Former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy
LIAM KELLY – 15 FEBRUARY 2014
LIAM Sheedy knows what it takes to go all the way in the All-Ireland hurling championship and he reckons that Dublin are prime contenders for the Liam MacCarthy Cup this year.
Sheedy, the former Tipperary manager who brought the Premier County to All-Ireland glory in 2010, helped break Dublin hearts in the 2011 semi-final when his side beat Anthony Daly’s team by four points.
The Dubs just fell short on that day, but Sheedy has taken a keen interest in their progress over the last few years and offers a neutral view of prospects for the new campaign.
It opens – weather permitting – in Salthill tomorrow, away to Galway in the Allianz NHL Division 1A , but looking further ahead, Sheedy feels that Dublin supporters can be optimistic.
“Dublin have developed into a serious team, in my view. They’ve put in a lot of work under Anthony (Daly) and they’re getting things right off the field, which leads to getting things right on the field.
“It’s no mean feat to be league champions and Leinster champions in the last three years. It’s been a fantastic achievement for them.
“They’ve contested All-Ireland semi-finals against Tipperary and Cork and in both instances have been knocking on the door.
“Cork just got over the line last year, but Dublin had a few chances on the day. They were down a man for the last 15 to 20 minutes, but they were right there to the end.
“They probably missed a great opportunity of getting to play an All-Ireland final last year, which would have stood to them, but they’ve been moving in the right direction,” said Sheedy.
Dublin’s credentials at minor and U-21 level over the last six or seven years have contributed depth to Anthony Daly’s squad. That begs the question as to how much stronger would his panel be if the expertise of talented young hurlers was utilised in the cause of hurling instead of the big-ball game?
“It’s an important year for Dublin. It’s unfortunate they won’t have some good young players,” said the Tipperary man.
“I would have picked out Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and Emmet O Conghaile as guys that would have been nearly ready for the hurling stage.
“The fact they’re on the football squad is probably a bit of a loss. The three of them could play in the forward division and scoring forwards are important. That’s generally what makes the difference when you come up against the better teams.
“Dublin are probably slightly challenged in that regard. They will need the forward sector to really deliver for them to be All-Ireland champions, but I would see them as one of the teams that could win the All-Ireland this year.”
This year’s hurling championship can surely match the excitement of last year, with Clare seeking to defend their All-Ireland crown; Cork intent on going one better; Kilkenny set on reclaiming their spot at the top of the heap and the Dubs with their sights set on high levels of achievement. Tipp, Limerick, Galway and Waterford will also have lofty ambitions.
It’s a crowded arena. Nothing can be guaranteed but, in Sheedy’s opinion, Dublin have a championship schedule that is as good as it gets – on paper.
“I’m not saying there’s an easy side to any draw, but they definitely have the preferred draw in Leinster, in terms of Kilkenny and Galway being on the other side.
“Qualifying for the Leinster final would be important. That puts them into an All-Ireland quarter-final. All of a sudden you’re one step away from retaining Leinster and you’re three steps away from winning an All-Ireland.
“Putting two good years back-to-back is important for this group. Anything less than getting back into a Leinster final and contesting for an All-Ireland final would be seen as an underachievement in terms of Dublin, because that’s the journey they’ve been on for the last three or four years.”
Some members of the Dublin squad, such as Stephen Hiney, have been on that journey longer than others, but Sheedy believes that perseverance can pay off.
“From my perspective, Eoin Kelly and Larry Corbett won All-Ireland medals in 2001, and they were key to me in 2010 in getting our hands on the big prize,” he said. “As long as you’re doing things right off the field and you’re disciplined and you’re conscious of your dietary needs and everything else that has to be put in place, there’s no reason why players can’t enjoy longevity at the top level.”
And so, to the league. Dublin play Galway away, Clare at home, Waterford away, Kilkenny at home and Tipp away. Nothing easy there.
“I would have always placed a lot of emphasis on league form, but look at last year – Cork and Clare played a relegation final and the two of them ended up playing the All-Ireland final,” said Sheedy.
“But, generally, I was very conscious when I was Tipp manager that if you got a good run in the league, it generally held true that we got a good run in the championship. Division 1A is very competitive, but playing the top teams will stand to Dublin, provided they have the full panel available, because you’ll really get a sense of where Dublin stand in terms of their league performance.”