How a twist of faith led to Liam Sheedy's Tipp return
Returning manager believes in the maxim, ‘what is for you won’t pass you by’
Tipperary’s manager Liam Sheedy at the GAA All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final between Tipperary and Wexford at Croke Park on July 28th. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
As long as you do or don’t believe in either fate or faith, then Liam Sheedy could just as easily be sitting in the ard stiúrthóir box on Sunday as standing on the sideline wearing the Tipperary bainisteoir jersey. Either way it’s just the way it is.
He’s 49 years old and in his Second Coming as Tipperary hurling manager. In his previous incarnation, which lasted the three years from 2008 to 2010, Sheedy managed Tipperary to two All-Ireland finals, both against Kilkenny. They lost in 2009, and won in 2010. He stepped down later that season.
In the eight years since, Sheedy turned most his attention back to his job as provincial director at Bank of Ireland in Munster, also keeping his keen eye and ear on hurling as an analyst with RTÉ’s The Sunday Game.
To be honest, I don’t look back on life. There is a path laid out for us all. That path wasn’t for me
Then, early last year, Sheedy’s name emerged as one of the final candidates to succeed Páraic Duffy as director-general of the GAA. When the name of the successful candidate was confirmed last March it was Tom Ryan. Six months later, Sheedy was confirmed as Tipperary hurling manager, to succeed Michael Ryan.
“To be honest, I don’t look back on life,” says Sheedy, when asked if this was just a simple twist of fate. “I spend my life looking out through the front window of the car most of the time. There is a path laid out for us all. That path wasn’t for me. I certainly gave it everything, but my outlook on life all the time is, what is for you won’t pass you by.
“My mother [Bid] was a huge influence on me over her lifetime, and thankfully she was around for 90 years. And that was her statement, ‘what is for you won’t pass you by.’ It’s something that has stuck with me so. So if it passes by me it wasn’t meant for me and you move on and I move on quickly. Look at where I find myself now and I am really enjoying where I am.
‘Top class team’
“Clearly that particular number wasn’t for me and this number was for me so whatever number I find myself in, whether it be in work or in sport, I’ll give it 100 per cent and I have given this job 100 per cent. I don’t let stuff linger like that. I just have a belief in myself and what I can do, and working with top class teams is where I find myself and I’m loving it.”
The man wearing the Kilkenny bainisteoir jersey in Sunday’s All-Ireland final is in his 21st consecutive season, Sunday also marking Brian Cody’s 18th All-Ireland hurling final as Kilkenny manager, having already won 11, drawn two and lost four, the last to Tipperary in 2016.
We retained a massive belief in what we could do. We went about our business again. We got a chance to regroup
When Sheedy begins to list off all the things that have changed since he left in 2010, it makes Cody’s longevity feel even greater. “This is game number eight for us. It is a long road. The last time, if you won four matches you won the All-Ireland. It is a little bit different now.
“Obviously we fell flat in the Munster final and were probably written off in some quarters on the back of that lacklustre performance. That thinking didn’t seep into the group. It didn’t seep into me. We retained a massive belief in what we could do. We went about our business again. We got a chance to regroup. We got a match in Croke Park and got through it. We got another game [against Wexford].”
That’s a mild understatement, given Tipperary were a man down from the 45th minute, after John McGrath was sent off, and soon were trailing by five points after Lee Chin’s goal, 2-18 to 1-16; Tipperary won 1-28 to 3-20.
“I didn’t turn that match,” says Sheedy. “That match was turned inside the white lines. That is what you need, leadership inside the white lines. When the ask is greatest and you respond, that is most pleasing for a manager. That was certainly a serious ask. I am delighted we came up with the answers.
‘Overrun at times’
“We showed a lot more energy with 14 than maybe at some stages in the first half, when we were being overrun at times and it looked like all the space was being created by the midfielders and half-back who were shooting forward in huge numbers. We are under no illusions. It wasn’t a complete performance in the semi-final. There were aspects of our play in the first half that wouldn’t be at the level required to win the All-Ireland. Ultimately the last 20 minutes showed us the character of this team. That was probably the most pleasing aspect of it. All it has done is given us the right to play in the All-Ireland final.”
There’s no point in getting involved with the team unless you believe you can do something
Indeed, whatever about F Scott Fitzgerald’s idea that there are no second acts in American lives, there is no shortage of them in senior hurling management; plenty of equally successful managers have tried it before and only gone so far – Michael “Babs” Keating, Ger Loughnane, Eamonn Cregan, Michael Bond – either returning to their own county, or elsewhere.
The last hurling manager to actually realise an All-Ireland winning return was Cyril Farrell, who managed Galway to the 1980 All-Ireland, took a breather, then came back and won two more in 1987 and 1988. Yet when listing off some of the things that have changed during his Second Coming, Sheedy stops well short of his own energy and enthusiasm to pick up where he left off in 2010.
“There’s no point in getting involved with the team unless you believe you can do something. And I wouldn’t have stepped back into this arena unless I felt I had the energy for it, and unless I felt I had the support of Bank of Ireland, and the support of my own family. I had all those boxes ticked, and that allowed me to go and give it my full commitment.”