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All eyes on Clare and Galway as search for hurling managers for 2020 season gathers pace

Clare and Galway are the last two key inter-county hurling posts to be filled.

Ward, Lohan, Forde, Moloney and Larkin all in the running for key manager posts.
Ward, Lohan, Forde, Moloney and Larkin all in the running for key manager posts.
Image: INPHO

WHEN THE 2018 hurling championship ended Clare and Galway could reflect on having come closer than most to the ultimate prize.

Clare lost out by a point in an All-Ireland semi-final replay, Galway lost out by point in the All-Ireland final.

As the disappointment of those near misses eased, they could find some comfort in the off-season that they had pushed so hard in pursuit of success. The pair had contributed richly to a wonderful summer series, particularly in their thrilling two-game saga that spanned over 160 minutes of hurling in pulsating ties in Croke Park and Semple Stadium.

Twelve months on, what is the post-season mood now in those hurling parts on the western seaboard?

The 2019 exits  occurred for both three and a half months ago. On the same weekend in June, Galway were felled in Parnell Park by Dublin and Clare bowed out despite a win over Cork. Failing to escape from the round-robin series was a considerable step back considering their prolonged campaigns the year previous.

If that setback still hangs over both counties, it’s been exacerbated by a sense of uncertainty. Who is going to guide them into combat for the 2020 season?

On Sunday night Kieran Kingston’s return to the Cork hotseat was confirmed, on Monday evening Liam Cahill was formally ratified as the new Waterford supremo. Plans are being laid out elsewhere for next year but Clare and Galway remain trapped as the last two top-tier counties without a hurling boss.

In early September Gerry O’Connor revealed his departure as joint manager in Clare. He outlined his desire at the time for the county board to entrust the responsibility to his sidekick Donal Moloney for another year. A similar scenario had unfolded at the end of 2014, O’Connor stepping away after a highly successful U21 partnership in Clare and Moloney taking sole charge for 2015.

But the process has dragged on without the position of Moloney being nailed down. That lack of clarity saw the county board come under fire from two figures associated recently with the Clare backroom team.

Then this morning came the revelation from the Clare Champion that Brian Lohan was in the frame. He has strong credentials through his playing exploits with Clare, work in charge of UL Fitzgibbon Cup teams and helping Cratloe reach the 2014 Munster club final.

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Lohan’s expression of passionate and forthright views on Clare hurling makes his inclusion interesting. He called for an ‘independent review’ of hurling in the county after their senior side bowed out of the championship in 2015 and back in May shared his view that the county board needed ‘to be more dynamic’ and that people at club level were ‘a bit let down’ by that higher authority.

The intrigue lies in chairman Joe Cooney pointing out there was a third candidate involved, who still had to finalise a backroom team. The county board meeting on Tuesday 15 October, two days after Cratloe and Sixmilebridge contest for the Canon Hamilton Cup, is set to deliver an update on the managerial hunt.

In Galway there was a response of shock on 21 August when Micheál Donoghue stepped down. His crowning achievement was ending the county’s torturous 29-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2017 while he also guided Galway to another All-Ireland final placing, a pair of Leinster final victories and a league crown. 

michael-donoghue-with-gerry-oconnor-after-the-game Mícheál Donoghue and Gerry O'Connor after last year's drawn All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

After the feverish speculation over Davy Fitzgerald’s future and the suggestion of a high-profile outsider like Anthony Daly, it seems set to be a race between three locals in outgoing selectors Noel Larkin and Francis Forde along with Tony Ward.

Larkin and Forde were both centrally involved with Donoghue. Prior to that Larkin did time on the club circuit in Galway, involved with Portumna’s 2014 All-Ireland club triumph, and Tipperary while steering Roscommon to the Nicky Rackard Cup title in 2015.

Forde coached the Galway side while having various roles before that in Offaly where he teaches in Banagher College – guiding the school to an All-Ireland Vocational title, coaching the county senior team under Joe Dooley in 2011 and managing a St Rynagh’s side that in 2016 won their first Offaly senior crown in 23 years. 

Ward was in charge of the Galway camogie teams that claimed a senior-intermediate double on All-Ireland final day in 2013 while the Sarsfields man has managed the county’s U21 team in recent years.

Galway Bay FM has reported that interviews for the position will be held next Monday night, the county’s decision not just restricted to hurling but also to football where they need a successor to Kevin Walsh.

It’s early October and the next few weeks should shed some light on who will fill the hurling vacancies in Clare and Galway. 

For supporters in both counties, they’ll hope the waiting game will soon end.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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