Daly plotting Gracefield's swift return to top table

Daly plotting Gracefield's swift return to top table

Gracefield manager Pat Daly (second from right) with fellow Rhode men, Johnny Mooney, Paschal Kellaghan and Paddy McCormack.

IF you're looking for a GAA man with a winning pedigree, then it would be very hard to look beyond Pat Daly.

The Rhode man has always been on the podium, whether as a player or a manager.

He was with Rhode seniors when they won the county title in 1998, ushering in an era of astonishing dominance which still defines the Offaly club football championship.

When he switched to the sideline he guided the club to county glory again and more recently in 2018, when he crossed into Laois, he brought O'Dempsey's to a very rare county final appearance, their first since 1983.

Gracefield, traditionally one of Offaly marquee senior football clubs, and provider of All-Ireland legends like Padraig Dunne to name just one, suffered the trauma of relegation from the senior A ranks last year.

Of course, this year's shock drop of Clara puts all other relegations into perspective, but for a proud club like Gracefield, ending up in the B grade had to hurt.

So if you're chairman Pat Keegan, who do you call?

“Pat Keegan rang me,” Pat Daly recalls. “I wasn't really interested in training anybody, between work and having three young kids. More than anything I said to Pat I'll go over and have a look and help you out, not even train the team.”

As often happens in these situations, the meeting with Gracefield resulted in the Rhode man taking the reins.

“I'd have a lot of respect for Gracefield through the years. Years ago, no matter where Gracefield were playing they'd always stop over in the village,” he said.

But other than the awareness of those friendly relations with the Portarlington club, it was something of a journey into the unknown.

“I wouldn't have been that familiar with Gracefield. But I could see in training that they were coming better,” he said.

Confidence in the club had taken a hit because of the relegation. Gracefield didn't pick up a single point in their group last year and lost to Tullamore in the relegation play-off.

Players moved on and it was clear that they were into a reconstruction process if the rot was to be arrested.

Ruairi Allen was one of the big names no longer available.

“It would be a shock for them to go down. But they lost a lot of players, there was at least eight gone and so we were trying to get a team together and trying to get Gracefield back up,” said Daly.

“It's hard. I would have spoken to the club and they'd be a very progressive club. They've a small enough area to pick from but I liked what the chairman wanted to do and the way they wanted to move forward and they just wanted to put a bit of a structure on it.

“It was about trying to get more commitment from lads and Pat knew what way the club wanted to go forward. He's very driven to do his best for the club.

“There were no expectations or anything. It's much the same as any other club, to go down is a big blow. When you go down it's sometimes hard to get back up.”

Back in February no one knew what was lying ahead. Gracefield and Daly had to undertake the rebuild challenge as a global pandemic picked up pace.

“Probably at the start you wouldn't really know where you are anyway and we started off and then because of Covid there was no league so that deprived us of the opportunity to look at things.

“Then we had no-contact training and no matches and then no training. And then we would go at it again.”

He is full of praise for the players and how they stuck to the collective task even when the training had to be continued individually.

Gym work at home in isolation became the norm.

“Then when we came back training we'd have 40 lads.”

See Tullamore/Midland Tribune for full interview.

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