Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Mullane: 'Unfinished business for Liam Sheedy leaves Tipperary on the brink of glory'

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Liam Sheedy is a manager you’d crave to play under, there is an aura about him. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy is a manager you’d crave to play under, there is an aura about him. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

John Mullane

It takes some guts to do what Liam Sheedy has done in the past 12 months by taking the plunge back into inter-county management when it looked like he had everything to lose and little to gain.

Sheedy is already the messiah in Tipperary having spectacularly ended Kilkenny's 'drive for five' in 2010 and it would have been much easier for him to watch on in frustration over the past two years and pass comment rather than standing up and do something about it.

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He could easily have ended up with egg on his face but I'm not sure that ever entered his psyche or if he even saw it as a risk to return. Tipp simply weren't living up to their potential and Sheedy thought he could change that, simple as.

It's regularly spouted that the second time around is never the same and while that might be true in many cases, Sheedy is an exception to most rules and felt he had unfinished business after his shock departure following All-Ireland success nine years ago.

He was probably thinking that a Tipp team full of such class should be winning more All-Irelands and having brought through many of the old guard from minor to senior, he knew Brendan and Pádraic Maher as well as the likes of Seamie Callanan and Noel McGrath had more to offer.

He was confident that they had at least one last hurrah and having kick-started many of their inter-county careers, he wanted them to go out on top maximising their limitless potential, the same way they announced their arrival under his watchful eye.

Aura

Any time I've been in Liam's company, I always felt there was an aura about him. You immediately knew from a quick conversation exactly why the Tipp players raved about him and why it was treated like a death when he left after bringing them to the pinnacle.

He's a manager you'd crave to play under. You know everyone will give him 100 per cent with each player rowing in the right direction. The respect with which past players speak of him is unreal and there must have been a pep in every player's step when it was announced that he wanted one more shot at bringing the holy grail back to Tipp.

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There was a video doing the rounds online of Wexford's Joe O'Connor bumping into Sheedy just before the final whistle and the passion on his face is incredible. He pucked every ball with his team and looked like he had gone to war.

That was the animation of a man driven to win for his county. But a couple of deep breaths later, the excitement diluted with the realisation that he should not show just how much it meant to prove all the doubters wrong.

The most pleasing aspect was when it was backs to the wall, his players put their bodies on the line and didn't throw in the towel, something Brian Cody highlighted in his praise of the Premier men at Kilkenny's All-Ireland final press night.

Sheedy believed in his squad and they repaid that faith and that's why they stand on the brink of another All-Ireland success. Tipp were not winning those tight encounters in recent years but their mentality has changed under the Portroe man.

It will count for nothing unless they push on and climb the Hogan Stand steps next Sunday, however, and he has the opportunity to bring a third Liam MacCarthy Cup back to the Premier in the last decade, something not achieved since the glory days of the 1960s.

Having been earmarked to dominate for the past ten years before slightly underwhelming, victory this weekend would properly reflect the talent this team possesses and that sense of unfulfilled potential is why Sheedy returned.

It's almost like it was written in the stars that Cody would be standing in the opposite corner with both managers chasing what would be the crowning glory of their managerial careers given that both squads had been written off in various quarters.

This final is so appealing with Cody seeking revenge after Tipp toppled their five-in-a-row bid and while it's a Tipp/Kilkenny final again, it has a different feel to it and I can't wait to see how it's going to play out, on and off the pitch.

This tie wouldn't have been as attractive at the start of the decade, but a lot has changed and Sheedy can write his place in history should Tipp prevail as no manager has ever bested the Kilkenny maestro in two All-Ireland finals.

It's crazy to think that Cody has only lost four of 15 finals, an incredible record for a remarkable man with Sheedy being one of four men to do so along with the Cork pair of Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Donal O'Grady and Tipp's Michael Ryan. That tells you the scale of the task ahead for Tipp and it whets the appetite to see two legends locking horns once again.

It's bound to be feisty, as it has been in the past and Tipp won't want for motivation from the sideline with Sheedy likely to square up with Cody.

Neither man will blink, nor will either team. Roll on Sunday.

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