Thursday 12 December 2019

Time not on Tipp's side in English bid

Tipperary manager Nicky English celebrates his side's victory over Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland SHC final - a year in which Tipp dominated all before them. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Nicky English celebrates his side's victory over Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland SHC final - a year in which Tipp dominated all before them. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If you are one of the nine members of the appointments committee charged with finding a successor to Liam Sheedy, the first and most obvious phone call to make would be to the man who had taken the county to their previous All-Ireland title, nine years earlier.

Twice already in the last decade Nicky English has received that phone call sounding out his interest, first when Ken Hogan departed after 2005 and then when Babs Keating, Hogan's eventual replacement, stepped down two years later.

On both occasions the answer was the same -- 'thanks, but no thanks'.

English simply couldn't find the time among a busy work schedule and his family life to make the commitment he knew was required in undertaking regular journeys from his home in south Dublin or his place of work in the city to the heartlands of Tipperary.

No harm in asking, though -- it's the duty of any right-thinking county board official to formally sound out the best man for the job.

And if they don't get the answer they are looking for, they move on elsewhere.

So it's no surprise that English is high on the list in Tipperary once again, though the county board have not been prepared to confirm this.


Their public relations officer Ger Ryan pointed out yesterday, in response to the reports linking English to the job once again, that the process was nowhere near as advanced as had been suggested and that it remains ongoing.

If practical thought was given to it, argued Ryan, there is no way they could have gone through the process of meeting with English and offering him the job.

The first meeting of the nine members on the committee only happened 13 days ago and English has been on holiday since before then, so the chronology of those events doesn't stack up, Ryan figured.

However, that wouldn't have stopped the members of the committee meeting up with English, and establishing potential interest from their No 1 target prior to that first meeting. The surprise is that English did not this time rebuff them straight away when contact was made.

But then there were different dimensions to the job that may not have existed when he turned down opportunities twice in the past.

For one thing, there is now a new motorway from Dublin to Tipperary and the dreaded minibus journeys that he and some of his Dublin-based players sometimes took between 1999 and 2002 -- involving tailbacks through many of the towns now swiftly bypassed -- would not be such an issue.

Secondly, there is the existing pool of talent in Tipperary.

They are All-Ireland champions, but still a team that is probably in the earlier stages of their cycle. And this year's All-Ireland U-21 winning team are probably the best since the Kilkenny team of 2004.

All that makes Tipperary a very exciting prospect for any manager offered the job.

It's a landscape much different from the one English faced when he last took command after a disappointing 1998 season.

Tipperary, then under the management of Len Gaynor, had lost a Munster semi-final to an emerging Waterford team, less than 12 months after reaching an All-Ireland final through the back door.

The need to adopt a more modern, professional approach was apparent and English, then only 36, felt energised for the challenge of building from the bottom up.

It took time, patience and even more time. They first had to match up to Clare, the dominant team in the province at the end of that decade, a feat they achieved in 2000 in Ger Loughnane's last game in charge of his native county.

Within a year they were Munster champions for the first time in eight seasons and quickly followed that with an All-Ireland to go with the league crown won earlier that summer. In 19 games that season they remained undefeated.

English would have thought long and hard then of getting out, just as Sheedy did earlier this month. But he stayed and his final bow was a classic All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, which Tipp eventually lost by four points.

He has resisted many attempts to lure him to other counties since, Dublin being the most persuasive case for him.

He's still only 48, still very well versed in the ways of the game and his universal popularity among Tipperary people as a level-headed guide with great man-management skills would really soften the blow from the departure of Sheedy's management team.


English would indeed be the dream appointment. However, here's the crunch, the real issue. Would he have the time?

Would it be possible for him to take up a job that Sheedy has clearly indicated consumed up to eight hours of some of his days? Could English, as thorough in his time in charge of Tipperary as Sheedy was, be any more economical?

Sheedy, an official with Bank of Ireland now based largely in Dublin himself since July, quit largely because of pressures of time. In every bank in Ireland right now, all shoulders are to the wheel. English has risen steadily through the ranks at AIB and he takes on a lot more responsibility in his current role.

Getting into his car and heading for Tipperary, regardless of the new and improved infrastructure that will take him there and the quality of player awaiting him at the other end of the journey, doesn't make that any easier.

For English it would be a great challenge, a different challenge from the one he faced in late 1998.

However, as much as there is surprise that Tipperary are apparently waiting for an imminent answer, that surprise would turn to shock if he said yes.

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