Liam Sheedy relishing the challenge of championship

‘Where else would you want to be?’ asks the Tipperary manager

 Liam Sheedy celebrates Tipperary’s 2019 All-Ireland win  with his wife Margaret and daughters Gemma and Aislinn. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Liam Sheedy celebrates Tipperary’s 2019 All-Ireland win with his wife Margaret and daughters Gemma and Aislinn. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Liam Sheedy allows himself to wax elegiac about the championship ahead. “Certainly for us, there’s no better feeling that going down into Cork or Limerick, the sun on your back in the middle of summer and going to play a championship match.”

The Tipperary manager has good reason for his enthusiasm and arguably it was deepened by his experience of last year’s winter championship.

His team went into the pandemic-disrupted campaign as champions but that badge dissolved on a ferocious November evening in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when they found the wind-lashed rain and buzzed up opposition of Limerick too much to hold back.

This Sunday he and his team are back at the same stage, Munster semi-final, and although the opponents, Clare, are different there are similarities in that once again they play a team that has won its quarter-final just a week previously and have some momentum. Are any of the 2020 lessons applicable?

“You just got to hit the ground running,” he says at a pre-championship media briefing. “That’s why your internal matches are so, so important. That will be the big test. If you find yourself way off, that means you haven’t hit the tempo you need to hit. You’ll always be that little bit below but you need to be as close as you can from those internal matches.”

He can be cheered in two respects. One, this is summer and although Tipperary aren’t blessed with thoroughbred pace, there are few other teams that can master a ball on hard ground with the same economy of effort and weave patterns of movement that can unhinge defences.

Two, the opposition is not Limerick, who have exercised a painful headlock on their neighbours in the past couple of championships.

Sheedy knows the bedrock generation of his team extremely well. He managed their breakthrough to an All-Ireland in 2010 when a clutch of them were precocious young talents: the Mahers, Noel McGrath, Séamus Callanan etc.

There is a middle generation as well as a rising group of players, who won under-21 and after the re-categorisation, under-20 All-Irelands. Elements of public opinion have been impatient to see the generations transition even if the case to succeed the veterans is not proven.

“There is probably a view overall about the age profile once you pass 30. I think you see that across hurling and other sports that age is a number. I suppose what I am looking for all the time is the data - and the ability to get around the pitch and do great things.

“I am getting to see every one of my panel in close situations, in one v one, two v two, three v three and ultimately that is what I will judge my team on. The reason they are on the team-sheet has nothing to do with their age but ultimately who can do a job for us in the first round of the championship in 2021, and after that, then it is about who can come in and finish the job

“The guy that starts, whether he is 21 or 31 or whatever age he is, that will be based on the data I have seen over the last number of months right in front of my eyes and that allows me to sleep very easy at night to be honest with you.”

There remains a sense that the older cohort have a special place in his managerial experiences, having resurrected Tipp’s fortunes by reaching the 2009 All-Ireland against Kilkenny and putting in a ferocious display, which made the champions toil for their four-in-a-row.

Then, a year later they completed the job, winning a first Liam MacCarthy in nine years and spiking Kilkenny’s five-in-a-row ambitions. Sheedy disputes this, saying that the dressing-room bond holds throughout the generations.

“Whether you are coaching Eoin Kelly or Lar Corbett or these guys, whether it is the class of 2008 or the class of 2021 there is a special bond there. As soon as you walk into an intercounty dressing room and put on that Tipperary jersey and you are part of that Tipperary set-up I think there is a special bond there.

“The teams across 2008-2010 still remain an active part of me and I think that is the beauty of the GAA whether you are a club team or a county team, the bond you are trying to create and the memories you are trying to create are something that will always stick with you.”

And so, on to the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Sunday to take on Brian Lohan’s Clare, who upset the odds last weekend against Waterford, who had scored a high-profile win in the last league fixture against Tipperary. Sheedy protested after that match that his team had lost only once in the campaign but championship is a step change.

“We all know that Clare will be formidable opposition. They’ve a game under their belt and have championship tempo, which we all know is different to league tempo.

“We’ve got to be ready to hit the ground running but it’s a challenge we relish. Where else would you want to be other than lining up for a Munster semi-final on the first weekend in July? That’s why we’re in the business.”

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