THERE was frost on the ground in Clare yesterday morning, a genuine feel of Christmas in the air as Ger O’Loughlin headed off to his day job as Director of Sales with the Burke Shipping Group.
A happy Christmas it will be too, for Ger, and hopefully for Clare hurling, with his ratification at county convention on Thursday night as manager of the senior hurling team ending an inglorious couple of months for the county after a clumsy player rebellion against the popular Mike McNamara.
“It’s a great honour,” said O’Loughlin, who is almost universally known by his nickname, Sparrow.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. Hopefully we’ll get back to what it’s all about, hurling.
“Fingers crossed we’ll get the bounce of the ball in 2010.”
When it became clear that McNamara and his management team of Ollie Baker and Alan Cunningham was going to step aside – as they did, on Tuesday evening last, and with great dignity – O’Loughlin was immediately seen as one of the prime candidates for the position. There were others, however, and in pole position; John Minogue (manager) and Cyril Lyons (coach), along with Alan Dunne and Sean O’Halloran who had teamed up to guide the U21s to Clare’s first All-Ireland title. And they would have been seen as the most popular choice.
Now that John has turned down the job, however, Sparrow feels that he is ready, and well qualified.
“I was hoping things would sort themselves out and the boys would rally behind Mike again, but that didn’t happen. After the U21 success it was obvious then that John and his team were going to be considered first, so I still wasn’t looking at it too seriously. But I’ve been involved in coaching and playing for over 20 years. I finished playing in 1999, was involved then with Clarecastle for three years, was with Cyril as a selector with Clare in 2003 and spent the last three years as manager with Adare in Limerick (with whom he won three-in-a-row).
“Having played inter-county for 12 years (starred in the All-Ireland seasons of ‘95 and ‘97), it all works out. You can’t beat experience at any level, hands-on experience, and you have to start somewhere.
“I’m in my early 40s, so from that point of view, I think I’m ready. You can’t plan these things, you never know what will happen – you mightn’t ever do it. From that point of view, the timing is right. I have huge enthusiasm for it, I’m looking forward to the challenge. We must get back competing as soon as possible.”
Nevertheless, these are not the best of circumstances in which to have been chosen.
“What has happened has happened. I’m a new boy on the block, drawing a line in the sand. Any fella I feel can offer something for the good of Clare hurling will be given a chance.”
So Tony Griffin, who recently retired, can expect a call? “Every fella I feel can offer something to Clare hurling will be getting a call. What happened in the past will be consigned to history. I hope I’ll be seen to be fair; those were all high-calibre people involved in the dispute, including the management, and I’m not underestimating the challenge that’s facing me. There are over 300 people involved with the Burke Shipping Group, so I’m used to dealing with big groups, and individuals. I think that’s a forte I have, day-to-day dealing with people of all nationalities. I’d be hoping I’ll be able to bring that to this job.
“What has happened is over, we all have to forget about it, move on.”
HE doesn’t have a management team in place but aims to do as quickly as possible.
“There was no point in talking to anyone until I was ratified. Obviously I have people in my head, I’ll be making calls over the next few days, and hopefully they’ll buy into the spirit of it all, come aboard for the good of Clare hurling. But it’s the end of my involvement with Adare; I spent three great years there, tremendous experience, made the best of friends. We had a goodbye party at Charlie Chawke’s last Friday night – it was a great night, everyone wished me the best of luck, though they won’t be saying that if we meet Limerick in the championship!”
Speaking of championship, and looking to 2010; Clare have a first-round bye, meet Waterford (as they did in 2009) in the Munster semi-final on June 7 in Thurles. In the meantime, they will be warming up in NHL Division Two, having been relegated after failing a game in this year’s league.
An advantage, or a disadvantage, for the new manager? Bit of both, he reckons. “The advantage is that it gives me a bit of time to suss out players and get to know them. The disadvantage is you’re coming up then in the championship against a team that will have had five or six games against the top sides in the country. We’ll have to deal with it, but it won’t be an excuse, I can assure you that.”
In the meantime, Christmas around the corner, and happy days for Ger, and for Clare: “Yeah, the next few days will be busy; I hope that whatever issues the players had, whatever concerns the supporters had, we can all relax, go forward. I have only one aim in my head, the betterment of Clare hurling, and I’ll be giving it everything to make sure we do as well as we can in league and championship. At the end of 2010 I want to be able to look back and say – well, whatever else, we’ve steered the ship back on track. If I can say that, we’ll have made progress.”
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