Sparrow remains unruffled

Manager Ger O'Loughlin and Gavin O'Mahony celebrate Kilmallock's Limerick SHC final win over Na Piarsaigh. Picture: Inpho/Lorraine O'Sullivan

AIB MUNSTER CLUB SHC FINAL:
Cratloe (Clare) v Kilmallock (Limerick
In his autobiography Anthony Daly pays tribute to formative influences.

Fr Harry Bohan. Ger Loughnane. And a near-contemporary in Clarecastle, Ger O’Loughlin.

You know him as Sparrow: flying Clare forward and lately, Kilmallock manager. They’re playing a Munster club final tomorrow, two weeks after an epic semi-final win over Sarsfields of Cork.

“We were glad to have that extra week off,” he says.

“It would have taken a good bit out of both teams, the extra-time would have certainly taken a toll.

“Rest up to Tuesday night was in order, so at least we had the time for another couple of sessions to help recover and prepare for the final this weekend.

“Every club puts in a huge effort, like Sars, and once you get out of your own county there’s a huge incentive there to do well. Most teams need that extra three or four per cent to just get them over the line.

“It’s gratifying, though, to see that the work has been done and that they’re able to stay the course over the 80 minutes. The conditions have changed a bit, too, and can be demanding, though in fairness the field in Kilmallock was in outstanding condition for the game two weeks ago.

“That game could have gone either way, though – I have to accept that, everyone does. If Sars had won by a point or two we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

After the game Kilmallock’s Gavin O’Mahony spoke of the tradition in the club, but O’Loughlin was careful not to burden his players with that: “To tell you the truth, we didn’t discuss that too much but if you’re from the town it might become an issue if you don’t take it for what it is.

“But this is a new team, we’ve introduced four or five new faces.

Tradition is great — and I’m not stationed in the town, as such, I wouldn’t see how it works, but you have to be careful not to get bogged down with it, either, or let it become a burden.”

That said he’s glad of O’Mahony and the other Limerick senior panellists and the example they show.

“I can honestly say I’ve never come across four lads – Gavin, Paudie, Graeme and Barry Henessy – who are so totally dedicated to it.

“There are no excuses, there’s no ‘I’m tired’ – the problem is the opposite one at times, that they maybe over-train.

“It’s magnificent from the club perspective because you could have inter-county players who might do the opposite, and it could become a problem, but not here.

“I couldn’t believe it, actually, when Limerick lost to Kilkenny this season, the difference they made when they came straight back to training with us. It was a long season for them with Limerick but straight away they brought more intensity to the thing, which is what you want.

“We’re very lucky to have a group like that, it certainly makes my job a lot easier.”

A tough run in Limerick is standing to Kilmallock now, he feels.

“When the ball is thrown in you have 63, 64 minutes – or 80 the last day – so I keep telling them not to panic if they’re down four or five points.

“I tell them we’ve the work done, we’ve been through tight games — you hope they take that on board and it does seem to have worked so far.

“Every game’s different, too. You depend on how quickly you get out of the blocks and so on, but we just got over the line against Effin in the group stages in Limerick, we just beat Adare in the quarter-final, the same with Doon in the semi-final. Those games were all so tight that it probably stood to us compared to Na Piarsaigh, who made it to the (Limerick) county final after a couple of easy enough games. That can backfire on a team, and the same could have been said of Sars in Cork. But they got beaten in the first round in Cork, so they got their wake-up call then, while it wasn’t their fault Glen Rovers were so poor in the Cork county final.

“Tight games stand to a team. They probably prepare the players better for the next day physically and mentally.”

Now Cratloe are in their way — from his native Clare. “We had to get past Sars first and we took a while to sit down and look at them. They’re an almighty hurdle, I know a lot of them and I know how good they are, how dedicated. They’ve brought a lot of freshness to the thing this year with the hurling and football, and they’re not going to be easily beaten, certainly. We have a huge mountain to climb but we’re in the final at least, and if you’re in a final then you have a chance.

“We’ll try to pick out their strong points and nullify those, and try to play ourselves with the freedom we know will be needed to win. I think that’s important – we’ve all been bogged down with finals, the legs get heavy and you can’t get over the line, so that’s an important focus for us, to make sure the lads are fresh and give it a lash.”

And his old colleague’s book? Between the games and training O’Loughlin hadn’t picked up a copy but his son Mark bought it last week and now it’s on the nightstand.

“It’s great,” says O’Loughlin. “I’m laughing and crying reading it, there’s a lot to it. We grew up together and we’re very much in contact.”

No issues with tales of funny swimming caps, then? “Well, we’ll hardly fall out at this stage. But that won’t stop us arguing!”

MATCH PREVIEW

This is a final of contradictions. A Clare man, for example, is in charge of the Limerick champions, Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin. And it is a home venue for Kilmallock — the Gaelic Grounds — that is actually considerably closer to Cratloe. The most significant contradiction is that the storied club with two previous titles, Kilmallock, go into this contest as underdogs against the star-studded novices. Cratloe’s troupe of All-Ireland medallists with Clare and mass of raw talent in the Collins’, Conor McGrath, Conor Ryan and Liam Markham earns them that favouritism. Most of their team are dual players so it remains to be seen what impact last weekend’s football loss has on them, if any.

O’Loughlin has previous final experience from his time with Adare and it will take all his tactical nous to undermine a Cratloe side chasing history.

Verdict: Cratloe.


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