Sunday 18 August 2019

John Mullane: 'No better man than Sheedy to bring Tipp back from dead'

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Liam Sheedy talks to Barry Heffernan after the Munster SHC game against Clare in June – the Tipperary manager knows he will have to pick up his players after last week’s provincial defeat to Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy talks to Barry Heffernan after the Munster SHC game against Clare in June – the Tipperary manager knows he will have to pick up his players after last week’s provincial defeat to Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

The celebrations will have calmed down by now in Wexford and Limerick with Davy Fitzgerald and John Kiely plotting out their schedules over the next three weeks as they sit back and eye up potential All-Ireland semi-final opponents.

That's the reward for winning provincial honours and it's a position that the two traditional powerhouses of Kilkenny and Tipperary would love to be in rather than going to war again tomorrow week.

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Tipp find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of losing a Munster final and their response to Sunday's sobering defeat is an unknown, unlike Brian Cody's Kilkenny, who have been down this route before and came out the other side in 2012.

Liam Sheedy would love to pick up the phone to Cody and pick his brain because their first provincial final defeat since 2006 - they had won their last six Munster senior deciders before last Sunday - leaves them extremely vulnerable.

We sensed their fragility when we played them, and beat them, in that year's All-Ireland quarter-final but whether or not Dublin or Laois are capable of doing something similar is debatable.

If Tipp can get over that challenge, the pathway to heaven will open up again but it's not going to be easy to pick up a team who were being built up to be world-beaters and now find themselves at the lowest ebb after a total malfunction.

Tipp were outworked and overpowered and the doubts over their pace were badly exposed. So how does Sheedy go about finding solutions? Firstly, they have no better man to get inside their heads and lead them through this. I'll tell you why.

I take myself back to the Friday night before the 2012 Waterford SHC final. Training with De La Salle is finished and a special guest is on the way to say a few words. Totally unknown to us, Sheedy walks in the door.

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He speaks for ten minutes to a transfixed room and leaves. To this day, it is the greatest speech I've ever heard and I remember walking out the door feeling like our Lord and ready for war.

Sunday came and we won the final in a canter with Sheedy's speech the catalyst to our devastating performance. And If I was a Tipp player, I'd be thinking back to 2010 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Cork hammered the previous year's All-Ireland finalists but under the guidance of Sheedy they sensationally recovered to stop Kilkenny's drive for five and lift Liam MacCarthy against all the odds.

If I'm one of those Tipp players I'm saying to myself, 'I owe it to Liam and everything he's put in place to come back and deliver for the man', and if they do that - along with Sheedy's genius - Tipp can still make the All-Ireland final at least.

No disrespect to Dublin, Laois or Wexford, but Sheedy would have taken your hand off at the start of the summer if those three teams - rather than the other side of the draw - stood in their way for an All-Ireland final appearance

Sheedy guided them through the back door nine years ago but they were a young, up-and-coming team with a really strong panel. This year it's the complete opposite and they are an ageing side where the leaders have high mileage.

Question marks are developing about their squad depth and everyone will relish taking them on now. While it was a masterstroke for Kiely to freshen up his team in their round-robin clash with Tipp, Sheedy might regret not doing likewise and showing his hand.

One thing is for sure, though, Sheedy and his backroom team will dissect every second of the Munster final and build on it while Cathal Barrett's return is a huge boost as he is the glue that holds the Tipp full-back line together.

That releases Brendan Maher - who was superb on Aaron Gillane under immense pressure - to the half-back line, while their attack can hardly perform as badly as it did the last day when they were starved of possession.

Tipp have invested far too much this year to go out with a whimper and the leaders of that dressing-room like Pádraic Maher and skipper Seamie Callanan will relish the opportunity of potentially meeting Limerick again. And knowing what Sheedy brings to the table and the talent involved, you can't write them off.

This weekend sees newly-crowned Joe McDonagh Cup winners Laois meet Dublin with the bookies already pricing up the Dubs against Tipp, just in case Eddie Brennan's men needed motivation.

This is a dangerous tie for Mattie Kenny as Laois are a well-oiled machine and the Dubs don't need any reminders of Laois' talent having scraped over them in the league by two points.

Advantage

Laois are on the crest of a wave and home advantage will help the push for an upset with a quality set of forwards capable of troubling the Dubs. Laois won't fear them but if Dublin are serious about contesting for silverware, they should be prevailing by ten points.

Laois deserve an extra week to prepare but it mightn't be a negative thing playing seven days later as they are full of confidence, much like we were after winning our first county title in 2008.The following week we were up against Sarsfields from Cork and we celebrated until the Wednesday before switching on for the game. No one gave us a chance going there but we upset odds of 5/1 to beat a quality side.

Sometimes when you're on a high you can't wait to go out again. The county is on cloud nine and this could be a lot closer than many people suggest, although the Dubs should prevail after a scare.

It's going to be difficult for Joe Quaid to pick Westmeath up after the disappointment of back-to-back McDonagh Cup final defeats and everything points to a comfortable Cork win in Mullingar.

It's all about getting the job done as soon as possible for Cork and emptying the bench. The Rebels are the one team that can trouble Limerick if they meet again and they'll love getting back to the wide open spaces of Croke Park.

If they solve their defensive issues, they are very dangerous opponents and it's damage limitation for Westmeath and maybe clinging to the fact that they nearly beat Tipp in Thurles a few years ago.

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