Thursday 19 September 2019

Vincent Hogan: 'Liam Sheedy was prowling the touchline like a lion coursing an antelope - he was relentless'

Nine years after walking away with Tipp on the mountain-top, Portroe man hails golden generation after delivering them back to the summit

Elation: Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with Willie Connors, left, and Brendan Maher following their win against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Elation: Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with Willie Connors, left, and Brendan Maher following their win against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Even when it was done, even when the arithmetic was turning cruel - Tipperary rolling relentlessly towards their biggest All-Ireland final win in more than half a century - the knife was not yet sheathed.

Liam Sheedy crouched on the whitewash like a lion coursing an antelope. He was coiled. With maybe three minutes to go, he even took to swapping growls with Brian Cody. These days always come freighted with ghosts of one kind or another and, in this instance, he knew Tipp were surging clear of theirs.

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Sheedy uses the word "flow" about their hurling and it's easy to see why. On their best days, there's almost a rhyming element to what they do. Think of that 'Bubbles' goal in the 42nd minute, of the low, lasered pass from Séamie Callanan when an easy point was on. Think of O'Dwyer's control of the racing sliotar. Think of the ease of finish that touch facilitated.

Eamon O'Shea's work is all about spatial understanding and maybe that goal communicated it, or what Liebling might call "a trace of intellection", better than any other.

But the aggressive lean of Sheedy's body, the virtual Sumo squat - Tipp stretching away to their biggest final win since 1964 - spoke of something else too. Something elemental.

Because, above all, Tipp were looking to dismantle a concept here. The curious, generalised acceptance that Kilkenny had a steelier spine and would, inevitably, win anything that resembled a battle.

John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer celebrates after finding the Kilkenny net. Photo: Sportsfile
John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer celebrates after finding the Kilkenny net. Photo: Sportsfile

History mightn't be kind to them in terms of their arithmetic with the Cats but anyone who has lived through hurling's last, fulminating decade will vouch for the fact that - of all teams - Tipp have challenged Cody's men more ferociously than any other.

Yet, listening to some pre-match talk, you could have been forgiven imagining Sheedy might present himself on the line in a backless evening dress and his players take the field in ballet pumps.

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Yet, since early Victorian times, Tipp hurling teams haven't exactly shied away from rattling opponents' rib-cages and if anything defines Sheedy's leadership of men it is a fundamental understanding that the hurling field is a place to be a man.

For the returning Tipp manager, that's what this was about more than anything. Decommissioning a cliché.

It was certainly the emotion tumbling from him when someone observed that this was the first decade since the '60s that Tipp had claimed three All-Irelands.

"That means something to us," he said, his eyes still flaming with emotion.

18 August 2019; Séamus Callanan of Tipperary with young supporter Jennifer Malone following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Séamus Callanan of Tipperary with young supporter Jennifer Malone following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Séamus Callanan of Tipperary following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy is congratulated by his brother Mike Sheedy following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary team mates, from left, Noel McGrath, Brian McGrath and John McGrath with the Liam MacCarthy cup following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with Willie Connors, left, and Brendan Maher following their side's victory during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Padraic Maher of Tipperary and fans, celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup, after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; James Barry, left, and Noel McGrath of Tipperary celebrate following their side's victory during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with daughters Aisling, left, and Gemma following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary captain Séamus Callanan leaves the pitch with the Liam MacCarthy cup after after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary captain Séamus Callanan is congratulated by his mother Mary and dad John, sister Fiona, and his brother John also with the Liam MacCarthy Cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Ronan Maher of Tipperary with the Liam MacCarthy cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Séamus Callanan of Tipperary celebrates with his family and the Liam MacCarthy cup following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy is congratulated by supporters following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Eimear Tyrell from Toomevara with Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; The Tipperary Team celebrate after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Robert Byrne of Tipperary celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Padraic Maher left, with Michael Breen of Tipperary celebrate following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with daughters Gemma, left, and Aisling following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary captain Séamus Callanan lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Séamus Callanan of Tipperary following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, left, celebrates with Ronan Maher of Tipperary after the final whistle of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy celebrates with daughters Gemma, left, and Aisling following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, 2nd from left, and coaches Darragh Egan, left, and Eamon O'Shea celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, 2nd from left, and coaches, from left, Darragh Egan, Eamon O'Shea and Tommy Dunne, celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary players, from left, Séamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher, and James Barry celebrate at the final whistle of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary captain Séamus Callanan and team-mates celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy Cup following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
18 August 2019; Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, 2nd from left, and coaches, from left, Darragh Egan, Eamon O'Shea and Tommy Dunne, celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup after the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"It means something because I think this team has had more people saying what they weren't over the last 10 years than what they were. And when people look back on this decade, they'll see a Tipperary team that won.

"Because maybe instead of going back to the Sixties all the time... maybe we should talk about this decade. Because I think at the moment in this Tipperary squad, we have some of the best players ever to wear that blue-and-gold jersey."

With some of them, his guidance and friendship stretches back to childhood. He put Brendan Maher in a North Tipp U-16 team when the Borrisoleigh boy was just 14. Both Brendan and Paudie were on his minor side that won the All-Ireland in '06.

Coming back carried an emotional radiance then.

When Sheedy left them in the autumn of 2010, Tipp looked unburdened by doubt. Six days after ending Kilkenny's drive for five, the hurling world watched almost with resigned boredom as they eviscerated Galway in the U-21 final. There were no clouds in Tipp's world.

Maybe they were beguiled by that thought themselves because Tipp came off second best in their next four championship meetings with the Cats. But here's the thing. Tipp's three All-Ireland final losses to Cody's Kilkenny have been by an average of four points; Kilkenny's three final losses to Tipp in that time have been by an average of 10. The "flow" Sheedy refers to tends to be murderous when released.

What is that he's put back in these men? "Just Liam returning is no good," stressed 'Bubbles' in the media auditorium afterwards. "He's only as good as his backroom team and he came back with a backroom team that was different class. He got the people that he wanted.

"Without them, Liam was no good and he'd tell you that himself."

O'Shea's return in February was undoubtedly a fundamental. But Sheedy was relentless. As championship loomed, he brought Eoin Kelly in to work with the free-takers. In recent weeks, Darren Gleeson was in, busy with the goalkeepers.

Sheedy's stamp isn't so much what he does as the environment he creates. And, in this instance, it had no gaps.

He gave the captaincy to Séamie Callanan, a man brought on only when that 2010 final was slipping into injury-time; someone taken off at half-time when Kilkenny beat them one year later. Someone whose senior inter-county career was, essentially, six years old before it found decent traction.

Today, Callanan may well be heading for a Hurler of the Year gong, having - incredibly - scored a goal in all eight of Tipp's championship games.

If Richie Hogan's red card undeniably helped Tipp on their way, their real energy surge came from Niall O'Meara's 25th-minute goal, the Kilruane man leaving Conor Fogarty dizzy with a jackknifing run before fizzing one low off the turf past Eoin Murphy.

That, in many ways, was the moment Tipp knew. Five points down just two minutes earlier, they were now level.

They won as they chose in the end, Sheedy emptying his bench, many of those coming on destined for an U-20 final next Saturday. Nine years on, it feels like history has done a close to perfect somersault again.

"This all comes from inside the white lines," Liam Sheedy told us. "But whether we won or lost today, we'd given everything that we could."

Ahead lay a night of noisy vindication, the soft echo of old insults falling silent.

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