The practice had always been to hand the senior football bainisteoir bib to someone within the club’s enclaves of Quilty and Mullagh. But without a Clare title since 2004 and with a production line of underage talent coming through, Talty felt the time had come to source their manager from the outside.
So it came to pass that Michéal McDermott was handed the Kilmurry-Ibrickane managerial controls and the Cavan native relished the chance.
“I was aware I was the first outsider but I think it helped me,” recalls McDermott.
“The players didn’t know what to expect and you can set your marker down easily as regards what commitment you expect. I was very conscious of the talent that was there as they had won five U21 championships in a row and I wanted to work with that.”
McDermott has shaped those burgeoning underage talents into a tangible senior force. Since taking over he’s put back-to-back county titles together, tasted provincial glory in Munster last December and this afternoon creates history in Croke Park by becoming the first man to take charge of a Clare side in an All-Ireland club football final. Their remarkable run of success has been orchestrated by McDermott’s sideline guidance. Kilmurry-Ibrickane have established a supreme defensive system which has leaked an average of six points since the Clare decider and overall the team’s play is predicated on an enormous level of work-rate and intensity.
Those traits smack of an Ulster football side and McDermott is unapologetic for drawing on his Northern roots in crafting a football philosophy.
“The likes of Tyrone and Armagh very much influence me in how the game should be played. It’s all about a unit working really hard on and off the ball with great intensity. That’s why the Ulster teams have been so successful over the last few years. But we can play good, open football as well and that’s what really pleased me about our semi-final win over Portlaoise. We put up a really good score whereas before we’d been criticised for battling through games.”
McDermott’s honest coaching style mean he is always willing to embrace outside influences and ideas.
Over the past two years, he’s drafted in several people to assist his preparations and the roll call of names is luminous. Mickey Harte, Jack O’Connor, Tony Scullion, Luke Dempsey, Seamus McEnaney, Oisín McConville and Peter Canavan have all spent time with the Kilmurry-Ibrickane players.
On the night we speak with McDermott in Quilty, former Irish rugby fitness coach and current Armagh trainer Mike McGurn trots past with an armful of tackle bags and cones as he prepares to conduct a session.
“I always firmly believe there’s a need for fresh voices and different angles,” says McDermott. “Their coaching methods help us change things up. I know Mike now a while and he’s huge experience in rugby and gaelic football. He’ll bring an added dimension to the lads training tonight. It comes back to the Ulster influence with me being from Cavan. Anything we can do to get them over the finishing line, should be done.”
The midas touch McDermott has exuded in Clare football is not just restricted to the club scene. Since January he’s been moonlighting as county senior manager as well, with last Sunday’s league win over London maintaining their flawless NFL 4 campaign to date. McDermott joins a select grouping including Mickey Harte and Pat O’Shea that have been faced with this double springtime dilemma in recent years and he admits it’s been hectic of late.
“Monday night is always the night I take off. I saw it quoted somewhere that our Lord took off Sunday and I took off Monday. What we usually do is Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday with the county team and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday with the club team. It’s hard work but being successful gives you the buzz to go out training again. That of course explains my hoarse voice of late!”
Whether today’s clash with St Gall’s constitutes McDermott’s last game in charge of Kilmurry-Ibrickane is in doubt. It’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain this exhausting schedule but any discussion on the future between him and the club committee has been parked until after this afternoon’s match.
Regardless it’s been an experience McDermott has enjoyed immensely. Everything he’s sought from the Kilmurry-Ibrickane players he has received and when he thinks of the sacrifices made by the likes of Belfast- based quantity surveyor Declan Callinan and Dublin teacher Martin McMahon, he’s adamant the role has been a privilege.
“It’s been fantastic working with these guys. It’s great being in an All-Ireland final but the occasion is not something I care about.
“It’s about winning and lifting that cup,” he says.
“I love winning and I’m a desperate loser.”