FORMER Clare hurling boss Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin bids to lead Kilmallock to a Munster club SHC this Sunday in his first season at the helm.
His appointment was in itself a signal of intent.
In his five years Tony Considine ended their 16-year drought for a Limerick SHC title and left with the club back among the annual contenders.
The arrival of another former Clare manager told all that Kilmallock were not prepared to depart the scene as they had done after their run of titles in the ‘70s and ‘90s.
As well as a wealth of experience as an inter-county player and manager, crucially O’Loughlin was most familiar with the Limerick club scene from his successful spell with Adare.
“Of course I was very excited but also under no illusions what is expected when you go into a club like Kilmallock. From my point of view, after a couple of weeks I knew we had the players capable of winning in Munster but its a long way from February/March with a lot of potential pitfalls along the way,” said O’Loughlin this Tuesday.
He added: “We took it a step at a time - one match at a time”.
“Is like taking over any team with potential, you have to find out if they are going to buy into your way of doing things. They definitely responded and that was vital. They have been brilliant to work with - they simply put the head down and worked. To be fair they are all very capable hurlers and it was just about getting them to play the way I felt was right for them,” said O’Loughlin of his Kilmallock side.
A Munster club SHC winner as a player with his native Clarecastle in 1997, O’Loughlin doesn’t hide from the magnitude of Sunday’s final.
“Of course I am looking forward to the game - it’s why we do this for days like Sunday, but I’m not underestimating the task. From my point of view these are the challenges that you want to face. You can’t be happy to just maybe get out of the group stages. I have been round management for seven or eight years and along why way I made mistakes but would like to think that I know what I’m doing now.”
On Sunday he will come across his former Clare colleague Brian Lohan and former Clare and club colleague Alan Neville on the sideline as they work as selectors alongside Cratloe manager Joe McGrath.
“I’ve kept the head down - all that is for afterwards,” he smiled.
In 2008, O’Loughlin brought Adare to a club final, where they lost to De La Salle.
“For a club like Kilmallock a day like Sunday is what they strive for. They have all worked so hard to get to the final and now we just hope they perform on the day. Barring something out of the ordinary happens, I am confident that they will be ready.”
He continued: “From our point of view we know that nothing but 110% will be good enough. It will have to put our best performance of the year to win because they have game winners all over the field”.
“When you go into Munster you expect nothing less than to meet teams who are there on merit - the bar is raised each time. The tough campaign (Limerick SHC) definitely stood to us - those games helped us to find out the character we had. Those games were so tough and you can be caught but we got through with hard work and planning - but I guess you make your own luck along the way as well. We have improved - we have introduced five or six for their first taste of senior action and they brings strength to the panel. It makes a big difference to have guys looking over their shoulder at the competition - we now have guys that we know we can throw into the melting pot,” outlined O’Loughlin.
The Clare man has urged all in Limerick to back Kilmallock’s quest to keep the Munster tile in the county.
“No doubt there will be a big Clare contingent to push on Cratloe and hopefully it will be the same that a big Limerick crowd come in to shout for Kilmallock - its going to be a ding-dong affair and should be a cracking game.”