Sinéad Kissane: 'Friendship knits everything together in Premier's Portroe connection'
When Liam Sheedy was a teenager, he took part in a play for Scór which gave its own take on a hot controversy of the time. Mick O'Dwyer's deal with Bendix washing machines for the Kerry team in 1985 sent the GAA into a spin. Micko's revolutionary way of thinking also gave a village in north Co Tipperary some creative inspiration for a play for a group of local kids in Portroe.
"It was a parody on the Kerry team," recalls Seán Creamer, former chairman of Portroe GAA and family friend of the Sheedys. "We had a big cardboard box made up as a washing machine on the stage. I think they were down a point or two and this fella jumped out of the cardboard box and scored to win the match for them."
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And what was Liam's role in the play?
"He might have been the manager," Creamer says. "If he wasn't the manager, he should have been!"
Sheedy's childhood in Portroe wasn't just linked in with playing hurling, football and possibly performing as a trend-setting manager in a play for Scór. Along with his good friend Declan Kelly, Sheedy's youth also involved being part of an eight-set dancing group that won a North Tipperary U-16 Scór competition. Liam and Declan fell into a familiar beat going to the same primary and secondary schools with their families close friends who supported each other.
"Both came from very humble beginnings. Liam lost his dad at a very early age and his mam (Bid) reared him and his three brothers. And, in Declan's case, his mam would have been great friends with Liam's mam and helped out when things were tough," Creamer says. "When Declan's mam and dad were working late into the evening, Declan did a lot of his Leaving Cert studies in Sheedy's house in the middle of the village in Portroe."
The benefit of that close friendship between the Sheedy and Kelly families is now also felt outside of Portroe. Fast forward to November 2018, and less than two months after Sheedy's return as Tipperary manager was confirmed, Tipperary GAA announced that Teneo would become the lead sponsor of their inter-county senior and minor teams from January 2019.
"Teneo is the world's leading CEO advisory firm and has strong links to our county, with its chairman, CEO and co-founder Declan Kelly being a proud Tipperary native," Tipp GAA chairman John Devane said in a statement at the time. "He is a life-long friend of Tipperary senior hurling manager Liam Sheedy."
Sheedy and Kelly have changed the way fundraising is being done in the county. A new commercial board has been set up which is chaired by Kelly (whose brother, Alan, is the local Labour TD). This 10-man board is a who's who of Irish business with names like Louis Fitzgerald and Declan O'Rourke as well as former international sport stars like Niall Quinn and Alan Quinlan. Their first fundraiser was in the Mansion House, Dublin in April to celebrate Tipp's surviving All-Ireland-winning captains with Brian O'Driscoll a special guest. It is reported that between €80,000-€100,000 was raised on the night for the team.
"Liam reminds me of Declan Kidney, thinking outside the box and trying to think of the bigger picture," says Tipp native Alan Quinlan. "I think that was part of his plan coming back. I think that he wanted to leave the jersey in a better place, the county in a better place. I like the vision of trying to put a strategic plan for the next few years in place. That's about development of underage players and giving them good facilities and opportunities".
Sheedy and Kelly working together to make the most for their county doesn't surprise those in their home village.
In the 2016 census, the population of the village of Portroe was 461 with local estimates of the parish population at 700-800. With a vista of Lough Derg, it's no wonder there seems to be a catchy optimism there.
"The glass is always half-full in Portroe. We've had Rose of Tralees and we've had Miss Irelands for a small little place. I'd say it's the breeze off the lake that gives everybody a good complexion," Creamer laughs.
With tomorrow's All-Ireland final, pride runs alongside optimism in the village. As well as the manager and the sponsor, Liam's brother John is the assistant kitman with Tipp, Darren Gleeson is the goalkeeping coach and Robert Byrne is part of the panel. "Every place has their own problems but the atmosphere is lifting all boats here now," Creamer smiles.
"Liam would always say to me that when they were out trying to make it - trying to hit a ball in the field - there was always somebody there for them. They're carrying on that tradition."
Creamer knew Liam's late mother, Bid, very well. Despite tough times back in the day, the Sheedy home was always an open house. He recalls her generosity when the showbands used to come to Portroe and how Bid would make them their supper in her home after the dances. "Her great song was 'Happy Are We All Together'," Creamer adds.
It's a song about friendship. If the Liam MacCarthy is brought home to Tipp, you might hear it sung and it will have a special place in Portroe. As the last verse goes:
Friendship brought us all together.
Friendship makes our hearts unite.
And friendship leads a life of pleasure.
'Twas friendship brought us here tonight.