Tipperary 3-25 Kilkenny 0-20 “What a difference a year makes. Last year was tough, we struggled, but we knuckled down this year and look where we are.”
The post-match talk was all about the red card for Richie Hogan that cost Kilkenny so dearly, but for winning Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy the only card that mattered on All-Ireland hurling final Sunday at Croke Park was the surprise one he received from his daughters Gemma and Aislinn.
They had a good luck card delivered to their father at the Tipp team hotel on the morning of the MacCarthy Cup showdown against the Premier County’s fiercest rivals and the message was simple – go out and do it.
The handwritten order was delivered on by their dad as he became a winning All-Ireland boss for the second time in his managerial career and at the end of his first season back in charge of the Munster men.
This win, their 28th at this stage of the hurling summer, was defined by a 32nd-minute red card for Kilkenny veteran Richie Hogan after he elbowed Cathal Barrett in the face, a decision by referee James Owens that was justified by television replays afterward.
Sheedy, like the best soccer managers, didn’t see the contentious incident that led to that dismissal for Hogan, clearly aggrieved by an altercation with Barrett minutes earlier that left the Cats star with a bloodied nose and his Tipp opponent lucky to stay on the pitch.
Even though he didn’t see it at the time, Sheedy would have to admit on reflection that the dismissal of Hogan changed the course of a game that had been dominated by Kilkenny early on – they even led by 0-8 to 0-3 before a Niall O’Meara goal in the 25th minute prompted a second wind for the eventual victors.
By halftime Tipp were a point up – 1-9 to 0-11 – and Kilkenny were a man down. They never recovered from that setback as early second-half goals from captain Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer ensured the numerical advantage counted for something tangible on the scoreboard.
By full-time, as he summonsed his wife Mags and their two girls to join him on the pitch as Tipperary paraded the MacCarthy Cup, Sheedy was clearly emotional. “Family is everything to me,” he declared afterward to the media. “I have two very special girls. They gave me a card this morning.
“I love the girls and the way they back me. They allow me to do things. Mags just lets me at things and I’m half-mad. But that is where the madness can you get you. A day like today.”
This was indeed a special day for the Tipp players as Sheedy’s return to the hot seat, eight years after his last All-Ireland win with his native county, paid a rich and immediate dividend.
“Liam Sheedy is the engine of our dressing room really,” said the man of the moment Barrett after the game. “He just drives perfection. Liam will go to the ends of the earth to get the best out of you because he knows for him to be the best at what he does, he needs us to be the best at what we do. He’s an all-rounder.
“There’s no great recipe or anything; he just drives the standards. He’s an unbelievable man who has driven us to an unbelievable win. It’s surreal. I don’t think it’s even hit home yet.”
For Barrett and the Tipp players, this win was extra special after many pundits wrote them off at the end of June when they failed to win the Munster final against Limerick. Sheedy was delighted his team answered those same critics in the best way possible.
“People have questioned their character, and their ability to go into trenches,” Sheedy told RTE Sport. “Today they gave all the answers inside the white lines. Ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s about that wonderful group of players that have given me everything since the middle of November. Thankfully they get their just rewards today.”
Captain Callanan, who scored a goal in every Championship game he played this season, led by example as the Premier outscored the Cats by 3-16 to 0-9 in that lopsided second half.
“It’s just incredible. It’s everything we dreamed of,” said Callanan. “We have put in so much work and to finally get there, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m so proud of that group.
“We stuck to our plan and we handled the red card well. We just said we would play our game and implement our strategy. We didn’t deviate even though we had a numerical advantage.
“Liam is a legend. I’m so delighted for him. He has put so much into it. It’s great for everyone, the whole group.”
That Callanan love for his manager was reciprocated. “Ah look, he’s been superb,” said Sheedy when asked about his skipper. “I’m personally delighted for him. I don’t know did anyone see that in 2001 he sat foot on that pitch and played in the mini-games, he went out in 2010 and came off the bench and played a massive, massive role in us winning an All-Ireland title, and here he is today, captaining the team.”
Man of the Match contender Paudie Maher – the TV award went to Noel McGrath – revealed how the dressing room message at halftime was to stay calm and make the extra man work.
“We were in the same boat against Wexford in the semifinal. It’s very easy when you are a man up to slacken off a bit, but we made sure we didn’t do that and drove on,” said Maher.
“What a difference a year makes. Last year was tough, we struggled, but we knuckled down this year and look where we are.”