LIAM Cronin was as surprised as anyone when the phonecall came to ask him to join the Clare senior hurling management.
After Davy Fitzgerald stepped down, former U-21 and minor winning joint-managers Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney were most people’s favourites to get the vacant role.
Former Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack was to remain as team coach.
In 2016, Cappamore’s Ardscoil Ris Harty Cup winning manager-coach Cronin had made his first steps away from underage coaching.
“Out of the blue I got a phonecall from Gerry O’Connor to know if I would be interested in joining him in Eire Og in Ennis. There would be a link between Jimmy Browne of LIT and myself going back to the 2009 Harty Cup and Jimmy and Gerry had worked together in Clare,” explains 36 year old Cronin.
With current Clare players Shane O’Donnell and David Reidy among their ranks, the Ennis side reached the 2016 Clare SHC quarter final - losing to Cratloe.
Then came another phonecall from Gerry O’Connor.
“It was very much out of the blue again - look at my CV and I didn’t think I have a whole lot of experience. I didn’t think at all about Clare - I was more thinking of getting back with Eire Og and giving them another go but Gerry obviously saw something with me and that he felt I had something to offer inter-county level and could be of use.”
The Ardscoil Ris teacher jumped at the chance.
“It’s going great - never did I think that I would be working at this level so early in my coaching career. It’s still a learning curve for me and to work with Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney is fabulous. Donal Og (Cusack) then brings a wealth of experience from his time with Cork. This is definitely the right place for me to further my coaching and it’s a privilege to be working with some of the best players in the country,” said the Cappamore man.
“It’s very much a group management and we sit down and plan everything. Myself Donal Og and Kieran Corcoran are the three main coaches, along with Jimmy Browne and Kevin Harrold, who is in charge of strength and conditioning.”
The draw for the Munster SHC was just weeks after he joined up with Clare.
“I was at home watch it with my Dad (Christy). Before it started we had said that it would be Limerick v Clare! Paul (Kinnerk) and Joe (O’Connor) have done it in the past and now they are with Limerick - that’s what makes the rivalry, look at our school, and lads are playing together at Third Level, supporters work together and that’s what all adds to it,” he smiles.
That draw was last October.
This Sunday, Cronin plots the downfall of his native Limerick, who will include 11 of his former underage stars from Ardscoil Ris in a panel of 31. Indeed there are another three former Ardscoil Ris hurlers in the Clare panel, while another Clare player, Paul Flanagan, is also on the teaching staff of the Limerick city secondary school.
“I played senior with Cappamore but unfortunately my time coincided with our time down junior and intermediate and now thankfully the club is back up senior again. I had started out with a little bit of coaching with the Cappamore U-12s when I was still in College in Cork but it all started really when I went into Ardscoil Ris,” explains Cronin.
“My first year in the school I teamed up with Liam Kennedy for a first year team with the likes of Alan Dempsey, Shane Dowling and Declan Hannon and from here was up turn in our school.”
The early days most school teams weren’t in the A grade with a 2005 Munster Senior B Hurling final the highlight.
Then came the move to Harty Cup and by 2009 Ardscoil Ris were in a semi final - losing to St Caimins of Shannon, coached by Paul Kinnerk.
“Liam Kennedy, Derek Larkin and Niall Crowe were the ‘GAA teachers’ in the school when I started and the way it turned out myself and Derek teamed up with a number of different teams over the years. From that first year team all the way up along was a learning curve - I would say coaching a Harty Cup side is just about the same as coaching an inter-county minor side,” outlines Cronin, who had coached with Brian Finn and Anthony Daly in the Limerick Underage Academy before moving to the Clare senior set-up.
“We all want to win Harty Cups and All Ireland but it’s really about progressing lads to go on and play inter-county hurling or to help them become the best they can. I remember September 2013 was fabulous in the school - Limerick won Munster, Clare won the All Ireland and we had all the fellas coming back into Ardscoil Ris. And, there were others who had success at minor and U-21 level. It’s about the conveyor belt and look this year we have nine county minors - seven with Limerick and two with Clare,” explain Cronin, who is 15 years in Ardscoil Ris.