about the backroom team more so than the manager. I’m blessed with the people I have.’’
His first foray into management was with the North Tipperary under-16s, followed by a stint with the county intermediates and two years at minor level. Motivated by the desire to give something back to the game, he regards it as the next best thing to playing.
As a member of the 2003 team which lost the National League final, he learned a lesson which he has been driving home to his players since they won the title against Galway in late April.
“If I ever needed a message to show me the difference between league and championship, I got it then. We came on a high of scoring five goals against a high-class Kilkenny team we went down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, probably two weeks later and we were absolutely blown aside by Clare.’’
Sheedy says preparing a senior team is more demanding than minors in terms of trying to achieve “a balance” between the management’s needs and the requirements of clubs.
“Everyone needs to understand that there’s a club championship that needs to be run and run effectively, there’s a Munster and All-Ireland championship and obviously a National League. There are club games going on for the last number of weekends.
That’s always a worry, but we have some games ourselves inside in training where you could get an injury. You just hope that they get through them, but at the end of the day we need to go back to these clubs. That’s where you get your county players and I don’t think you can shut down the club championship.’’
The morning after Tipp won the league final, they flew to Portugal for a week’s training camp. Having been planned months in advance, it was convenient to be away from the celebrations. It could have been different, he says, if they had lost, suggesting that they mightn’t have got the same benefit.
“It worked out well for us. We were up and at it on Tuesday. We were delighted to win the league but it was time to switch on for the championship.’’
While individual players have talked of the frustration losing to Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year, Sheehy says that he didn’t detect “any baggage” when he took over. His own view is that after the trilogy with Limerick in Munster, it was hard on the players and management to go straight into the qualifiers — playing seven weeks out of eight. In real terms, it prevented them improving their game because it was non-stop.
What he liked about his team in the league was the number of times they survived in tight games; in Pearse Stadium, for instance, after they were down to 14 men and drew. Accepting that playing Cork away represents “probably the toughest task” to date, he argues that it is well within their capability.
“We have five teams in Munster who I believe on any given day are capable of beating each other. I’m not saying that all five of us are capable of winning the All-Ireland. Over the last couple of years that Cork and Kilkenny have been at the top, Waterford have been pushing. If we can bring the league form and Galway can bring the league form, hopefully we might get two new teams to challenge. That in essence is what we need — more teams challenging for the titles.’’
What encourages him about tomorrow’s game is that while Tipperary may not have come out on top in Munster since 2001, in recent years there has “never” been a case where they were played off the park, or looked “a way off the pace”.
He is convinced that it won’t all be about individual players on the Tipp side doing well: “It’s really all about the unit.
“The boys know that they will either win as a team or lose as a team.”
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