Liam Sheedy: ‘I wouldn’t be an All-Ireland champion manager only for Eamon O’Shea’
Tommy Dunne on the alchemy that makes the Tipp backroom tick
Liam Sheedy: “I couldn’t visualise myself going on this journey without having Eamon by my side and on my shoulder.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
There’s a warm glow inside the old Burlington hotel on this Monday morning after Tipperary topple Kilkenny. All comers from all counties. Anthony Daly and Derek McGrath giggle in the corner. Ger Cunningham stalls to say hello.
Here ends a decade embalmed by Tipp’s hurling greatness. We gather on high stools to listen to groggy yet clear-eyed champions speak as freely and accurately as their hurling flowed the day before.
We seek out Eamon O’Shea. Be it glory or misery, the professor of economics always weaves a story to soar the imagination. A man of many hues; an epidemiologist, the Tipperary manager from 2012 to 2015 (when Kilkenny twice snatched the All-Ireland spoils), a “spontaneously” gifted coach who conjures hurling alchemy whenever the chord is connected to Liam Sheedy.
Eamon is nowhere to be found but we are gifted something far better.Tommy Dunne tries but happily fails to explain what makes O’Shea so special,then Sheedy speaks about his old pal.
Dunne, the 2001 All-Ireland-winning captain, is asked how O’Shea’s return to the fold following the National League impacted on the management and specifically his own role.
“I wasn’t really head coach,” Dunne explains. “It is a kind of unique coaching environment. Liam is a very hands-on coach. Darragh [Egan] is a hands-on coach as well. Myself and Darragh did most of the coaching in the pre-season and after Christmas, and then Eamon came in.
“It was a terrific boost for us all. We just kind of let it flow and felt it out amongst ourselves. The dynamic and chemistry was good from the very start.”
O’Shea’s rhythmic voice was the last any Tipperary hurler heard before throw-in last Sunday.
“It’s not something that fits into a box really,” Dunne continues. “Eamon’s style is very spontaneous. Very, very significant understanding of the game and he has a lot of experience with this group and with Liam over many years. That’s a huge part of it.
“Part of the reason this thing works so well is there was no real overload on any one person; different people doing different things at different times. Hopefully the players got value out of that.”
The sight of O’Shea running water bottles into players must wash a wave of humility over this Tipperary panel.
“You are there to make the group better and help the player improve, that’s your only function as a coach, and obviously to ensure they turn into a cohesive team and playing to a system and a style that is true to itself. That’s what we are all there for.
“If you are to ask me how the dynamic works I wouldn’t be able to put it into words. It’s just something that we took on a session by session basis and always measured on what was important for players.”
That was Dunne. We could head away happy but before Sheedy’s hoarse ode to Eamon we must tell a story about an emotional O’Shea speaking in Nowlan Park. It’s July 2013 and unseen mishaps – Dublin caught Kilkenny while Limerick beat Tipp – landed hurling’s alpha dogs in a unique do or die qualifier. The Marble City was aflame with anticipation. Lar Corbett’s hamstring exploded as Henry Shefflin walked off the field with drenched Tipperary jersey stuck to his body.
“These guys are honourable men who went to fight today,” O’Shea said afterwards. “They came out on the wrong side of the fight, but these are men of honour. These will be men of honour in the future.
“Whatever happens, we just lost a game by three points. We didn’t lose what’s in Tipperary. This team, a lot of them, with the guys coming behind them, will be back in the next couple of years. That I’m certain of.”
Brian Cody uttered exactly the same sentiment on Sunday evening.
Back to this Monday morning and Sheedy is asked how important it was to rope O’Shea back into the fold.
“Myself and Eamon O’Shea have a special relationship, there’s no other words for it. We started back in 2008 and we went on a journey and the journey finished in 2010.”
He was only ever climbing the Hogan steps with O’Shea on his shoulder.
“The reality is I wouldn’t be sitting here today as an All-Ireland champion manager only for Eamon O’Shea. He has a special connection to me and he has a special connection to all the players and he just brings the best out of everyone.
“Eamon O’Shea is a very busy man. He has a hectic schedule. As I said, sometimes people just click and me and Eamon O’Shea click and click very well. As I said, I couldn’t visualise myself going on this journey without having Eamon by my side and on my shoulder. Just thrilled this morning now, it’s pure elation because we done it together in 2010 and here we are. It was a special moment in 2010 going up and throwing up the cup and yesterday, to do it again with Eamon by my side is a very special moment.”
Sated, the media escape Dublin 4 just as the Tipperary bus takes The Liam MacCarthy Cup coloured blue and gold to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.