Daly bidding to clip wings of friendly foe ‘Sparrow’
Saturday July 10 2010
IF the GAA had been deliberately trying to inject some excitement into the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers, they couldn’t have better scripted today’s fascinating curtain-raiser at Croke Park.
Leading the Dublin hurlers is Anthony Daly, while the man in the opposing blue-and-gold corner is Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin.
Not only were the two men double All-Ireland-winning team-mates with Clare, they are great friends and clubmates who grew up within a few doors of one another in Clarecastle.
In a spookily prescient move, Daly and O’Loughlin cut their managerial teeth together with the club’s minors in 1994, while they were still in their playing prime with the Banner.
A year later, they led Clarecastle to the county minor title, in the very same season that they won their first senior All-Ireland title with the county.
Now, in their first inter-county meeting as managers, they have ended up battling it out for a place in the All-Ireland’s last eight.
To preview today’s game, the ‘Clare Champion’ newspaper featured a lovely picture of them both playfully arm-wrestling across a wall this week. But one man who knows both very well says it shouldn’t be too difficult for two such competitive men to put their close friendship temporarily aside.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem for either of them because it goes with the territory once you’re involved with inter-county management,” says former Clare selector and two-time All Star Johnny Callinan.
A fellow Clarecastle man who played alongside them both, he likes to quip that, “whatever they know about hurling, I taught them!”
“There might be some difficulty in it for Anthony because he’s such a passionate Clare man, but I wouldn’t say it’s in any way difficult for Sparrow,” Callinan believes, recalling that O’Loughlin was mature enough, at just 17, to playing full-forward in a county senior final.
Callinan himself played at minor, U-21 and senior level for Clare in the one season. Local Gaelic historians have aired that remarkable achievement once again this week, because the Banner have all three of their hurling teams out in championship action over the next five days.
Their minors play Waterford in the Munster final tomorrow and, next Wednesday, county seniors Darach Honan, John Conlon, Nicky O’Connell and Sean Collins face a quick turnaround as they open their Munster U-21 title defence against Limerick.
They are not alone, as several of their Dublin senior opponents contest the Leinster U-21 final against Wexford next Wednesday and that is not the only similarity between today’s opponents.
They are not only two sides heavily populated with U-21s, but both teams come to Croke Park heavily weighted with expectations.
Dublin’s stock has risen dramatically under Daly’s care and they were beaten Leinster finalists last year. Clare, famously, won their first All-Ireland U-21 title last season and those underage stars now make up the bulk of the senior team.
O’Loughlin only took over last December after Mike McNamara was ousted by a so-called ‘player coup’. Hopes of a hurling revival in the county increased immediately when he took them straight to a Division 2 National League final.
But a rather lacklustre display against Wexford burst their bubble somewhat and has eased the pressure on them, which, with a young side, is no bad thing. Callinan believes they are not being encumbered with unrealistic pressure.
“I genuinely don’t think they are being burdened by too many expectations. People very much recognise that we are in transition,” he says.
“There was some genuine disappointment with the league final performance, they seemed to have no pace or great urgency on the day, and what really hurt was that it meant Division 2 hurling again next year.
“But that was why people were so heartened by their (championship) performance against Waterford,” he adds of Clare’s spirited challenge against the Deise.
“When Waterford brought on the big guns like the Prendergasts and Ken McGrath, you could see that we just didn’t have the same physicality as them then, but that will come with age and experience.
“That’s why I’m surprised that some bookmakers have us as favourites because I would regard Dublin as a lot more experienced side.”
Yet, like all Clare supporters, Callinan recognises that this is a fantastic opportunity for their burgeoning side, especially given the possible permutations of the draw.
“My understanding is that if Offaly beat Limerick (in today’s other Phase 2 game) they couldn’t meet Antrim in the next round and would have to play Tipperary,” he says.
“No disrespect to Antrim but for either ourselves or Dublin, the possibility of avoiding Tipperary is another huge incentive.”
The Banner Army will certainly be back on the march again over the next five days. “It could go really well, or all go pear-shaped,” he says. “But if we got two out of three we’d be very happy.”
– Cliona Foley