Sheedy faces massive task in bringing Tipperary to top: Dominic McKinley
When Dominic McKinley, in his then role as part of the four-man Antrim hurling management team, decided to help enlist the services of Tipperary All-Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy in an advisory capacity for the 2018 season, it proved a progressive step.
Sheedy, one of the highest-profile people in the sport, brought what McKinley describes as "fresh thinking" to Antrim and outlined ideas which were enthusiastically implemented.
And it's because of this that Sheedy can expect a huge volume of support from within the county, and indeed from within Ulster as a whole, when the Tipperary side which he currently manages take on Wexford in the second All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park tomorrow (3.30pm).
It was in 2010 that Sheedy masterminded an All-Ireland title for Tipperary before stepping down, but last autumn he made a sensational return to the managerial post and has since brought the side to prominence.
Few within hurling are held in quite the same regard as the personable Sheedy, who was a candidate for the post of Director General of the GAA when it was vacated by Paraic Duffy.
In the event, Carlow man Tom Ryan landed the role, but Sheedy's experience, vision and dedication has ensured his inclusion in more than one high-powered Croke Park 'think tank'.
McKinley is among those who feel that Sheedy's side face "a massive task" in trying to win the All-Ireland title again.
"They are going in against a Wexford side that has already beaten Kilkenny and will be well fired up by their manager Davy Fitzgerald," insists McKinley.
"It has to be borne in mind, too, that Tipperary will be without Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, who is not only a key player but one of the best in the country."
A cruciate ligament injury sustained in the Munster Championship game against Limerick ended Maher's season, but while McKinley believes this has to be considered as a major blow, he thinks that Tipperary have since come to terms with his loss.
"They have other players in there like Jason Forde, Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan, along with John McGrath and John O'Dwyer who can do the business, but they will be up against it," states McKinley.
"They have quality forwards in particular who can take scores from everywhere but, at the same time, Wexford are very resilient and combative.
"They have shown themselves to be on top of their game by beating Kilkenny and you can be sure that Davy Fitzgerald will have them breathing fire."
Wexford boss Fitzgerald, a man who most definitely calls a spade a shovel, has planned meticulously for tomorrow's game and will look to Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and Rory O'Connor to inspire his team.
Clare native Fitzgerald has reinvigorated Wexford this season and brought the side to the fore again in a wider context.
Meanwhile, reigning All-Ireland champions Limerick will face a stiff test in their ongoing bid to land back-to-back titles when they face Kilkenny in tonight's first semi-final at Croke Park (6pm).
Limerick skipper Declan Hannon is adamant that his team will focus closely on their own game and is determined that they should replicate the form they have shown in the season to date.
This will be a fifth Championship meeting in eight years for the teams, with Kilkenny's recent win over Cork in the quarter-final having moved them into the position of real All-Ireland title contenders.
Hannon, though, makes it clear that his team are looking no further than this game.
"You can lose your focus by looking too far ahead," he warns.
In Aaron Gillane, Limerick have one of the hottest forwards in the country, while goalkeeper Nickie Quaid and corner-forward Graeme Mulcahy are other players who bring considerable experience to the side.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody believes that Limerick play "their way" and will look to their strengths to bring them out on top tonight.
"They don't have to take anything from anyone because they have talent, a top class management team and a terrific attitude on the field. They just go out and play their game their way," insists Cody.
In beating Cork at the quarter-final stage, Kilkenny provided evidence that they are particularly keen to recapture the All-Ireland trophy which has been in their keeping for a considerable period since the onset of the Noughties.
They certainly appear to have the ammunition to succeed in achieving this goal too.
TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh look particularly sharp up front, while their defence is solid and disciplined.