Persistant Kearns was the right fit for Tipp
By Shane Brophy
The suddenly passing of Liam Kearns on Sunday has left the GAA community numb with grief and none more than in Tipperary where the Kerry natives’ impact will never be forgotten.
The officers of Tipperary GAA & Tipperary Football Committee extended it sincere sympathies to the family of Liam Kearns on the sad news of his untimely passing citing Liam’s contribution to football in the county as “immense.”
Liam Kearns was appointed Tipp manager in the autumn of 2015 after a persistent campaign to get the job.
“He plagued me, he must have made nearly twenty phone-calls looking for an interview,” revealed John Hannigan, who was chairperson of the Tipperary Football Board at the time.
Tipperary had a number of other candidates in mind as well but following an interview with Kearns one day in Tipperary Town, they were blown away by his presentation and his in-depth knowledge of Tipperary football, helped by his three-year involvement as manager of Aherlow between 2008 and 2010, and provided an incite into the level of presentation he would bring to his game management in his four years in charge.
“He did a video presentation and by God was it a presentation,” added Hannigan.
“He went through all the players, through his own time as a footballer and coach with Kerry, Limerick and Laois.”
“His aim was to win a Munster title and be competitive in the All-Ireland series with Tipperary and showed how he would do it. He really did amazing job.”
It didn’t start out easily for Kearns when he took the job, he was walking into a squad full of potential but in the latter part of 2015 he lost Colin O’Riordan to Aussie Rules while Steven O’Brien and Seamus Kennedy departed to the senior hurlers, Barry Grogan and former captain Paddy Codd were unable to commit to the squad, while younger players such as Liam Casey, Kevin Fahey and Jason Lonergan where heading to the US for the summer, and then Clonmel Commercials got to an All-Ireland Club semi-final which meant his squad was very much diminished for the early stages of the league campaign in 2016 where they only barely avoided relegation to division 4 on the final day with a draw away to Sligo.
Hannigan added: “We played Kildare in Clonmel, and he (Liam) was really despondent but I said to Liam, you have what you have and you are going to have get these lads right and you’ll turn this around.
“The whole thing changed on a weekend away he organised in Limerick and played Clare in a challenge in Cratloe, it gelled from there.”
When Kearns was appointed, his first appointee to his management team was Paul Fitzgerald as goalkeeping coach who then approached Shane Stapleton to come on board as coach, the Golden-Kilfeacle clubman having been part of the minor management that helped Tipperary reach the All-Ireland final in 2015.
“It’s just sad,” admitted Stapleton of the man he still calls “the gaffer.”
“It feels worse as we were due to meet him next Saturday night back in Thurles.”
This was set to be Kearns first time bringing a team back to Thurles since he stepped down as Tipperary manager in 2019, with his Offaly team still in the hunt for promotion from division 3.
“He was a real specialist manager, real division 1 type of stuff,” added Stapleton.
“The players were really slow to take to him for a start as his standards were so high with game walk-throughs, video analysis, patterns of play and kick-outs but eventually it twigged with them and he got the big characters onside.”
One of those big characters was George Hannigan who played a key role on those teams in the middle of the field, including the incredible 2016 championship campaign when the reached the All-Ireland semi-final, but the Shannon Rovers man pinpointed the Munster semi-final win over Cork as being the seminal moment of Liam’s time with Tipperary.
“I would put that solely down to Liam,” George said as it ended Tipperary’s 72-year losing championship run to the Rebels.
“I remember prior to the game we were in the Anner Hotel and it felt like we were going through the motions a small bit and maybe there was a sense of inevitability, but the way he spoke that day, it got the performance out of us that day. He really did have us in the right mind-set.
“That was the thing about Liam, he was very good to speak and communicate, and say the right thing at the right time. There was nothing fake about it, when he spoke he spoke the truth and you believed him. He was unbelievable to bring people along with him.”
Predeceased by his son Sean and brother Sean, Liam Kearns, is survived by his wife Angela, and daughters Rachel and Laura, parents Eileen and Ollie, sisters Maria & Anne, brothers Joe and David, grandchildren, relatives, and his many colleagues in an Garda Siochana and the GAA. May he Rest in Peace!