Liam Sheedy delighted to bring Tipperary back to the promised land with Cats caning
NINE years after leading Tipperary to the top of the mountain, the prodigal son returned to take down Kilkenny once more as Liam Sheedy’s Premier powered ruthlessly past the Cats at Croke Park yesterday.
This time last year the Portroe man was coming off the back of a stint working with the Antrim hurlers, but the call of home and the lure of unfinished business is something that must have pulled at him since the day and hour he made the call to walk away.
Yesterday it was Tipp’s formidable defence as much as their storied forward line who quelled Kilkenny’s early threat, although James Owens’s decision to show Richie Hogan red for a head high shoulder on Cathal Barrett helped their cause as the floodgates opened after the break.
Sheedy was prowling the line with intent all afternoon, embracing the rain and the hailstones as they fell from the sky, but was calm and composed by the time he reached the press room underneath the ground.
Nine years on, and just 12 months after one of the worst summers Tipp had endured in recent times, bringing them back to the top was a moment to savour.
“It is, but a lot of you would have sat in front of me when I started out on this journey,” he said.
“They were saying about the risk in coming back, I committed to giving this group and this team 100 per cent, and what I got in return was 100 per cent back.
“Whether we won or whether we lost today, we had given everything we possibly could. I stood there at half three today knowing I had done everything I possibly could to get that team in the best shape of their lives.
“That was their work and the way they responded and thankfully we sit here at the end of 2019 as All-Ireland champions, so it’s very pleasing from that perspective.”
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In the first 20 minutes, though, it was Kilkenny who had taken the upper hand – and Sheedy admits he could detect nerves among his players before the game got under way.
He said: “All-Ireland final days are big days. I even felt in the warm-up, I just felt guys were a little bit… we went to some balls that normally on a Tuesday night in Thurles they pick them and they’re gone, we just didn’t have our flow.
“It took us a little while to get to the pitch of it but in fairness to the lads they worked it out, they got to the pitch of it. I just thought defensively we had some heroic performances. ”
For Brian Cody, sitting there as the losing manager on All-Ireland final day is not something he will ever accept, or get used to.
And, understandably, he felt the loss of Hogan at such a crucial point in the game – Tipp led by one when he saw red in the 33rd minute – was a “decisive factor” as they slipped to a 14-point defeat in the end.
“There’s no doubt about that - the first half was very, very even,” he said.
“We played really well I felt and their goal was important from the point of view of the score at half-time. They had to come back and it brought them very close again but I thought our hurling was very good and the sending off made it a huge ask.
“The general opinion was that for us to take on 15 against 15 was going to be very difficult but to take them on with just 14 players proved to be a bridge too far.”
Opinion was generally split on whether Hogan should have been given the line, and Cody questioned whether the man in the middle was certain when taking the decision.
“I was close to it and I was amazed,” he said.
“But we’re not going to be making any excuses for not winning the game, we were beaten and beaten well on the final score. But it’s a huge decision to make, to show a red card and you want to be very definite before you do a thing like that.
“Certainly, it took the referee a long, long time to make up his mind. He consulted his linesman and he consulted the player [Barrett], he went over to have a look at him, and I would say that if he knew for certain what it was going to be he would have made his mind up straight away.
“But that’s what he did.”