Sarah O'Dwyer: ‘You got what you saw with Liam Kearns’

Sarah O'Dwyer: ‘You got what you saw with Liam Kearns’

A guard of honour by Offaly for Liam Kearns at his funeral mass at St Senan’s Church, Clonlara. Picture Brendan Gleeson

“HE took the ball and ran with it.”

That’s one of the ways the late Liam Kearns’ daughter spoke about her dad at his funeral mass in St Senan’s Church, Clonlara, Co Clare last Thursday.

“If we were to choose an analogy to describe dad’s life, it would be that he took the ball and ran with it. He did nothing by half and enjoyed life to the fullest.

“Without doubt one of dad’s greatest legacies is the impact he has had on the football scene throughout his playing and management career,” she said.

“Behind the scenes, he was meticulous in his pre-game planning. As he always said himself, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. We as a family are so proud of what dad achieved in his GAA career.”

And he achieved so much.

Liam Kearns won an All-Ireland minor title with Kerry in 1980, and he went on to represent his native county at U21 and senior level.

The Austin Stacks clubman was most recently Offaly senior football manager, but he also previously managed Limerick, Laois, and Tipperary.

I spent some time in recent days looking through archive audio and copy of interviews I carried out with Liam while he was in the Premier County.

He was one of the first inter-county managers I spoke to when I began my journalism career and the bar was set high from the word go. He was always willing to make time to speak.

Something I’ve always respected is when someone can tell it like it is; says it how they see it. It something that is seen less and less frequently in sport these days, especially among managers.

The generic stock answers are rolled out — “We’re under no illusions”, “We’re taking nothing for granted” — you know the lines.

Liam Kearns was different.

Liam Kearns was the recent Offaly senior football manager. Pic:Ger Rogers.
Liam Kearns was the recent Offaly senior football manager. Pic:Ger Rogers.

If he saw an issue with the way a referee handled a game, he said it. If he saw an issue with the turnaround times between games, he said it. He was saying it when he was Tipperary manager and he was still standing up for his players and team as Offaly manager this year when he spoke out about a congested fixture list when the national league and college competitions were running concurrently.

Managers are often coy about revealing too much information, or being too direct. But instead of having a team of fit players, Liam Kearns once referred to having a team with an injury list so long it was like ‘a small hospital’.

Tipperary senior football captain Conor Sweeney, who would have also played under Liam’s tenure, mentioned something to that effect to Tipp FM last week.

“What you saw was what you got with Liam.

“He was just a great man, on the field and off it and he meant so much to a lot of us in Tipp and he really has had a massive influence on our careers.”

He went on to praise Liam Kearns further.

“On the field and off the field he was just a top man.

“That 2016 season he really had us eating out of the palm of his hand, we would have done anything for him.”

That was one of his unique traits. Liam Kearns could take a managerial position in a so-called weaker county, and when he left, football there was in a better place.

He did it with Tipperary after he was appointed football manager in November 2015. In 2016, he guided Tipp to a Munster senior football final and subsequently to an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time.

The squad beat Galway in that quarter final, however, Mayo, their opponents in the semi-final proved just too powerful.

The following year, Tipperary won the Division 3 final of the 2017 National Football League under Liam’s mentorship. He stepped down as manager in mid-2019 leaving Tipperary football in a much better place than when he started.

GAA president Larry McCarthy summed it up well as he paid tribute to the late great Liam Kearns: “A gifted player with his native Kerry, he had long ago carved a name for himself as an outstanding football coach, excelling in working with young players and enabling them to be at their very best.

“From Limerick to Tipperary to Laois and more recently Offaly, Liam was in demand and was highly regarded.”

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