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Friday 13 December 2019

Sheedy ends the decade as he started it: as a Tipp legend

OUR DAY: The Tipperary management (l-r) Daragh Egan, manager Liam Sheedy, Eamon O’Shea and Tommy Dunne. Pic: Sportsfile
OUR DAY: The Tipperary management (l-r) Daragh Egan, manager Liam Sheedy, Eamon O’Shea and Tommy Dunne. Pic: Sportsfile

"AND what do we say about this next man?" asked Séamus Callanan at the pivotal moment of his All-Ireland winning speech.

And how the Tipperary masses lapped it up. The roar of acclamation was deafening.

That next man was Liam Sheedy. His fingerprints were all over yesterday's Liam MacCarthy resurrection, even more so than the myriad heroes in blue-and-gold who had ultimately feasted on 14-man Kilkenny.

And so this roller-coaster decade of hurling - one that started with Sheedy masterminding one of Tipp's sweetest All-Irelands and, of course, the death of the five-in-a-row - has culminated in another redemptive triumph.

Kilkenny may have won four titles in the same decade, but Tipperary's accumulation of three sounds just about right, confirming that no team has come closer to knocking Brian Cody off his perch.

BEATEN: Kilkenny ’keeper Eoin Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile
BEATEN: Kilkenny ’keeper Eoin Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile

And no manager has done more to cause such discomfort for the legendary supremo.

Remember how close Sheedy came to toppling Kilkenny in that epochal 2009 decider. Remember how, under his expert guidance, Lar Corbett & Co ripped apart Kilkenny's Drive for Five a year later.

And then, just like that, Sheedy was gone.

It would take another eight years - primarily of frustration and under-achievement, briefly broken by that beguiling triumph in 2016 - for Sheedy to return to the coalface at Dr Morris Park.

It's worth reminding ourselves exactly where Tipperary were when their prodigal commander answered the call.

The county had endured five championship games without a solitary victory, starting with Joe Canning's wonder point to end their reign in the 2017 semi-final, and then followed by the horrors of last year's Munster round-robin.

Four games, two draws, two defeats - and elimination before the middle of June. Throw in back-to-back league final implosions (against Galway in 2017, Kilkenny in 2018) and people were starting to question almost everything about this gifted Tipperary group.

Exit Michael Ryan, his crowning glory a fast-fading memory.

But then, as Anthony Daly remarked on The Sunday Game yesterday: "As soon as the name Liam Sheedy was mentioned, for the Tipperary county board it was a no-brainer."

Speed bumps

The league offered little tangible clue about where this journey was heading, and it's safe to say there have been speed bumps along the way.

No one was talking up Tipp's prospects after they lost a league quarter-final at home to Dublin.

Even fewer were predicting yesterday's outcome after their humbling 12-point defeat at the hands of Limerick in the Munster final.

That (non) performance reopened all the old doubts, erasing the promising portents of their maximum points march through the round-robin stages.

It would be the second half of the semi-final before faith was restored in this group. That was the day 14 men withstood all manner of setbacks - and a five-point deficit - to overcome Wexford. And maybe overcome some of their own doubts too.

Yet central to it all has been Sheedy; and the management team he has built around him, with Tommy Dunne, Darragh Egan subsequently joined by another blast from the past, former boss Eamon O'Shea, as part of the coaching ticket.

As Callanan enthused from the Hogan steps: "The platform ye put on for us, the backroom team ye put together - everything was laid on for us. We could not have wanted for more.

"And thanks so much, Liam, for your dedication, your energy and everything else you've given to the Tipperary jersey."

A legend once more.

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