FROM the moment it became clear that the Clare senior hurlers weren’t prepared to back down on their demand to have Mike McNamara removed for the position of team manager, the name of Ger O’Loughlin was linked with the post.
It wasn’t any great surprise when county board chairman recommended to a special meeting last week that the Clarecastle man should be appointed to the position and while delegates at that meeting asked to have the decision deferred until they consulted with their clubs, there was never really any doubt but that the All-Ireland winning forward would be appointed.
In a matter of a couple of seconds, his appointment was unanimously ratified at the annual convention last Thursday night and immediately, the two-time All-Star award-winner said he was looking forward to the challenge.
“Most of those who have played the game would admit that they would have thoughts of managing their county team at some stage. I have served my apprenticeship with my own club and with Adare. I know what is involved and the pressures that go with it. It’s a challenge,” he said following his appointment.
“It would have been better if this had been done earlier but one can only go with the cards they are dealt. I would love if I had a few weeks more to prepare for the new year but that’s not the case. It doesn’t give much time but I hope to have things in full swing by the first Monday in January when we will quickly see what the fitness levels are and where we are at,” O’Loughlin said.
“John Minogue and his U-21 management team were rightly offered the job but they opted to remain with the U-21s for another year. I was then contacted and I am delighted to have this opportunity. The next phase is to put a management team in place. There was no point in contacting people when my appointment wasn’t rubber stamped,” he said.
The new manager insists that he is starting with a clean slate. “I am a new manager coming in and I am drawing a line in the sand and we are starting afresh. I would like to think that I can talk to people. I’d like to think that we (the panel and management) would complement each other. We must respect each other’s point of view. I will have rules and regulations that will have to be adhered to,” he said before adding that he wants the best panel for Clare hurling and that everyone will get a chance. “It’s a new panel and a new management system. Hopefully, fellas won’t blot their copy,” he said.
As far as the new boss is concerned, “The best place to be is in Division 1 where you are meeting the top teams so the first target is to get out of Division 2 in the league. Then it will be to prepare for the meeting with Waterford in the championship in June. That will be a great occasion with former colleague Davy Fitzgerald on the other side of the fence. There is sure to be lots of interest in that game. At the end of the day, I have to have the best 20 lads ready for that date and they will have to be at their best if they are to progress. Clare are not as bad as the results of the last 12 months say but that’s all in the past. I want everyone to buy into what we are trying to do. We want to go as far as possible and if they prepare right, we can do well,” he said.
What about the manager he is taking over from? “Of course, I have sympathy for him. It’s disappointing that after 20 years service, it ended up this way. Alan Cunningham is one of the best coaches in Ireland and I also have great respect for Ollie Baker. I would have thought that their coming together to manage the team was a recipe for success. They made huge progress in 2008 but whatever went wrong last year, I have to banish that and move on but, yes, I have great sympathy and respect for them,” he said.
O’Loughlin’s first competitive game in charge will be on January 10 when Clare take on Waterford IT in the Waterford Crystal tournament, a competition Clare won for the first time last year. Victory in that game will give Clare a quarter-final date with Tipperary a week later and should this prove to be the case, it will be a repeat of last season’s final which was played in Ogonnelloe.
For now, O’Loughlin is busy putting a management team in place. When that is completed, they will draw up a panel that commence training in a week’s time. He is unlikely to have much time to relax over the Christmas holiday period.