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From 'getting absolutely hammered' at junior level to celebrating Tipperary senior hurling glory

Darragh Egan has been central to the rise of his club Kiladangan in Tipperary.

Kiladangan players celebrate their Tipperary senior final win.
Kiladangan players celebrate their Tipperary senior final win.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Sep 21st 2020, 8:34 PM

DARRAGH EGAN IS thinking about two days with Kiladangan.

For the first you have to journey back to 1995, for the second a decade ago.

When you reach the hurling summit in Tipperary, the steep climb and all the tireless effort to get there spring to mind.

Winning a county final for the ages in a breathless fashion to collect a maiden senior title only tells part of the tale, the fuller picture comes into view with the wider context.

“I’m going to get emotional talking about it,” he reflected in the Semple Stadium sunshine in the moments after yesterday’s decider.

“I remember 25 years ago going to a match out in Toomevara, our first team which was Junior A at the time, getting absolutely hammered by Roscrea’s second team. It was a real low ebb for the club. We never won the junior to come up intermediate, that’s how poorly we were going. We just opted to as we’d a good minor team.”

From a young supporter then, Egan’s input became greater over time. On the pitch he emerged as a leading light as evidence by the recognition received from Tipperary managements at various levels. A forward on the panel that lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2010, a goalkeeping understudy in the setup that fell just short to Kilkenny in a replay in 2014.

Last August he was part of Liam Sheedy’s brains trust for a major Croke Park success. His hurling coaching adventure had began long before then.

darragh-egan-liam-sheedy-eamon-oshea-and-tommy-dunne Darragh Egan (left) with the Tipperary coaching team after the 2019 All-Ireland senior final win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I was lucky to get a primary teaching job in my own parish in 2010. I had the job got six hours I’d say and Eamonn Kelly the then chairman at the time, asked me to go in as juvenile chairman. I said I would, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was busy enough involved with Tipp but I said I’d have a go off it. It snowballed from there really.

“Just the work we’ve put in over time has been absolutely insane. There’s a lot written about our players getting involved in underage teams and that’s continuing but only last Tuesday night we had a juvenile meeting to see can we gather momentum again. There’s some amount of people in the background that do loads of hard work.

“The two schools have been a massive help. Mairead O’Halloran is principal of Carrig school in Ballycommon, and Paul Dooley when he was in Kiladangan school in Puckane, where I’m principal at the moment.” 

Egan invested plenty of time and graft into grassroots but he was not alone in that respect. The club got organised and put proper systems in place. The flow of players coming through became more regular. They started entering teams in the ‘A’ grade of the juvenile ranks and prospered accordingly. A major clubhouse development to the tune of almost €700,000 was recently completed in Puckane and that’s been paid off instead of loading them with debt.

Progress was incremental at the top level and required patience. An intermediate crown arrived in 2004, they landed a North senior title – a prized local feat – in 2008 after a 65-year barren spell. Four more such divisional wins have followed but the wider breakthrough has taken time.

They lost last November to Borris-Ileigh in the decider, three years after a similar Tipperary final reversal at the hands of Thurles Sarsfields. Throw in a trio of recent quarter-final defeats and it all hardened their resolve.

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Even after that senior defeat 10 months ago, they regrouped and got their hands on the premier Tipperary U21 crown three days before Christmas. Seven of the team that started yesterday against Loughmore were in action then, the strong links reinforced with senior players Joe Gallagher, Fergal Hayes and Ruairi Gleeson part of that management group. It helped brighten the outlook over the winter.

2020 threw curveballs in their direction, no different to any other club side in the country. The price of success has been the lack of access to some of their best in recent times times. Alan Flynn, Willie Connors, David Sweeney and Barry Hogan were all members of the Tipperary senior camp last year with Egan heavily involved in the coaching. The shift in the calendar provided a clear run of games this summer, they trained in better conditions and enjoyed five fixtures at the top Thurles venue. The changed dynamic was taken on board.

“I don’t know will we ever go into a dressing-room again,” laughs Egan.

“There’s so much less pressure. We rocked on, we warmed up 35 minutes before the game in Dr Morris (Park), walked down at ten to two, drop the bag near the dugout and it just suits us way better. It’s gas how much you buy into this dressing room philosophy, how much you think you’re making real good speeches but lads just actually want to go out and play.

“We found this year it really suited us not to be heading into dressing rooms and let pressure and tension build up and silly buzzwords floating around. We went out and were free. Last year we came in thinking, ‘Oh my God what if we don’t win this?’ I think day we came in thinking Loughmore are a top class team and that we’d have a go off it and see what happen.”

kildangan-players-celebrate Kiladangan players celebrate Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Egan had the sideline view for the stirring drama at the finish. His heroics in a shootout for the club’s second senior team last month prompted a plan to get him into the action as penalties loomed. Then came the pulsating exchange with a John McGrath point and Bryan McLoughney goal. Amidst the post-match hysteria, he could feel sympathy for their crestfallen opponents.

“I often talk about the cauldron against Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final last year and Noel McGrath ran that game for the last 20 minutes. So there’s no point us thinking we were going to come in and snuff him out. He just has that kind of quality as does John. But the players coming off them, Evan Sweeney, Joseph Nyland, John Meagher – I don’t know has a centre-back ever hit as much ball in a county final in Semple Stadium? They’d top class players and a tactical awareness.

“In a high pressure situation Bryan McLoughney’s touch to bring the ball back into his posession was even better than the top corner strike. It was high pressure, defenders bearing down on him, a goalie trying to cut the angle and he just tucked it back into himself and striaght into the top corner. That’s the type of quality you’re dealing with.

“Brian did his Leaving Cert last year and he didn’t get much of a run in the senior team. This year he’s been a brilliant player for us and I’m so thrilled for him.”

That intervention clinched it and sparked the euphoric scenes for their small band of fans that were present. 15 years ago Egan was a young corner-forward when a Kiladangan team performed a similar stirring revival into the Town End, snatching a couple of goals to win an All-Ireland intermediate final against a star-studded Carrickshock team populated with future Kilkenny icons.

“The likes of Sean Treacy, Eamonn Kelly over the years, Brian Lawlor, they’re building us into men. I saw Dan Hackett first man onto the field there, Tommy Connors and Hughie Flannery still very much involved with our panel. We’ve a really good spirit and togetherness. Even last year when we lost the county final, we’d a few brilliant days together.

“We’re just so delighted, I cannot describe it. We have amazing supporters. Both villages were alive all week and there was loads of colour around. I honestly can’t put it into words how much it means.”

Kiladangan will surf this wave of joy for a while. Egan will have a couple of other pressing matters to contend with.

“I’ve the pleasure of looking forward to two or three months of top class action with Tipp. We were back training last Tuesday night. I can’t wait to get back in Noel, John and Brian, a few Kiladangan lads and whoever is also coming in, and it’s just going to be nice next two or three months.”

“And then my wife is expecting a baby in four weeks, number three after Donagh and Jack. Hopefully this is now going to lead into a few great months of both hurling and paternity leave.”

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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