Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Loughnane the Lip Returns

There must have been high fives and cheers audible for miles around in the sports departments of our nation's media outlets in recent days. What might have began as excited water cooler conversation a few weeks ago will have developed into outright glee; long, boozy lunches might have been indulged in yesterday, when it became clear that Ger Loughnane's flirtation with the Galway hurling manager position was reaching consummation.

Any sore heads the GAA correspondents of this land may be suffering this morning will have been assuaged by the text of Loughnane's inauguration speech last night. Not for the bold Ger the language of caution, the management of expectations. Not for the Feakle Flash humble talk of the challenges facing the team, how Kilkenny and Cork are very strong and how much work had to be done.

"The aim is to win the All-Ireland, absolutely. I don't aim for anything else. If I haven't won the All-Ireland after the first year that year will be a failure."

Yikes!

- Mr Loughnane, with these 24-carat quotes you are spoiling us!

- No problem boys, I got plenty more where that came from...

Loughnane, of course, guarantees good copy. The controversy engendered by his book Raising the Banner and his fearless punditry on RTE are evidence of that. His zeal as a hurling manager extended to his public image, manifested in an obsession with winning and an inability to accept what he saw as inferiority in others.

Of course, the reason he is allowed such platforms and the reason his return to management six years after his reign as Clare manager ended has caused such interest do not lie only in his quotability or the charisma of his personality. His success as Clare manager in the 1990s and the voracious drive that achieved that success made many counties covet his services. Even all those whom he offended over the years would have been envious of having that alchemy in their own counties.

While the press pack will be delighted at how much spicier this appointment already makes next season's hurling fare, it would be interesting to know how the Galway hurlers are feeling. Like the Florida keys in the hours preceding a hurricane, perhaps.

Some will be mulling over the infamous quote attributed to a Clare player of the 1990s: "Ger Loughnane was fair, he treated us all the same during training - like dogs." While we do not yet know if Loughnane's training and management styles will have evolved since his Clare heyday, it's probably fair to say that the Galway players can look forward to many winter evenings traversing the county's picturesque sand dunes.

Undoubtedly Loughnane will have seen the potential to achieve the feat he has so bombastically claimed possible for this team. It was only last year that they made it to the All-Ireland final, with a team full of potential and who, Loughnane's predecessor, Conor Hayes, believed, had an All-Ireland in them.

Still, unlike much of the glory years for Clare, Loughnane will now be operating in an environment where Cork and Kilkenny have aggressively retaken their customary place at the top of hurling's pile, making the modern quest for Liam McCarthy a lot less open than it was a decade ago.

However he fares next season, the affairs of Galway hurling will be more prominently discussed than ever before - and there will be plenty more of those quotes as well.

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