Liam Sheedy is looking forward to the challenge of managing the Tipperary team for the second time after a gap of nine years. He admits it’s a challenge when he suggests that the face of hurling has changed. He suggests that his new term is starting in a similar manner to when he started in 2008 when he blended the younger players who had All-Ireland minor medals in 2006 and 2007 and it’s happening again when he agrees that Liam Cahill had prepared the All-Ireland Under-21 team very well.
Nine weeks back – is it what he expected?
”The game hasn’t stood still over the past eight years since I left, it’s moving at pace.The amount of work that goes on outside the pitch now is gone to a whole new level so that is something I wouldn’t have been accustomed to previously. A lot of the work going on, on the pitch, hasn’t changed dramatically but I suppose it was still in the conventional style set-ups when I was there previously whereas the conventional nowadays with all six forwards, six backs and two midfielders is a thing of the past.
The Experience from playing in the Co-op Munster league was a good place to start back with?
”We have obviously learned a nice bit over the Munster League. It’s been a very good venture for us and we’ll obviously need to learn quickly because we weren’t happy with the goals let in (v Clare). Three of the goals maybe certainly should have been avoided. Any day you cough up four goals to top class opposition you are going to lose and that was after a very good start, it was 0-5 to 0-1 after seventeen minutes and were getting into a bit of a groove but I’m conscious of the fact they had some wides you would have expected to go over the bar but generally we were in the game but the two goals in the first half meant we had done most of the hurling and ended up at 0-7 to 2-2.
”It has been a useful exercise for me. We are not playing with a full hand at the moment either which is not a bad thing. Barry Hogan got to play in his fourth game in a Tipperary jersey in a Munster League final, Killian O’Dwyer is getting into see action, Colin English is beginning to get in there, Jake (Morris) and Mark Kehoe so there is a lot of youth getting their chance.
”Obviously we are trying various things in various positions in the Munster League and in the early stages of the National League we need to try things to be honest. It is really important, my vision is once we get to the end of the National League that we are in a place where 12 or 13 of the places look like they are in a nailed down position.
”At the moment out of a panel of 40, I have about 28 training so there are still twelve to come back in, some of those will have significant experience behind them as well. I think the first two rounds of the league, probably three, is going to give me a chance to really look to try a few things and I have no problems trying a few things just to see can we get most comfortable with the spine of our team, what way we want to set up and how we want to structure our play.
”We have a lot to be getting on with but the most important and positive thing I’ll say is that I am very happy with training. I am very happy with the way they have applied themselves physically over the last number of weeks. Cairbre (O Cearralain, strength & conditioning coach) has really asked the hard questions on the physical side, and Tommy (Dunne) and Darragh (Egan) continue to challenge them.
”It probably meant we were a little leggy (against Clare) but again, that is okay because we have to get through this period of work. Through no fault of anyone, I would feel we were behind the curve physically over the last few years so we are trying to catch up on lost ground and it’s hard to close the gap in nine weeks but certainly the work we have done is going to put us moving in the right direction.
”I am really looking forward to the first three rounds of the National League and really trying to understand where we are as a group and a team.”
The Allianz Hurling League is to change format change in 2020 so there is less pressure on relegation.
”You might say the best place to be for the championship is in Division 1B because it didn’t do Galway, Limerick or Waterford any harm over the last number of years and there is something in that because you can’t expect players to go out and play every week in the National League and then you try and play quarter final, semi-final and final, then go into some club activity and then come back in and be fresh for the championship, especially last year where there was four matches in 21 days for Tipperary.
”We have learned a lot as a group in terms of the Munster League but also when we look back at league and championship in 2018 there are learnings in terms of how we approached it overall. It’s trying to get that right so when you get to the start of the championship that everyone is fit, ready and rearing to go, and have that hunger for championship because if you are playing all of those consecutive games, it is very hard to maintain that raw hunger that you need to be successful because the reality is if you catapult it forward to the championship, we are going down to play Cork who haven’t lost a match in Munster in two years, are current Munster champions going for three-in-a-row.
”The All Ireland champions have to come to Thurles. We have to go to Ennis where the All Ireland champions couldn’t even operate in last year, there were emphatically beaten and then you have Waterford in Thurles and for them after last year will feel they didn’t really get to the pitch. They were well ahead of Tipperary in that championship game last year and have those guys that won the under 21 All Ireland that bit older than my bunch are so it is really important people understand the challenges that lie ahead so we are going to have to be at the top of our game right throughout the summer and it is my task to ensure we time that right and get everyone there fresh and rearing to go because it is going to take a mammoth effort from everybody to get yourself to get into one of those top three positions.”
Balancing the art of trying players with not extending a losing run can be difficult?
”I’d be very happy with the belief that exists within the group that Tipperary, on their day, if they play to their potential can get to the level of any other team and the challenge for all other teams is to do it consistently as that inconsistency was ultimately Tipperary’s undoing in 2018.
”The effort and energy drive of the group is really good. I look on the league as a massive opportunity for this group. A lot of people might say losing the league finals in 2017 and 2018 wasn’t good for Tipperary but I would say the only match in the league which wasn’t good for Tipperary in the last two years has been the league final. The league overall has been very good for Tipperary so we’ll give the league the respect it deserves and certainly won’t be going out not to try and learn and try things and be ready to go for championship 2019 because ultimately that is where everyone is measured on.
How have last year’s U-21 players adapted to the senior set-up so far?
”It’s a big step-up for them physically. Obviously some of those guys are really athletic, but they probably have a lot of work to do to build themselves up physically, to be ready for the hustle and bustle when the John Conlans and the Walter Walshes and these guys that come in around the place from time to time.
But I would say they are well up for the challenge. Liam Cahill has really created a really good, honest bunch. I think anyone who watched the All-Ireland U-21 Final last year would acknowledge that. They’re full of passion and they’re full of drive and they’re on a learning curve.
The physical curve is quite steep for them, so I’d say when they get to the gym session on a Wednesday night they are saying ‘Oh my God’... but they’re great lads and they really are applying themselves well. So I think it’s lovely to have the (same) blend that was there back in 2008 when I started. I had the minor teams from ‘06 and ‘07 coming through. It’s great to be coming in 2019 and having the U-21s coming through from 2018, obviously some of those have minor success behind them as well.
Are defence and midfield his two areas of focus?
”I would say the spine of the team is really important to get right. We have talent. There is no position that I look at right now and say that I don’t have somebody that would fit into it if we had everyone available. So that’s the beauty of it, certainly getting everybody fit and ready.
One person per position isn’t going to cut it. The only way we have any chance of being successful is trying to have that healthy competition where there’s two people vying for that one position on any given day. If somebody doesn’t make it whether its injury or loss of form that somebody else is ready to step in. That’s where we really need to try and step it up to see can we create that competition.
”I think in any team having the spine of the team right down the middle is hugely important. We have some work to do in that regard. All I can say is the effort that is going in from these lads is something I have huge admiration for. When you lose a match and concede four goals I can honestly say that these boys really want to represent their clubs and their county really well. Whatever they achieve in 2019 it won’t be for lack of effort or lack of application, it’s been superb.”