Sheedy open to return
Manager of the year says lure of Tipperary hot seat may be too much to resist
Published 18/12/2010 | 05:00
He wasn't long into one of those early-morning treks from just outside Nenagh to the centre of Dublin city last summer when Liam Sheedy knew something would soon have to give. And when the choices were laid out in front of him there was only one to be made.
There were mornings when his car would sweep out of the drive of his Portroe home a little after 5.30 bound for his base just off Dawson Street with Bank of Ireland retail sales and marketing, not to return until 18 hours later via Morris Park or Semple Stadium in Thurles where his 'other job' had preoccupied him for most of the evening.
Sheedy had switched positions in June from the more convenient role as head of sales in West Munster with Bank of Ireland Life, yet the implications of the move were never divulged fully until the Tipperary management had collectively decided to step down in October.
Clearly those implications could have had an unnecessary destabilising effect at the wrong time of the season. But when your territory is the entire country, as head of sales capability in the most challenging environment his industry has ever known in this country, the decision was easy for him, even if it was difficult sentimentally.
Still it came as a surprise, just a few short weeks after Tipperary's first All-Ireland success for nine years brought Kilkenny's supreme dominance, and their drive for five, to an end.
Six days after that triumph the Tipperary U-21s swept to a hugely impressive All-Ireland victory over Galway. All the factors appeared right to build from there, perhaps even start a small dynasty to mirror their neighbours and great rivals from the east. Against that background, it seemed a strange place then for Sheedy to hop off the carousel.
But to stay on for him would have meant disobeying his first principle in life. He is, by his own admission, a "100pc" man and to shave even a fraction of that off would have meant not doing the job right.
"If there is a risk you cannot give 100pc I would not ever dream of stepping in," he says. "There was that risk there because my role has changed. The job does require my full commitment, Bank of Ireland have been very good to me over the last three years, I was with them for two years as minor manager, they've allowed me the last five years out of seven to go and give my time to Tipperary.
"I'd be well aware that you have to manage your time, the family were probably the biggest losers in that sense. Small things around the house suffer. But there was no point in being a jack of all trades and being a master of none."
So it came to an end one evening in Portumna, the communal meeting point for the management trio, which facilitated Eamonn O'Shea's drive from Galway, where he is professor of economics in NUIG, and Michael Ryan, an Ulster Bank employee in Thurles. The bottom line was commitment, if they couldn't give it in its entirety they couldn't give it at all. The stand-out line in their parting statement was the devotion to 16-hour days away from the family. How much of that was to work, how much to Tipperary?
"I was leaving Dublin at 4.0 in the evening to be in Thurles for 6.30 and I wouldn't get home until 11.30 that night," recalls Sheedy of the summer past. The weekends weren't much different. He recalls throwing his eye over five club matches in two days, a necessary detail in what they did.
"That's 12 to 15 hours in a weekend, depending on where the matches were," reflects Sheedy, named Philips 'Manager of the Year' in Dublin on Wednesday last. He talks of being "physically drained" after matches, so the pause in his management career may be timely.
That his employers should recognise his ability and promote him into such a key role will be no surprise to those who watched him plan and organise over his three-year period in charge. Being head of sales capability in a bank takes in much the same parameters as a dressing-room -- the basics of sound planning, setting goals and motivating others transcending both.
He's advanced himself impressively in work and sport through an obsession with absorbing information and learning all the time. When the All Star hurlers went to Argentina last year, those who travelled couldn't help but notice that his choice of reading during an arduous flight was chiefly motivational material.
As a player his window was short, coming in as a 27-year-old in 1997 and staying for just four years. By then, however, the management bug had already bitten. He was in charge of the North Tipperary U-16s and within two years he was with the Tipperary intermediates before joining Michael Doyle as a selector.
When the opportunity to manage the seniors arose in 2007 after Babs Keating departed, Sheedy embraced it. The then Tipperary chairman John Costigan suggested Eamonn O'Shea coming on board as coach and Sheedy also remembered a conversation he had had after the 2000 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Galway.
"We were drowning our sorrows after losing to Galway in a bar in Thurles on the Monday after," Sheedy says. "I said to Mick (Ryan) I'd love a crack at the management some day. He replied that if I did get it he'd be willing to come in with me, so when I did get it he couldn't say no!"
He repels the idea that they inherited a team whose confidence had been rocked by defeat to Wexford and the controversial decisions made by the previous management to omit Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly from the team.
His take on what he found was different: "Whoever lost the trilogy to Limerick was going to have a job making an impact. Those three matches were a huge drain, Tipp came out on the losing side and somewhere along the way that was was going to get to you.
"People forget Limerick went on to contest the All-Ireland final. Would that have been Tipp had they won the trilogy? Who knows? Results showed we hadn't been in an All-Ireland semi-final since 2003, our record at Croke Park was very very poor. There was plenty to build on but I would have felt that the foundation was good."
When Keating put the boot in after this year's Munster championship defeat to Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh the temptation to respond was avoided.
"People can be critical but once we believed that we were doing everything right, and training to a maximum, we felt the best place to use our energy was to put it into trying to find the one or two things to use within the group," says Sheedy.
"If everyone does that then maybe you are talking about 60 or 70 things that you are going to do differently. Working through it, through hard work, that's where we put our energy and it was well rewarded in the finish.
"Anyway it's always hard for beaten All-Ireland finalists at the beginning of the next championship season. In a way it was set up for Cork. People will write what they want to write and people will say what they want to say. I can't influence that. All I could influence was what was happening at training at Morris Park on a Tuesday or Thursday night.
"We needed every ounce of energy for that. In our time, this team played 37 matches and won 26 -- they were far more used to winning than losing. The reality is teams lose. We were no different but every time we lost we wanted to learn from it and we did."
Sheedy rarely courted controversy during his three years in charge and is almost always careful in his choice of words. There were days when the guard was let down, however. In a post-match RTE interview after one of the championship games in 2009, he endorsed the candidacy of the current Labour MEP Alan Kelly.
The interview was frowned upon in many places but it's one Sheedy has no regrets about. The Kellys are long-time friends in Portroe, it wasn't a political message in his estimation. His altercation with Brian Cody is a regret, given the respect he has for Cody.
The satisfaction is that, on the biggest day of the hurling year in two of his three years in charge, Tipperary were as close to perfection as they could be.
"It would have been said that we had played above ourselves in the 2009 final and that would have annoyed us a little bit. We felt that was harsh. We always felt we were a coming team."
The prospect of managing other hurling counties will no doubt emerge but he says he's likely to rebuff them all.
"I have huge time for everyone in Tipp; I would find it hard to manage another team that wouldn't have the blue and gold on the shirts. I managed the intermediates, minors and seniors. I played with minors, juniors, intermediates and seniors. I would find it hard to walk around Tipp with all the friends and all the people who supported me."
Returning some day to Tipperary is a door he is more prepared to leave ajar: "The most important thing for me and my family is to stay healthy. Once you have health you always have options. Who knows after that?"
Being Tipp boss again some day looks a matter of when, not if.