Saturday 22 July 2017

Sheedy's patience a virtue for Tipp

Eamonn Sweeney

Imagine how Liam Sheedy must have felt back in the first week of June. He would have known, because managers do, that he had a team good enough to win an All-Ireland. Yet Tipperary had just been humiliated by Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and were lucky to get away with only a 10-point beating.

Given what we have learned since about the two teams involved, the result seems incomprehensible. Yet it happened and Liam Sheedy must have spent some dark days and nights trying to figure out exactly why.

His peace of mind can't have been helped by the eagerness of certain people in his own county, most notably Babs Keating, to indulge in that venerable Irish pastime of sticking the boot into a man when he's down.

Sheedy showed great dignity in keeping his own counsel in the face of this criticism. He also kept his cool and resisted the temptation to dismantle the team which had flopped so badly in Cork. The starting 15 which defeated Kilkenny showed only two changes from the team which had taken the field in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. And one of the omitted players Seamus Callanan (the other was Brian O'Meara) played a key role when introduced last Sunday.

Instead of making wholesale changes, Sheedy carried out a series of positional adjustments which greatly improved the side. It would have been easy to drop Pádraic Maher after the young full-back's ordeal against Aisake ó hAilpín. Instead the Thurles Sarsfields man was brought out to wing-back where he recovered to such an extent that he ended the season with a storming final quarter at centre half-back, once more looking like one of the great young talents of the game.

Sheedy was told that his midfield pairing of Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher lacked the necessary physicality yet he persevered with them to the extent that Maher has become a candidate for hurler of the year. Not bad for a kid who's only playing wing-back on the under 21 team. Noel McGrath initially appeared to be suffering from a severe case of second-season syndrome but blossomed when given responsibility at centre half-forward.

Sheedy's willingness to trust in youth is noteworthy. Starting five under 21s in an All-Ireland final against the great Kilkenny team was the kind of move any other manager would have been far too cautious to risk. Cork, for example, who only lost the Munster under 21 hurling semi-final to Tipp in extra-time, started none of that team in the senior semi against Kilkenny and brought only one of them, William Egan, on as a sub.

The Tipp boss also deserves credit for the manner in which his team dethroned Kilkenny. There was no roughing up of the Cats, no descent into negativity, instead the outsiders won by playing flowing, attacking hurling. The ability of Tipp to penetrate the often impermeable Kilkenny defence was extraordinary.

They are just the second team in the last 20 finals to score more than three goals (Kilkenny in 2000 against Offaly are the other) and their 4-17 is the biggest total ever scored against the Cats in a 70-minute final (the 5-17 for Tipp in 1971 was in an 80-minute decider). Lar Corbett joins Eddie O'Brien who hit three goals for Cork in 1970 against Wexford as the only hurler in modern times to score a hat-trick in a final.

Forget the Shefflin red herring, Kilkenny's Achilles heel turned out to be their defence. Tipp won the final in the best way possible, by maximising their own potential rather than going out to stifle Kilkenny. That makes them great successors to the greatest of champions.

Liam Sheedy has come a long way since the first week of June.

Sunday Independent

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