Nine years on from leading Tipperary to All Ireland glory, Liam Sheedy finds himself back in the decider against their old foes, Kilkenny.
It hasn’t been an easy path for the Premier County, however. A stunning run through the Munster round-robin series was abruptly halted by a thrashing by Limerick in the provincial decider. A poor performance against Laois followed and questions were asked whether or not Tipperary were still capable of producing on the big stage.
Those questions were defiantly answered today. Tipperary found themselves five points down in the 48th minute when Lee Chin trickled a shot past Brian Hogan and only minutes earlier, John McGrath had been sent off for a second yellow.
Tipperary’s response was emphatic. Seamus Callanan, Jason Forde, John O’Dwyer, and Ger Browne scored five points without reply before Tipp were again hit with another goal by Conor McDonald which they once again recovered from.
An exhausted Liam Sheedy was quick to hail the character of his players following the game.
“It’s a difficult place to turn it around when you’re five points down and a man down. There’s always been questions about our character and could they really bring it? Do they have the pace, do they have the energy, do they have the resolve? They answered that emphatically today.
“This is a wonderful bunch. This is a bunch that have given me everything since the middle of November. I’m just fortunate to have put a really solid team around them that ask them questions every night. The reason you do it is for days like today.
“Man down, five points down, it really was backs to the wall. I sit here today a really proud man because you don’t coach that, that comes from the inner resolve that each of those guys have.”
Tipperary were denied three goals by the officials throughout the game with their last effort proving the most questionable. A Tipperary player was fouled in the square and referee, Sean Cleere, signalled for advantage after which U20 hero Jake Morris buried it to the back of Mark Fanning’s net. However, Cleere disallowed the goal and signalled for a free in instead.
Throughout the game, it was clear that Sheedy had complaints about the officiating. At half-time, he sent his selector Tommy Dunne to have a word with the referee on the pitch but the Tipperary manager was diplomatic in his comments afterwards.
“A goal is a massive score as you get near the end of the championship. When Conor flicked in the ball to give them the three goals… Jake’s one… I said to the lads on the sideline ‘do you not get five seconds to do something?’ I felt Jake had got the ball within two or three. I felt that was probably the match-winning score.
“Paudie came out once or twice… I felt like when we were coming out with the momentum, the free was given in but when they had the momentum, the free was going in. Sean Cleere is a fine referee, it’s a difficult situation because the game is so frantic.
“I think it tells you more about our group that they answered back and found the resolve to go at it again because they are setbacks.”
One aspect of the game that is sure to please the management team was the performance of the substitutes upon their introductions. Willie Connors, Ger Browne, Mark Kehoe and Jake Morris all made vital contributions in the final few seconds with all four finishing on the scoreboard.
Considering that a lack of options on the bench has been earmarked as a disadvantage for Tipperary, the performances of the 2018 U21 stars greatly pleased Sheedy.
“It wasn’t just the scores either. Willie [Connors], when Wexford looked to get on the attack, he’d get the block in or the flick in and turnover the ball. We had some huge turnovers in the last 10 minutes and a turnover is as good as a score in those type of instances.
“Jake Morris put the ball in the back of the net, didn’t count, but the way he got that point at the end, I thought it just showed a guy who’s confidence is building all the time on the back of his performance last Tuesday night.
“It’s been a really good week for Tipperary.”