All Ireland Hurling Final: Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy purring at the chance to halt Kilkenny
Not many hurling team managers would relish the chance to pit their side against the might of Kilkenny. But Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy is the exception to this rule.
Even though the Cats have been installed as firm favourites to establish a new record by lifting their fifth All Ireland title on the trot at Croke Park on Sunday, Sheedy maintains that he is “positively delighted” to be facing Brian Cody’s men.
Right from the outset of the All Ireland series it was clear that only two teams — Tipperary and Cork — had a realistic chance of stripping Kilkenny of the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Yet when Cork overcame Sheedy’s men by 10 points in the Munster championship this sparked the belief that it would be a two-horse rather than a three-horse race.
But Tipperary regained their poise with quarter-final and semi-final wins over Galway and Waterford respectively and now find themselves confronting the fearsome Cats machine.
Yet Sheedy and his players are bubbling with anticipation at what many would view as one of the most daunting challenges in Irish sport.
“To be candid, there is no team that I would rather going in against Kilkenny than ourselves. I believe we have regained our confidence and that we are a better side than we were last year,” insists Sheedy, “I’m positively delighted that we are in this position — there is no greater buzz than preparing for an All Ireland final.”
And yet while his seasoned players like Eoin Kelly, Shane McGrath and Lar Corbett have underpinned Tipperary’s progress alongside emerging warriors such as Noel McGrath, Pa Bourke and Padraic Maher, Sheedy acknowledges that in Kilkenny his men will be facing the greatest hurling team ever.
“These Kilkenny guys are chasing immortality and they have set the highest possible standards. The challenge for the rest of us is to get up there and continue playing them until you can match them. We are getting another opportunity to do this on Sunday on the biggest stage of all and we want to be able to make the most of it,” says Sheedy.
While Kilkenny’s own build-up to the game has been dominated by ace scorer Henry Shefflin’s bid to recover from a knee injury, manager Cody can take comfort from the rich options he has at his disposal.
When Brian Hogan (shoulder injury) and the majestic Shefflin were forced to retire injured against Cork in the semi-final, Cody immediately despatched James Ryall and Martin Comerford from the bench and the efficiency of his side was not impaired in the least.
Now with Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh, J J Delaney, Michael Fennelly, Eddie Brennan, Richie Power and Aidan Fogarty propping up his side, Cody can realistically expect to see thee enter the record books in considerable style.
But Tipperary will be doing their best to make their route to immortality as hazardous as possible, particularly as they themselves have endured a barren spell in terms of All Ireland titles.
Sheedy is confident that his players will rise to the occasion while accepting that if Kilkenny make a brisk start then they will be hard to contain.
“We have got to get into the game from the beginning . If Kilkenny build up any sort of lead then they are always very hard to overtake,” points out Sheedy.