Sunday 18 August 2019

'We made a promise to ourselves. They died in their boots out there' - Sheedy

Relentless : Tipperary’s Noel McGrath blocks a shot by Wexford’s Lee Chin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Relentless : Tipperary’s Noel McGrath blocks a shot by Wexford’s Lee Chin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So all we thought we knew is dust again, hurling's great, libertarian revolution tugging us back to the door of an old war room.

For the sixth time in 11 seasons, it's Kilkenny and Tipperary who will close business. Prize-fighters who just keep swinging even with a stool in the ring behind them. After a month of unwarranted jibes, Tipp's indomitable hearts carried them past Wexford yesterday.

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Nothing more, nothing less.

The county's indifference to fallen idols sometimes calcifies into something bleaker. Tipp can be witheringly hard on their own and much of what Liam Sheedy heard since their Munster final trouncing reiterated that.

So he comes to the media auditorium radiant with the sense of compelling momentum gained.

"You know it's a difficult place to turn it around when you're five points behind and a man down," he sighs with the weariness of a man who has himself hurled every ball.

"You know there's always been questions about our character. Could we really bring it? Did they have the pace? Did they have the energy? Did they have the resolve?

"Look, they answered that emphatically today. This is a wonderful bunch. This is a bunch that has given me everything since the middle of November. And they've been challenged. I've been just fortunate to put a really solid team around them that's asked questions of them every night.

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"But the reason you do it is for days like today. It really was backs to the wall. So I sit here today a really, really proud man. Because you don't coach that. That comes from the inner resolve that each one of those guys has."

The doubts around Tipperary seldom concern their wrists. He knows that. Great, open hurling games can find a musical quality and, when they do, every Tipp forward becomes Rachmaninov with a piano. Hurling against them without a plan is self-harm.

Cutting-edge teams won't do that, so the compression of space was always sure to be Wexford's priority here. But Davy Fitzgerald's men did more than that.

Shadows They ran unorthodox lines from deep too and, for a time, Tipp were tracking shadows down both flanks.

So, if anything, Seamie Callanan's 34th championship goal - edging him into second place in the all-time list ahead of DJ Carey and Christy Ring - tossed them a life-buoy when the water around them was looking ominously dark.

Actually, the ease with which a virtually unmarked Conor McDonald was located for Wexford's opening goal in the 25th minute proved a microcosm of the game. That Wexford running from deep had Tipp charging towards safe doors that were already open.

But they were also, essentially, being bullied. When the half-time whistle blew, Tommy Dunne galloped out the field to remonstrate with Seán Cleere, matched stride-for-stride by Davy's right-hand man, Seoirse Bulfin. That was the tenor of it; Wexford's marking touch-tight on and off the field.

As it happened, Tipp's frustration with Cleere would run deep into the evening.

Three disallowed goals and a second yellow for John McGrath that, as Sheedy averred, found provenance in an early decision that had the tone of marshalling convenience.

"I suppose I do feel there's one referee, but I mean there's two umpires at either end, there's two linesmen," he says. "I did feel that some of my players were being pulled and dragged. Like the corner-forward, what do you do? Do you stand back or do you let it happen?

"You know the first yellow is really where the sending-off came from," he says. "But like... there was a bit of this going on. We certainly came to play hurling, but we've no complaints with the sending-off. None."

The dismissal came with 25 minutes still to play, McGrath sitting on the ground as he flicked his hurley at Damien Reck in an almost desultory act. Within four minutes - Wexford nailing three unanswered points - they led by five, a familiar ballad now ringing in Tipp's ears.

Yet, somehow, they won the remainder 0-12 to 1-2, men like Ronan Maher and Noel McGrath hurling as if lives were on the line here.

"I think it probably just tells you a bit more about our group that they managed to answer back and they found the resolve to go at it again," says Sheedy. "Because they are setbacks. When you get the ball in the net and you don't get a goal, it is a setback.

"Look all those things are marginal. We probably had periods in that game when we were 15 on 15 where we weren't clinical enough in our finishing.

"But I thought our concentration levels and our execution when we went down to 14 really went up a level."

This summer Tipp have been depicted, parodied almost, as an old team trying to play a young man's game. Not one of last year's All-Ireland-winning U-21 side has yet broken into a starting role, but they swung in off the bench like a ravenous cavalry here.

"We asked the 11 to really represent the group well if they got on the pitch today," he explains. "But you know it wasn't just the scores either, it was some of the balls they turned over. We had some huge turnovers in that last ten minutes. And a turnover is as good as a score in those kind of instances."

To get those turnovers, Tipp bodies had to be put on the line. Sheedy never doubted that they would.

"I've just seen enough of them, I really have," he stresses. "I looked out and I didn't see guys that were throwing in the towel. I said, 'These guys are still going for it!'

"We transferred the ball much, much better. Noel (McGrath) got on a lot of ball around midfield and when he gets on ball he distributes it really, really well. We really started to tick. I think 12 points with a man down out there in a very, very heated contest is credit to every one of those players.

"Over the last four weeks, they've probably taken a fair bit with the Munster final performance. And obviously people were not happy with the performance against Laois.

"But we knew what we had. We made a promise to ourselves that we'd give it everything. And that's the most pleasing aspect of the game. They definitely died in their boots today for me."

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