Michael ‘Babs’ Keating was considered one of the greatest hurlers of his generation, winning two All-Ireland medals with Tipperary.
He proved just as successful in his first stint at managing the Premier County, guiding them to All-Ireland glory in 1989 and ’91.
However, his ‘second-coming’ as Tipperary boss produced no medals for the county who seemed to go from bad-to-worse. Lar Corbett did not hold back in his assessment of Keating’s term in his 2012 autobiography ‘All In My Head‘ and said that the manager’s constant criticism of the team dragged them down.
“Genuinely I haven’t a clue what to put in and what to leave out in describing the second coming of Babs Keating.
“He was given a two-year term by the county board – and the one thing I can tell you is that we were a broken team by the time that term ended.”
The manager’s relationship with the media was a constant problem for the squad especially when Keating used the media to take aim at his players in the most public forum.
“The reality was that by the end of the [league] season we were a laughing stock and with every passing fixture, the manager’s public comments about us seemed to get more bizarre.
“One of the worst things he came out with was the ‘dead only to wash them’ comment – his way of telling the media we were lifeless in losing to Galway in the league in March 2006. Admittedly it hadn’t been one of our better days but out went Babs to the media with this eye-catching quote:
“I saw the Galway fellas shouting at each other from the goalkeeper to the corner-forward – our fellas are dead only to wash them. On the field, they’re not applying anything near what they’re putting in at training. I can’t understand it.”
However, their training sessions “lacked intensity” according to Corbett, who revealed that their best session came under Nicky English who couldn’t understand how laid-back the whole affair was.
The former Hurler of the Year admitted that the players should have taken more responsibility to lift and motivate themselves, but as he explained, “When you’re constantly training in second or third gear it’s not easy to suddenly go into turbo-drive again”. In his opinion, his club Thurles Sarsfields were streets ahead of Tipperary in terms of their training.
In the middle of the 2006 season, Tipperary captain Ger O’Grady was dropped from the panel after phoning Keating and leaving “a pretty crude message”. Five players were infamously disciplined by Keating for socialising in Borrisoleigh the Tuesday after the Munster Final and as Corbett admits, the whole ordeal, which he believes should have been dealt with in-house, turned into a circus.
“I’m sure the Cork boys were choking on their own few pints that week, laughing at us as we self-destructed.”
Corbett reluctantly accepted the captaincy, fearing that rejecting the role would bring further turmoil to the camp. Tipperary eventually exited the championship that year at the quarter-final stage following their defeat to Waterford. But Babs’ second-coming would only continue to get worse, according to Corbett.
“If 2006 ended on a downer, 2007 was a disaster almost from the start. Long before the end of the year trust between players and management had broken down. The more Babs criticised us in the public, the more we became a shambles”, Corbett explained.
“Why we put up with it for so long is another story – one I’m still trying to figure out. Unlike the Cork lads, who stood up for themselves on three different occasions, not one of us had the gumption to shout stop.
“I had been five or six years in the squad and should have said what I knew in my heart: “Hey lads, this is all bollocks! We’re going nowhere’.”
2007 was a rollercoaster year for the Premier County from their trilogy battle with Limerick to Brendan Cummins being dropped from the panel while Eoin Kelly was relegated from the starting line-up for the quarter-final. Wexford got the better of them in that game and it spelled the end of Babs Keating’s term.
Had they won that match, Corbett believes he might have been given another year. Had that happened, he suspects himself, Eoin Kelly and Brendan Cummins would not have been recalled to the side.
“If you think I’m being harsh you should remember that after Babs stepped down and resumed his newspaper columns, he let us have it at every opportunity. A verbal gunslinger with both barrels aimed squarely at the Tipp team.
It got to a point where Corbett simply accepted his criticism, had Keating praised the Thurles man, he wouldn’t have known how to react.
In the years that followed, Keating never let up on his native county, in fact, he continued to question them right up to their All-Ireland victory in 2010. And Corbett revealed in his autobiography that the harsh words were actually used to spur the team on.
“The criticism didn’t bother me at all because I had lost respect for his opinion, but some of the things he said were below the belt. There is no way your former team should be getting lashed out of it in newspaper columns.
“It got so bad that our sports psychologist, Caroline Currid, eventually compiled a bunch of his columns and quotes and we posted them on the walls for match-day motivation.
“It’s sad to say his words were all over our dressing room wall before the 2010 All-Ireland final.”