Sunday 22 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'How Liam Sheedy was unable to turn down destiny's call'

Missing out on top administrative job opened up an opportunity to return as Tipperary boss

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2010. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2010. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Had things worked out a little differently, Liam Sheedy might well have been fulfilling a contrasting role at Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final, swapping his Teneo T-shirt and a place on the sideline for a suit and tie and a seat in the Ard Comhairle beside President Michael D Higgins.

His signature could have adorned the front of the match day programme.

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That's how close Sheedy came to taking the directorship of the entire association, not just the reins of one of the flagship teams.

It's 18 months since Sheedy found himself among the last three candidates to replace Páraic Duffy as the GAA's director-general.

Tom Ryan was finally appointed with former president Liam O'Neill and Sheedy having been in the mix.

Sheedy had his backers. A former player, All-Ireland-winning manager and banking executive who had been on the board of the Irish Sports Council and the GAA Management Committee, he knew the game, had a grasp of business and finance as well as sporting governance.

Liam Sheedy celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup. Photo: Sportsfile

Appointing him, even allowing for his strong GAA connections, would have been a departure from convention. He put a lot into landing the role, but missing out doesn't leave him with any regrets now.

"My mother (Bid) was a huge influence on me over her lifetime and thankfully she was around for 90 years. That was her statement, 'What is for you won't pass you by'. It's something that has stuck with me, so if it passes by me it wasn't meant for me and you move on and I move on quickly. Look at where I find myself now and I am really enjoying where I am," he said.

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"I don't look back on life. I spend my life looking out through the front window of the car most of the time. There is a path laid out for us all. That path wasn't for me. I certainly gave it everything. Clearly, that particular number wasn't for me and this number was for me. I don't let stuff linger like that. I just have a belief in myself and what I can do and working with top-class teams is where I find myself and I am loving it."

Sheedy's departure from his initial three-year spell as Tipperary hurling boss caused quite an upheaval just a few weeks after their 2010 All-Ireland win.

Declan Ryan took over and Tommy Dunne, the current coach to Sheedy, was Ryan's coach. They regained the Munster title in 2011, retained it in 2012 but lost the 2011 All-Ireland final and when they incurred a heavier loss to Kilkenny in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, it triggered their departures.

Sheedy had cited 16-hour days, combining work and Tipperary commitments as the main reason for his sudden uprooting. That was nine years ago. By common consensus, the investment of time is even greater now, so what has changed?

A bigger backroom team has, he feels, placed a lighter burden on him.

"It is no easier now than it was but I do more delegating now. Probably others are feeling it a bit more. When you have people operating on top of their game. I have massive trust in everyone around the team that they can do their job to a really high standard.

"I have spent the last nine years managing people. Ultimately, whether it is hurling, banking or whatever you are in, it is about trying to get the best out of people. That is the challenge for any group. It is one I enjoy hugely. One of the biggest kicks I get out of management is seeing people grow and develop."

On his appointment, the announcement of communications and advisory firm Teneo as Tipperary sponsors was also significant given that its founder, Declan Kelly, was a childhood friend from their days growing up in Portroe.

As Bank of Ireland's provincial director for Munster, geography has also played its part. At times in the last nine years, Sheedy has been based in the group's Dublin headquarters.

Balance

The time factor was on his mind but the trade-off with the joy he gets from direct involvement leaves him with a very healthy balance.

"People talk to me about pressure. If you can't enjoy managing a wonderful group of players from your own county, then what can you enjoy? When you see the man down the road (Brian Cody) and the length of time he is doing it, that is phenomenal.

"It does take up a lot of time but I haven't felt as good in terms of life. There is nothing as refreshing as being out on a field on a Tuesday, Friday and over the weekend with a group of players who just drive at it 100 miles an hour.

"There is no point in getting involved with a team unless you believe you can do something. I wouldn't have stepped back into this arena unless I had the energy for it, unless I had the support of Bank of Ireland and the support of my own family. I had all those boxes ticked and that allowed me to go and give it my full commitment.

"We will all be measured at the end of the day on results but for me it is much more than results. The journey I have had over the last seven months has been hugely uplifting."

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