Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dunne has taken hard road to good times with Premier County

'Tough days' of the 2012 semi-final defeat are washed away by Tipperary coaching team

Tommy Dunne (R) celebrates alongside the Tipperary management team, from left, Darragh Egan, Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tommy Dunne (R) celebrates alongside the Tipperary management team, from left, Darragh Egan, Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The story of any team is made up of the sum of its individual journeys.

For the new All-Ireland hurling champions Tipperary, the main narrative was the return of Liam Sheedy and how the Portroe man had revived the fortunes of the county and team, some of whom he had worked with at minor level.

There were several other strands too. Noel McGrath battled cancer to return to the top of his game and is now on course to win his third All-Star, a full nine years after his last.

Brian Hogan followed in the footsteps of his father Ken to win an All-Ireland medal in goal. Niall O'Meara's luckless run of injuries culminated in a brilliant first-half goal just when Tipp were shipping water.

Séamus Callanan's journey to the top of his game hasn't gone in a straight line but he's now scored the same amount of championship goals as the great Eddie Keher.

Shipped

Lar Corbett tracking Tommy Walsh during the controversial 2012 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Lar Corbett tracking Tommy Walsh during the controversial 2012 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

And on the sideline, there was Tommy Dunne.

Dunne was part of the set-up when Tipperary shipped perhaps their most galling defeat in recent times in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny.

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On that infamous afternoon, Lar Corbett spent his afternoon tracking Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrrell followed Corbett, leading to farcical scenes. Tipp led at half-time but collapsed and lost by 18.

The fallout was brutal. Even Tipp heroes like Dunne and then manager Declan Ryan weren't immune to the criticism and they shipped much of the flak as the county digested their worst defeat in 115 years. Those few weeks, Dunne admits, left a mark.

"It took a long time, yeah. A long time. Left a heavy imprint for a long time," Dunne recalled yesterday.

His confidence as a coach was shot but he wasn't left on the shelf for long.

Anthony Daly and Ger Cunningham snapped him up for their Dublin set-ups before he found a place back in Tipperary. Last year he guided the minors to a Munster title.

He was meant to be in charge of the minors for two more seasons but when Liam Sheedy called, he was brought back in to the fold. And when Sunday's final whistle blew, he cast his mind back to those dark days that had seen him question his own values as a coach.

"The minors was a lovely experience and when Liam called it was unexpected somewhat," he said from the Tipp team hotel yesterday.

"I was delighted to get the opportunity because I knew he would put a really good system in place and the team would be hurting from the year before so there was an opportunity there.

"When someone of Liam's stature calls you it is a fantastic phone call to get. There was a hint of regret not being able to do another year with the minors."

"It closes a little bit for me from a coaching point of view. Listen, in sport, there are always ups and downs. They were tough, particularly 2012 and all that went with it.

"Declan Ryan is a really great friend of mine. A Tipperary icon in so many ways. They were tough days. To get an opportunity to come back and be on the sideline when Tipp win an All-Ireland is a very special feeling.

"It did cross my mind a few times yesterday, particularly after the match, that it has been a bit of journey from that time to this. It's a nice feeling."

Sheedy had called on the very best talent he could find when putting together his management team. Coaching duties were shared across Sheedy, Dunne, Darragh Egan and Eamon O'Shea. It was unusual but it worked.

"It is a kind of unique coaching environment. Well, maybe it's not unique but Liam is a very hands-on coach. Darragh (Egan) is a hands-on coach as well. Myself and Darragh did most of the coaching in the preseason and after Christmas, and then Eamon came in. Eamon has a very strong connection with Liam over many years so it was a terrific boost for us all to see Eamon coming in.

"We just kind of let it flow and felt it out amongst ourselves. The dynamic and chemistry was good from the very start. Listen, it all comes down to whether your players are getting value from your input as a coach and you measure from there.

"The four of us were there with Eoin Kelly in the background and Darren Gleeson in the background, with loads and loads of experience.

"You are there to make the group better and help the player improve, that's your only function as a coach, and obviously to ensure the team turns into a cohesive team and playing to a system and a style that is true to itself. That's what we are all there for.

"If you are to ask me how the dynamic works I wouldn't be able to put it into words."

Dunne had travelled the hard road. Perhaps now it feels like the destination was worth the journey.

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