We revisit one of the more curious and disappointing episodes in modern hurling history, namely, Ger Loughnane's return to frontline management with Galway at the end of 2006.
His eternal place in the managerial hall of fame already assured, Ger strode into the Galway job amid much fanfare and satisfaction.
All year, Galway hurling had been suffering from its usual post-All-Ireland final losing ennui, the effects of which, as is well known, take at least a year to wear off. And sometimes more.
The appointment was Ger was meant to shake them from this torpor. The view from the bar was that he would provide the rocket up the posterior that the uber-talented bunch of Galway players needed.
Like Fabio Capello with England, the prevailing view in Galway was that if they couldn't do it under Loughnane, they probably couldn't do it at all.
He was appointed on a three year term with a review scheduled after the second year. Laughing in the face of these spoofers with their long-term plans, Loughnane said he'd walk away in two years if he failed to deliver Galway an All-Ireland title.
At a time when expectations were already running a little ahead of reality, this typically bullish proclamation represented a bit of a PR blunder from Ger.
The Galway county board, who are not greatly renowned for their patience, didn't really need any more encouragement to start thinking this way.
Your average Italian football bigwig was less trigger-happy in the manager-firing department than was the Galway county board in the 90s and 2000s.
Noel Lane was sacked after guiding Galway to an All-Ireland final in his first season and then narrowly losing an All-Ireland quarter to Clare the following year. There is considerable evidence in recent years the Galway CB has chilled out on this front.
John McIntyre, Loughnane's successor as Galway manager and the sport editor of the Connacht Tribune, asserts now that the perception of Loughnane's reign has been distorted by the hype that accompanied his appointment.
The difficulty for Ger at the time was that there was such expectations when he was appointed to the Galway job, because it wasn't that long previously that he had led Clare to two All-Ireland titles and locals, a lot of them, looked upon Ger arrival in Galway as the messiah coming. Against that background, Ger would have been under more pressure immediately than other managers that are selected in Galway. The perception was that if Loughnane can't do it, nobody can.
Ger brought with him a reputation for driving players viciously hard in training, a reputation that, by all accounts, he lived up to. Those who believed that the Galway hurlers were too soft and too dominated by 'nice players' will have been gratified by his approach.
There was this running joke in Galway when they were doing this savage training on a sand gallop down in South Galway. And by all accounts, the training was brutal and the joke was that horses were looking over their stable doors and thanking God they weren't hurlers, the training was so severe. The impression was that no Galway team had ever trained harder.
Two years later, Ger Loughnane was sacked by the Galway county board after the delegates voted against him 28-26.
In two seasons, he racked up four championship wins, two against Laois and two against Antrim. In the middle of his reign, he guided them to the League Final in 2008, which they lost to Tipperary.
Leaving aside these rather understated achievements, they contrived to lose to a mutinous Clare side who were deemed to be in some disarray in the summer of 2007. In defeat, Loughnane's habit of making sweeping changes moments before throw-in was recast as a gimmick rather than a masterstroke. Galway's defeat in Ennis was as arguably as poor a performance as the team delivered that decade.
The next year, Galway's only serious game in the championship saw them beaten by an ageing 14-team Cork team who had no time for their manager either and were supposedly waiting to be put out of their misery.
Loughnane's high-point as Galway manager, as Ollie Canning caustically put it on Off the Ball a few weeks ago, was a ten-point loss to Kilkenny in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final. The scoreline was terribly unflattering to Galway, who were pretty much neck and neck with Kilkenny for 60 minutes, before falling to a couple of Eddie Brennan sucker punches in the closing stages.
Malachy Clerkin wrote after the 2013 semi-final between Dublin-Kerry that 'if one could sue a scoreline for libel, the damages would be immense'. Working off a similar principle, it's fair to say that Ger's Galway team of '07 could also be due a tidy sum after that All-Ireland quarter-final.
McIntyre believes that there is some revisionism surrounding Loughnane's reign. There was no significant championship win in two years but McIntyre argues that the reign wasn't as bad as the bald facts suggest.
I think history is being rewritten about his time in Galway. I go back to his first quarter-final with Galway against Kilkenny. Now I know they were beaten by ten points. but I think the margin of defeat distorted the quality and competitiveness of Galway's performance.
And then next year they were beaten by Cork. At the time the perception was that Cork were beginning to slip. It didn't happen for Galway. They were beaten narrowly in the end but a lot of the credit for that has to go to an inspired Cork second half performance. They were defiant. They used Cusack's sending off to their best advantage and hurled out of their skins in the second half. They were the two big games Loughnane lost with Galway and I'm not sure the reality is as bad as some people imagined it at the time.
Since the Kilkenny game, Loughnane has unloaded on the Galway players in his Star column. Phrases like 'gutless' and they're 'made of nothing' are usually deemed out of order in GAA circles. Even leaving aside the incendiary nature of Loughnane's comments, McIntyre feels his view of the Galway performance against Kilkenny is difficult to justify.
As somebody who is perceived as being a critic of Galway hurling managers and players down through the years, I'd like to think I never broke the boundary of insulting anybody. You have to respect the effort managers and players are putting in. I just felt he went too far. It's hard to justify his post-match assessment of Galway. For 45 minutes of that game, they had Kilkenny really rattled. They only lost by seven points in the end. It was only the last quarter that Kilkenny got the better of them. Galway aren't the first team that has been blown away by the Kilkenny juggernaut. Every county out there struggled to cope with Kilkenny and Galway have had isolated championship successes over them.
It's arguable that Ger is using Galway's current troubles as justification for things not working out for himself. I really don't know. It was severe criticism. And I thought it was below the belt.
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