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No doubts for Sheedy

LIAM SHEEDY bounds into the Croke Park Media Room, smile as wide as the Shannon. He glances up at familiar faces adorning the rows of cinema-style seats, grins and demands: "Right lads, doubting Thomases to the back!"

Three years Sheedy has been in office in Tipperary and yesterday was the culmination of it all. Ordinarily, a Premier County manager is merely expected to win an All-Ireland title or be deemed a failure.

Sheedy's crack at it was made that bit trickier by virtue of the fact that the greatest hurling team of all time have been setting new standards each year.

No matter. Sheedy has successfully pushed his barometer up to and, now, above that of Kilkenny. He looked like a man on the verge of explosion at the final whistle, so beset was he with joy and elation at the win. Yet you get the feeling that he almost expected it, daft though that might seem.

When he settled in to face the media yesterday, his words were coloured with defiance. Not, it must be said, at the fallen champions but towards the sceptics and doom-mongers who have criticised him and his team.

"Since we had our poor match in Munster, people were very quick to point out what's wrong with this team," he said yesterday. "I'll tell you one thing today: it's about time they sat back and pointed out what's right. People are entitled to their point of view, but thankfully we are very good at turning negatives into positive in our group and we got loads of opportunity. They said I didn't win one (All-Ireland) as a player so I guess I've won one as a manager now."

It seems obvious but Sheedy hit the nail on the head when he said the goals were the winning of the game for Tipperary yesterday. Under his guidance, effort, honesty and commitment are taken for granted but he admitted to being "shocked" last year to come away from that All-Ireland final without scoring a single goal.

Yesterday, they pillaged four, almost equaling Galway's five in 2005 -- the last time Kilkenny were beaten in championship hurling.

"The amazing thing is all the pundits were saying Kilkenny will get two, three, four goals," he said. "Role reversal today lads. We really took our chances, worked very hard. We had great pace, great flow, to our play and they worked hard. I am delighted for them."

Like last year, Sheedy sent Benny Dunne in to add his guile and thrust to the middle of the park but this time, it had a completely different outcome. His point put the tin hat on the perfect day for Sheedy.

"Personally, I have to say, Benny getting the last point really struck a chord with me," he admitted. "I felt so sorry for that young fella last year. We actually made a promise to each other in the Burlington after the game. We said 'don't worry, this time next year, we'll have a different result'.

"To see him go in and get his opportunity and stick the ball over the bar left a little lump in my throat."

If there is a man who has worked as hard and put himself through as much torture as Sheedy to reach yesterday's promised land, it is their captain, Eoin Kelly.

The Mullinahone man's back has required constant work and attention and as he explained yesterday, there have been times in the last nine years when he doubted he would ever make that pilgrimage up the steps of the Hogan Stand again.

"Of course you do. You're hurling for six, seven, eight years and maybe not getting past first rounds but I think the younger players that come along, there are going to be 10 of them involved in the under-21 final next week, they're oozing with class, with coolness. But I'd do it again, lads, if I knew I was going to lift the Liam MacCarthy again next year."


Which is just as well, because if Sheedy's tribute to his captain is anything to go by, he'll be central to a new era for Tipp hurling. "Thrilled for this guy (Kelly) after what he's been through this year and last year with injection after injection," added Sheedy. "I just couldn't be happier to see this man going up to the top of the steps...the leadership he has given to this team as a group and the energy I have got from him is unexplainable."

It's been so long since Brian Cody conducted a losing press conference that we didn't really know what to expect.

"It was comprehensive," he offered with remarkable clarity for someone who had suffered the pain of All-Ireland defeat just moments beforehand. "To me the best team always wins the All-Ireland final and that's the way it worked today. Tipp were excellent from start to finish.

"But I'm as proud of the team today as I was this day last year. To me it's about spirit and keeping going. They weren't good enough but they kept it going."

The pressure of becoming the first team to do five All-Irelands in-a -ow got to them perhaps? "I've said it many times," he offered. "I'm only disappointed because we didn't win today's All-Ireland final, that's what it's all about."

Surely losing Henry Shefflin so early had a negative impact on his team?

"It wasn't about losing Henry at all," he said. "We lost Henry the last day and somebody stepped in to take his place. I've always said that if someone gets an injury, someone goes off and someone else comes in to take their place. That's the way it works."