KIERAN SHANNON: The Big Interview: Anthony Daly will always be a winner

One of the most engaging conversations you’ll have in life is a sit down with Anthony Daly.

He’s personable, engaging, open, good-humoured, witty, then parts sombre, serious, always sincere. And the ultimate storyteller, whether you are sitting on a riverbank with him or supping tea in front of a fire in his mother’s house in Clarecastle. Pull up a chair and enjoy.

Anthony Daly has just written one of the great Irish sports autobiographies. Well, with a bit of help from an old opponent and colleague in Christy O’Connor. Those familiar with O’Connor’s work like The Club will see his touch in effect, but part of his craft has been to ensure that all the time it’s Daly’s voice you hear. It’s like he’s talking directly to you.

Daly’s similar in person. Put a dictaphone in front of him and it’s less an interview than a conversation. He’s personable, engaging, open, good-humoured, witty, then parts sombre, serious, always sincere. When we caught up with him it was in the Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis, but it could have been in front of a fire back in his mother’s house in Clarecastle.

You can’t really understand Daly without talking about Clarecastle. It made him. What now seems to blend into Ennis was once a very distinctive village.

Nearly everyone in Clarecastle fished. Daly’s father was particularly keen on it. Anthony himself wasn’t — “What?” he chuckles quizzically, “sitting there for eight hours, nothing being caught, just looking over at one of the brothers, running out of cold tae?” — but he knew enough to know it was often what nutritionally and financially fed the village. “There would be a depression in the village if the fish was bad,” he says. “Whether the Icelandic trawlers had come upon shoals of salmon before they ever came up the rivers, everything used to be blamed.”

Coursing, another great Clarecastle tradition, was more his scene. Still is. Only the other day he and Stephen Sheedy tipped over to Glin in West Limerick to see how Sparrow O’Loughlin and Donie Kelleher’s dog went. Daly’s own dog didn’t go to slips, having picked up a slight knock in Loughrea a couple of weeks ago. The syndicate has had a bit of a lull but generally, by Daly’s own admission, they’ve been “poxy”. First dog they ever bought they named after his pub: Murty’s Gang. A beginner’s luck couldn’t have been luckier. Murty brought the gang all the way to their Cheltenham that’s Clonmel where he would win their Gold Cup.

Clarecastle is also where the other two loves of his life stem from; family and hurling. And as he starts talking about them, you might as well pull up a chair to the fire and listen to him directly yourself.

Kieran Shannon: Although you’d go on to lift the MacCarthy Cup twice you weren’t exactly a natural talent. What will surprise people is that at 14 you’d have been seen not just as slow but as soft.

Anthony Daly: Well, I wasn’t getting stuck in by Clarecastle standards anyway! I might have got away with it in another club or two in the vicinity! But there was a certain toughness about the place in the late 70s into the early 80s. I suppose my father and uncles would have had the reputations for being fairly tough — while I hadn’t.

KS: The turning point seemed to be an U15A semi-final against Wolfe Tones when your brother Martin as manager put you on their danger man.

AD: Jeez, Alan Keane’s going to get some mileage out of this book! I think Alan retired at 16! But he had terrorised us at U12 and U14 so I decided to just get stuck in. It was primitive stuff. I didn’t hit him, I didn’t say anything to him, but I just kept getting into his face as if to say “You’re not going to hit it and I’m not going to hit it and I don’t care!”

KS: A lot of that great Clare team you captained were late developers.

AD: Well, say the ’87 minor team I was on which would have had us all at 25 in ’95: Tuts [Fergie Tuohy] was a sub on it. Alan Neville was a sub on it [and the ’95 team]. None of the starters were around by ’95. Seanie [McMahon] didn’t make a Clare minor team. So since I’ve got back involved helping out a bit again in Clarecastle, I’d always be looking out for the guys who aren’t the boy wonders.

“Like, Bobby Duggan is our boy wonder now. He was taking the frees for the Clare U21s and he’s only six weeks overage for minor. But there’s a Conor Galvin who played senior for Clarecastle this year. At 15, 16 he might have been seen as a bit slow but there’s real character in him: he really wants to train, loves to train. He’s gone off now to UCC which to my mind is the best hurling school in the country. I was wishing Ger Cunningham the best of luck with the Dublin job, then asked him about Galvin. ‘Oh he’s there! Big, tall, blondie lad.’ Same with a Mark McGuane; playing Freshers with UCC. If Clarecastle are to go back to winning a county championship we’ll need the likes of them. There’ve been plenty of guys who were seen as too slow, light, weren’t winning dirty ball. So I like to nurture lads, remind them “There’s loads of time if you want it badly enough.”

KS: You wanted it. You talk about the weights you did as a teenager and all the work in the ball alleys. Davy [Fitzgerald] would be one of your partners down there.

AD: Sure, he had a car, the hoor. He went off working straight after the Leaving for Trixie Twoomey in Shannon, so he’d collect me most Saturday mornings. Jeez, he was a fanatic. We might play two games of 21, handball-style, then he might want to work on close-in shots, so he’d go near the wall, I’d go to his left a bit and I’d leather low ones at the wall and of course it would come back like a rocket, you know? Then I might want to work on my left side so he’d say [Daly segues into Davy], ‘Tighten into the bloody wall! Go on, in a bit more on your left!’ And I wouldn’t have room to swing but he’d say ‘You’ve to get your clearance away now’ and then hit a ball down along the wall, and I’d have to catch it and still clear it off my left.

KS: You were coaching each other in a way. And the pair of you would go on to be the two leading inter-county coaches from that team.

AD: It would have been ahead of its time alright, I’d say, some of that stuff. I remember going on the attack at a Clare meeting around ’90, ’91 because I knew Davy and Tommy Guilfoyle and Tommy’s brother Michael would be meeting down in the pitch in De Beers [Industrial Diamonds] at lunchtime. I thought ‘Jeez, we need more of that’. I just had that ambition to get up the ladder and out of [Division] 1B so I challenged the crew. We’d three lads training at work at lunchtime. How many more can say they’ll do a bit of ballwork before we meet up on Sunday? But there was just this apathy there. It was like once that great team [Father] Harry [Bohan] had in the 70s didn’t make the breakthrough, hope was with O’Leary, in the grave.

KS: Your early years in Clarecastle were even tougher. Your father Pat Joe passed away when you were seven and you say you still regret you didn’t go to the funeral.

AD: That was tough going to talk about. You could be going up to Dublin in the car with Christy and be crying for the first 40 miles. But it was good for me as well in a way. A bit of therapy. That time was especially tough on my mother. Life seemed to be whipped from under her and [Daly’s brother] Paschal’s death [in 1998] compounded that. But I’d be very conscious that far more people have had far worse scenarios. I have a cousin who buried his mother to cancer at 32 and his only brother to leukaemia at 19. In comparison we live in a paradise. You go home and the three girls will say ‘Will you put on popcorn, Dad?’. Then you switch on the nine o’clock news and there’s Syria and starving babies. I’d be self-conscious that I didn’t write the patent on losing siblings or parents. It’s just that they were huge events in my life.

KS: You had your own health scare but are okay now. So did your wife Eilís [ovarian cancer] and eldest daughter Orlaith [temporal lobe epilepsy] but the book going to press says they’re doing well?

AD: That’s the major highlight in my life now. Eilís got her five-year all-clear a few months back. And the other week Orlaith was able to go off on a transition year trip to Westport. If that was this time last year it would have been out of the question or I’d have been snakin’ into some B&B nearby just in case. The medication has been reduced and she’s been seizure-free since May. But again, our story isn’t that different to most people’s.

KS: Well, that’s part of the book’s appeal. It makes you all the more human and relatable. As much as playing and coaching in All Ireland semi-finals can be living, all this other stuff is life.

AD: Well, that’s it, and it’s something as a manager you have to be aware of. I think it’s fantastic there’s now a greater appreciation of mental health, although it’s still not where it needs to be. With the Clarecastle minors the last few years, you could have a few feckers that didn’t want to train, that wouldn’t turn up on a Saturday morning at 7 o’clock for love nor money and I’d have called it for then, deliberately. You know, do we want to win this thing or not?! It’s probably a bit stupid, Kilkenny don’t do it, but for us it’s a big thing mentally. Then myself and the selectors get flippin’ 25 breakfast rolls, probably the worst thing you could be eating, but having everyone sitting around with the ol’ roll and a pint of milk, it’s good for the group, you know. And the lads might be saying ‘F**k that boy who didn’t show up, don’t play him.’ And before that would have been my reaction as well. But now I’d be ‘Lads, let’s have a chat with him before training on Tuesday night. You don’t know what might be going on.’

KS: How different is the dressing room now from the one you’d have known playing for Clare?

AD: In some ways it’s no different. For me anyway there’s still that bit of raw, primitive ‘Go out and fight like a bleedin’ tramp!’ But sure the whole thought process and analysis now is a different world. I remember talking to [Ger] Loughnane at training after the ’98 drawn [Munster] final. ‘Any chance or point in the whole lot of us sitting down watching the video?’ He snapped back, ‘Watch it if you f**** want, I saw enough last Sunday!’ Imagine saying that to a Liam Rushe now, or a Danny Sutcliffe? They’d be in shock. But you know, half of Loughnane’s aura was being able to say that back to me. He was nearly telling me ‘It was f**** shit, do you need me to look at it again to tell you that?!’

KS: Now that you’re an established inter-county coach yourself, what did you take from him into your own coaching?

AD: Well the big thing was just the absolute raw savagery of the hurling sessions. You were DRIVEN to go faster and faster and faster. So I’d bring some of that to Dublin. It’s in the book. [Swallowing the whistle]. ‘Frees my hole! But [2011 Dublin hurling trainer, current Dublin football trainer] Martin Kennedy was great in helping me move it along. Ger’s way would have been very much to go really hard on the touch, unchallenged, then go savage in a match. So I brought that: that was the way I knew, that was the way we’d won. But Martin through his sport science background brought it to a level whereby nearly every drill we did was challenged. Tonight’s session now that I’m giving a club team, five of the six games or drills we’ll be doing will be contested.

‘Winning the game of life is the ultimate victory’

Kieran Shannon: How raw a coach did you feel taking over Clare in 2004?

Anthony Daly: In ‘95 Sparrow and myself trained the minors to a county A final win over Sixmilebridge with our pal Paraic Russell. And these players these days saying they’ve no time to coach? [Smiles]. When I was 18, I was training the U12 footballers. I always loved the whole area of preparing a team.

But look, I made so many mistakes with Clare. I mean, that [2004] first-round game with Waterford [when Clare were hammered 3-21 to 1-8.] People can do a lot of functional tick-boxing. I was up with Raharney in Westmeath for a night before their county final [win] last month and I said, ‘Lads, the danger now is thinking Oh, Daly took the last session, sure this [victory] takes care of itself.’ I akin these things to world title fights. Eventually the weigh-in is over, the talking shit into each others’ faces is over — it’s you and him now inside that ring or it’s 40 yards in space in Thurles and you’ve got to be ready to win that ball, to win that battle.

And we weren’t ready for that fight. The week before Galway beat Waterford fairly handily down in Limerick [in the league final] and all of us inside watching it [laughs disbelievingly]. We should have been anywhere else in the world! Well, the lads should have been somewhere like the Cliffs of Moher having a walk. The amount of people coming out of Limerick that day coming over to us...

And then for the game we went to the Cashel Palace beforehand. Where Ger always brought us. Instead of going off and doing something new to say ‘This isn’t the 90s lads, this is 2004. Tony Griffin, you’re not Fergie Tuohy.’

KS: Someone like Tony would go on to thrive under your management in those three years. But does it still nag you that you’d have no silverware to show for all your work and progress?

AD: That ‘05 [All Ireland semi-final] match. [Clare had been six up with 20 to go, Cork would win by one]. The ordinary Joe Soap went from blaming Fitzy to blaming me to blaming our half-forward line. I went down to Fitzy at one stage and he knew I was coming I’d say. [Again impersonates Davy perfectly]. ‘Where the feck do you want me to hit it?’

I says ‘Try the middle.’ And sure hadn’t [John] Gardiner gone in at centre-back and didn’t he catch a ball over Gilly’s [Niall Gilligan’s] head. Gilly had been a threat inside, we knew [Diarmuid] O’Sullivan didn’t like marking him, but we weren’t winning ball outside. But look at their defence. Wayne Sherlock came in. Some sub to have, what?!

That was a great one of Fr Harry’s. We’d be at club championship games and Harry would be saying to myself and [selector Alan] Cunningham, ‘Well, lads, who played well?’ You’d mention some forward. And he’d say ‘Would he do against Wayne Sherlock, Dalo?’

‘No.’

Well could he mark Wayne Sherlock with a bit of work?

‘Eh, no!’ [he laughs]

KS: Is Dublin still on your mind a lot, though you had the book to work on since?

AD: Sure it is. Six years of it, it becomes a way of life. Even in the off-season, even if you were beaten early, you’re planning, going up to games, your world is still revolving around it. One of the famous days would have been after we had the best year in 2013.

Like, Leinster champions — I’d have taken the hand off you starting out to win that. But the day Clare were playing [Antrim] in the U21 final, we went to the Mullingar Park [Hotel], the whole backroom — selectors, physios, the lot — brought in a facilitator and we took each other to pieces. We were there 10 hours! [Coach] Tommy [Dunne] hardly drinks but when I said ‘Tommy, will you have a pint?’ he said ‘God, I will!’ We were wrecked. Everything was on the table. I’d said ‘Throw it all out, I want to get the edge here.’

KS: That’s a big theme in the book. That constant craving, reviewing, then tormenting yourself: did we do enough? Did we overdo that? You feel now that you over-emphasised the [2014 first-round] Wexford game, even though it could have opened the whole season up for you.

AD: Look, it’s all ifs, buts and maybes. But I tell you, leaving [camp in] Portugal I was fairly sure we’d be right for Wexford. No matter what they threw at us we’d weather the storm and atmosphere. And we did. Maybe we clapped ourselves on the back too much. It happens with the likes of Dublin very easy. Clare too. The highs are almost too high, the lows get too low. Kilkenny get the balance right.

KS: The book opens with the aftermath of the [2014] Leinster final. It’s fantastic stuff. But one observation: you talked a lot about being able to live with the pain but not the shame, honourable defeat like the [2013] semi-final to Cork rather than a capitulation like the Leinster final. Heading into [All Ireland quarter-final against Tipperary] were your players seeing and hearing only varieties of defeat?

AD: Maybe [smiles, half-nodding, half-shaking the head]. But you know what, my experience of the nine years I’ve been doing this [inter-county management] I’ve been wrong as often as I’ve been right. ‘Don’t mention defeat.’ ‘Don’t mention Kilkenny.’ Then, ‘Look, try something different, do mention them!’ You know?

In 2011 we won the league final, beat Offaly in a dogfight in the first round, then beat Galway in Tullamore [beating Galway] being 14 men down, looking like we’d a real team. But then it came. We never mentioned the words but it got into everyone’s heads — The Backlash. What everyone else was thinking with that knowing look — ‘Oh, Kilkenny, the backlash, you’ll get it for the league final now.’ It got into the psyche, even though you tried everything for it to not.

KS: Dotsy [David O’Callaghan] says it to you in the book. “It’s just them, Dalo. Whatever it is in our heads about Kilkenny, we can’t get it out of our heads.” They’re a colossus to Dublin. They’re always there. Cody has been constantly around for you. Has he ever let you in?

AD: I wouldn’t know him well enough but I do think there is a healthy respect there. We had a good ol’ chat at the All Stars; he wouldn’t have been overly-happy with them getting less All Stars for winning every bit of silverware in sight than a team that ultimately won none. But sure how does he flippin’ do it? [Smiling, shaking his head, stupefied]. Like the three changes for the replay, isn’t he something else? Kieran Joyce: how do you go from not getting a game to next thing you’re centre back on the Bonner [Maher], Tipp’s key man, and you end up Man of the Match?! They’ve some belief in themselves, don’t they? I can only akin it to being handed that Flannan’s jersey. I grew up watching Flannan’s ‘82, ‘83 teams and no matter who we were playing — North Mon, [St] Colman’s, Farranferris — it was ‘We’ll beat this crowd, we’re Flannan’s.’ Clarecastle would have had a touch of it but it was nearly a cockiness more than a confidence, which nearly killed us. But Kilkenny have a sense of ‘We’ll win.

John Power apparently said to someone afterwards that he was going better in the two weeks leading up to the drawn final than he was in the two weeks leading up to the replay. Yet Cody throws him in for the replay.

It’s almost time to go now, just as it was time for him to wind up with Dublin. He’ll miss it but he’ll cope. He can take a club team if he wants with over a dozen of them already onto him. He might do some third-level course having never had the chance before. In time you’d be sure another county job will present itself. If you can be sure of anything.

“Already it feels weird [finishing up with Dublin],” he admits in the book. “But if I wanted certainty I’d have stayed in my solid pensionable job with the bank nearly two decades ago. I don’t fear the future because I know what my priorities are. I have three girls to look after, to put through school and hopefully college. Winning the game of life is the ultimate victory.”

He’ll win that game and plenty more.


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