Sunday 25 August 2019

Colm Keys: 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'

Wheel turns full circle as Cody and Sheedy end decade as they began it

Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody will face off once again
Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody will face off once again
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

He was younger then, edgier, more animated. And Liam Sheedy was keen to make a statement.

When Tipperary and Kilkenny met for a routine Division 1 match in early March 2010, it was the third attempt to get it under way, having twice been cancelled due to the adverse weather through that winter and spring.

Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody at a National League launch in 2003 during Sheedy’s time as a selector with Tipp. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody at a National League launch in 2003 during Sheedy’s time as a selector with Tipp. Photo: Sportsfile

As cold as it was, though, the atmosphere along the sideline quickly became glacial. His side were two points ahead, they'd eventually win by four, but Sheedy was marking his territory in a manner that needed to be visible to his players.

If he wasn't yielding to the convention of submission to Brian Cody and Kilkenny, then neither could they.

Three times the previous year they had met in regulation league, league final and of course that epic All-Ireland final when Kilkenny came late to land four-in-a-row. But somehow, somewhere they had to arrest the slide and Thurles that afternoon felt like the right place to do it.

Cody had been cutting a dominant figure on the sideline throughout the decade and on this day Sheedy wasn't taking a step back. When words were exchanged, he reacted by confronting and pushing Cody.

Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody at a pre-league final press conference in 2009. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy and Brian Cody at a pre-league final press conference in 2009. Photo: Sportsfile

Of course, they both played it down afterwards and even at the end of the year, with the Liam MacCarthy Cup safely secured, he would acknowledge it as a regret given his respect for the Kilkenny manager but still the significance of what their young manager did that afternoon had to have carried resonance into the Tipp dressing-room.

We can never evaluate if it shaped things to come in any tangible way that September but when Kilkenny did fall, it was to Sheedy's feet that they landed.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

In the years that followed the likes of Anthony Daly, Anthony Cunningham and even Davy Fitzgerald would see the benefit of optics that a confrontation with Cody could potentially bring. But it was Sheedy who had taken that first real step.

The shock at his departure just a few weeks later, when they looked to have the hurling world in their grasp, was palpable, Lar Corbett admitting to being moved to tears.

But there was a career to pursue in banking and much more to do with his life. Other coaching roles followed, places on the GAA's Management Committee and Irish Sports Council and a role as a 'Sunday Game' analyst.

He'd made his history and his peace. Why would he return?

That he did and finds himself occupying sidelines with the same characters that he passed on his way out the last time - Fitzgerald in a semi-final (Waterford in 2010, Wexford 2019) and Cody now in a final underlines how, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Who would have thought that when he signed off after the first All-Ireland final of the decade, he'd be back in the same place against the same team with the same manager nine years later.

But that's the constant presence of Cody and his capacity for constant renewal and propagation.

This is, arguably, a fourth team that he has constructed. There have been overlaps. For instance, Henry Shefflin, Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney have spanned two of them just as TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Murphy, Conor Fogarty and Paul Murphy are now but every time hurling has taken a turn in a particular direction, Cody's Kilkenny has loomed up on its shoulder to register that towering presence.

Cork 2004-'05, Tipperary 2010, Clare 2013 and Limerick 2018 have all brought something different to the game, eliciting a sharp Kilkenny response and a little Cody irony. You can only imagine the satisfaction he gets out of these reversals. The 2006 All-Ireland final defeat of Cork prompted this in his autobiography.

"Our preparations were supposed to be outdated, lacking in method and finesse by comparison with Cork and their sophisticated ways, yet we were pre-historic, yesterday's men. Yet a year later we were All-Ireland champions, Leinster, league and Walsh Cup champions and had remained unbeaten in all competitions."

And in 2014, after Tipp were defeated there was this in response to Clare's tactical 'revolution', there was this on the morning after when he got a few other matters off his chest.

"Everyone said last year was a whole new ball game. Probably the expectation was that we'd be moving aside for a while, that we had a lot of work to do to catch up on the new hurling that was going to be played from now on."

On Saturday night, as he spoke in the aftermath of another wonderfully entertaining All-Ireland semi-final, there was a nod to Limerick's tactical acumen and the challenges it presented, a complimentary nod to the fallen champions that they had been different.

When asked about the movement of their half-forwards and the conundrum to twist or stick, he acknowledged the difficulty.

"That's the way game is being played by so many teams. Hurling is now so fluid and so much tactics involved in it, it's challenging for everybody."

Maybe it being just a semi-final he held a little back. Or maybe, like Sheedy, he has mellowed somewhat.

But here they are again, closing out perhaps the most magnificent decade of hurling in a most familiar way. Cody and Sheedy, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Where it all began and where the curtain will fall.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Tipp throw off the shackles while Kilkenny’s soul-searching begins

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport