Prior to last year’s hurling championship Liam Sheedy was asked about Tipperary’s pursuit of back-to-back All-Ireland titles, something the county hadn’t achieved since 1965.
he county might not have managed it but he had, he joked, citing wins in 2010 and 2019 that bookended his eight-year absence from the sideline.
It was a reminder that he was a two-time All-Ireland-winning manager and that even then, with two years left on his three-year agreement with the county, his legacy there was already secure.
‘Second comings’ for a successful managers are not always straightforward but Sheedy diluted that quickly by re-energising Tipperary and winning a second All-Ireland title in his first year back.
With the county adding an All-Ireland U-20 title, just as they had done in 2010 (U-21), days after his first All-Ireland title, a bright future looked like it was mapped out in front of them.
And that may yet be the case. But for now Tipperary hurling looks like it is on a path to rebuilding that will probably take more time than Sheedy could devote to it or be given the time to carry that out.
It would also have required the painful deconstruction of a team and a group of players where there was such mutual loyalty.
The boys of 2010 were the men of 2019 but the last two years have not been as kind to them.
Brendan Maher’s retirement last week may be added to in the coming weeks, especially now that Sheedy has made his call.
Tipperary may have exited to Galway and Waterford in the last two All-Ireland championships but dealing with Limerick, like almost every other hurling county, is something they haven’t got to the pitch of.
In each of his three years in charge, Sheedy’s Tipperary were picking themselves off the floor after running into the green juggernaut, losing by 12, nine and five points respectively. Last month’s Munster final loss by five points came with the caveat that they had built a 10-point interval lead with the best hurling they had played since his return. It wasn’t enough and will take quite a reconstruction to bridge the gap.
Do Tipperary have the players to do that? With back-to-back All-Ireland U-21/U-20 titles, in theory they should have but Cork, who they beat in both finals, have pushed through players from those games at a much quicker rate, chiefly out of necessity but also because they might just be that bit better. The results of both 2018 and 2019 U-21/U-20 finals may be a little distorting in that regard.
The suggestion that Sheedy didn’t promote some of those underage players quickly enough has been floated but the question must also be asked as to who or how many are good enough to displace what’s already there. Does anyone really think that Sheedy would play the loyalty card too hard if the options were that obvious.
Undoubtedly, the man in charge of those U-21/U-20 teams may well have extracted a greater collective yield than the component parts suggest he should. And that should put Liam Cahill at the head of the queue to succeed Sheedy. Cahill was in the shake-up to replace Michael Ryan three years ago but was still thought to be behind William Maher when Sheedy entered the equation late, offering Tipperary officials a straightforward decision.
Since then Cahill has enhanced his credentials enormously by rebuilding Waterford impressively and the attraction of managing his native county and working with players he has had success with before will be a strong one.
But will Tipperary see it that way? Since the first Sheedy era, the county have always had the bones of a succession plan in place, largely built around the Sheedy’s backroom with Eamon O’Shea and Michael Ryan, two of his coaches from 2008 to 2010 subsequently having their own three-year spells in charge.
Declan Ryan, aided by Tommy Dunne, had two years (2011-’12) too with Dunne part of the Sheedy management team just departed. That ‘boot room’ approach could manifest again through Darragh Egan who has been with Sheedy in a coaching capacity over the last three years.
But the more logical option looks like Cahill and his brand of tough love, if he’s willing to jump ship.