Between playing and managing James Hanrahan has more county final experience than anyone else involved on Sunday, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who spoke to the Éire Óg supremo ahead of the Townies’ first big day out in seven years.
SCAN through Éire Óg’s back catalogue where county title victories are concerned while at the same time casting an eye towards Sunday’s joust and there’s one common thread running through it all.
1994 and in the 100th county final when the Townies teamed up with Joseph’s Doora-Barefield under the famous Faughs banner to bring the county title east of Kilmihil Cross for the first time in 40 years.
Six years later when Éire Óg reached the promised land on their own for the first time with a landmark millennium final win over three-in-a-row chasing Doonbeg.
2006 when the Townies were back in the winners’ enclosure thanks to their final victory over Lissycasey.
James Hanrahan is the link between all those successes and now as the Townies gear up for their latest title at winning the Jack Daly.
In ’94 he was the free-scoring forward, finishing the season as winner of the County Express Top Scorer award, while in 2000 he’d returned to his goalkeeping roots to man the gap between the sticks, before completing the hat-trick in 2006 as a winning manager.
Now to do it all over again on his second coming as Éire Óg manager – ten years after first experiencing the role on the big day as player/manager on the Townie team that slugged it out memorably with Kilmurry Ibrickane in the final.
That epic of ’04 was played out over two days before the ‘Bricks finally prevailed and a decade on it could be a harbinger of things to come on Sunday.
“We’ll both be going for it,” says Hanrahan, while mindful of the fact that county finals are for winning.
That the Townies are now just 60 minutes away from glory is testimony to the work of three years – the job of work that has been painstakingly undertaken since Hanrahan returned to Clonroadmore for the 2012 season after leading St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield to the 2011 final against Kilmurry Ibrickane.
“When I came in we still had the core group of players that was there for a couple of years and the only thing that was missing was a bit of back up and a bit of youth,” he says.
“That’s what we set out to do – bring a bit more youth into the whole thing and get a few lads back who hadn’t been playing football. The players were there. There was still quality throughout the squad,” he adds.
A lot has changed in three years though – from a campaign that ended at the quarter-final stage with defeat to Doonbeg after a replay has come a mini-revolution that’s largely been driven by the Townies’ new wave.
“Things had gone a bit stale,” he admits. “The guys that were there were nearly assured of their places and there was no real bite in training. Even in the games some of the lads would be going through the motions and there wasn’t a real enthusiasm for playing football.
“But when the lads could see that there were others coming in that were every bit as good as them and could push them for places on the team, they improved their performance. The young lads upped the ante for everyone.
“Even for us as selectors. There was a choice in what we had to pick from. The first year we played Kilrush in the first round of the championship and we only had three or four subs. That was a tough place to be for a town the size of Éire Óg, that the back-up of players the team was used to having just wasn’t there.”
With that has come the culture of success, with members of the 2012 minor winning squad soon filtering onto the senior squad, just as members of last year’s Under 21 winning year has brought a similar impetus to the senior set up.
“It’s vital that players start winning things,” says Hanrahan, “and being beaten in the senior semi-final last year, the minors being beaten in their semi-final, a lot of fellas would have been questioning whether we were ever going to win anything.
“In the Under 21 we played Ennistymon in the quarter-final and it was a tough game. We were a couple of points down going into the last couple of minutes and we were lucky enough to pull out a win. That set us up for the rest of the season.”
It’s those successes as much as the new lease of life given to older players that has helped the Townies take the next step at senior level, even if Hanrahan quickly points to the fact that the greatest test lies ahead.
“Cratloe were very unlucky not to win a Munster Club and with a bit more of a push at the finish they could have got over the line,” he says. “It shows the quality of the player they have that they could compete with Dr Crokes, with all the stars names they have.
“They’re thinking about Munster clubs and maybe at the back of their minds they’re thinking about an All-Ireland club, whereas for our younger players a county championship would be a huge achievement. That’s the difference between the outlook of both teams.”
At the same time Hanrahan knows – having been involved in eight county finals between playing and managing – that the big day always has the propensity to throw up anything.
“You never know what to expect from a county final and I know from past experiences that you can be going in cock-a-hoop and the next thing you’re brought back down to earth fairly lively.
“It’s a test of character for our lads. They’re coming up against lads with All-Ireland medals who have played in a Munster Club final – it’s a real test, but I’d be hoping that on the day they’ll be able to stand up and perform to the best of their ability. That’s all we can ask and after that we’ll see what happens.”
James Hanrahan, pictured second from right, leads an Éire Óg senior football management team that also includes, from left, Mattie Murphy, Paul Madden and Cathal Shannon.