THE pressure was internal rather than coming from his committee but Niall Stack really felt it after Tullamore suffered a first ever defeat by Cappincur in their opening group game in the Tullamore Court Hotel Senior Football Championship this year.
Since then, Tullamore have been at pains to give Cappincur full credit for their win but it was still a huge shock to their system – Tullamore, the capital town in Offaly, have been one of the power houses of football in the county since the formation of the GAA while their tiny neighbours Cappincur have spent far longer outside of senior football than it it.
As a senior football medal winner in 2000, 2002 and 2007 and a selector when they last won in 2013, Niall Stack is a hugely proud Tullamore man so the defeat hurt. Then there was the fact that he was in his first year as Tullamore manager and only got the position after winning a committee vote in a contest with another former player, Mark Plunkett last year.
When it was suggested that he couldn't have expected to have to answer questions about a county final after opening defeats by Cappincur and Rhode, he said: “I won't lie. First and foremost I was only trying to get a win as manager of the club but I would also be telling you a lie if I didn't tell you that I felt we had a huge chance of getting to a semi-final. My immediate thought after the Rhode game was how did Cappincur go against Clara.
“Our biggest stroke of luck this year was that Cappincur didn't beat Clara. They should have beaten them. Having seen that, I got a bit of clarity after two matches about what way I wanted to manage my own team. I changed things up and we just went at it very aggressively against Clara.”
Did you go out and say you wanted to beat Clara by X amount or just go out to win? “We just went out to try and beat them. We talked about playing it in segments and trying to win each quarter. We did win each quarter as it turned out. That just meant that towards the end, it was a bigger margin than even I thought. Had we won by one or two points, I would have been quietly happy but the fact we won by so much was great. It showed a bit of depth to our squad.”
He was particularly happy that Tullamore did the business themselves against Clara to qualify on scoring difference and that while they still needed Rhode to beat Cappincur, they weren't depending on Rhode beating them by a certain amount. “The fact that we beat them by a nice amount meant I wasn't looking over my shoulder. It didn't feel that we depended on Rhode. We needed Rhode to win but once Rhode won and having done what we did against Clara, I was confident we would qualify.”
He talked about the experience of losing to Cappincur. “I found it very difficult, to be straight with you, afterwards, dealing with it. Personally, I felt very very disappointed. It was very hard to take but at the same time, Cappincur fully deserved it. When the game was in the melting pot, Cappincur went and won the game. I have a huge respect for Cappincur in terms of what they are doing. I know their players and they are a really good team. I think the likes of Bill Carroll needs to be looked at by John Maughan.
“Like anything local, it was hard to take. When it is Tullamore, Shamrocks; Tullamore, Cappincur; Tullamore, Clara, they are games you don't want to lose. I know a lot of the Cappincur personally from socialising as well and I have great respect for them. I know that no matter what happens this year, that result will be thrown at me for years to come.”
What was the pressure like on you in your first year as manager and having won a committee vote to get the job? “Committee wise, no. I know that when I got this job, there was a split decision there in terms of Mark or me. Mark has achieved a lot as a manager and I don't feel I have a particularly good CV in comparison to him. I didn't feel it that way, I just felt disappointed or under pressure from the point of view that I would have had bigger expectations for the team. I would have been thinking that if we we got a win the first day, we could really challenge Rhode and try and get out of the group the second day.
“I had a clear picture that I wanted to blood lads very quickly and maybe that game was a bit early for them in the physical stakes. Cappincur were a very physical side.”
He made a conscious decision at the start of the year to blood new players. “It was a conscious decision. I felt looking in last year that it needed a freshness. Not because I wanted to get rid of anyone but it was more from the point of view that I think they are good and strong enough. The likes of Ciaran Burns, Ciaran Egan, Oisin Martin, Michael Feeney, Luke Egan are more than capable. Okay they are coming from schools football but you do six years in school and get a lot of it.
“In other clubs, people are playing senior football at 18/19 years of age but in Tullamore it is looked on as a very young age. For me, 18 or 19 you are in your better years. You have less commitments too, life hasn't caught up on you yet and become so busy with careers, universities, families. They have a good commitment if you can get them on board.”
He fully expected Tullamore to compete with Ferbane in the semi-final. “If we perform well we can compete with any team but the big thing is getting a performance. Ferbane are very physically developed and have a perfect age profile. They are early to mid 20s and will be around for years to come but I did feel that if we went at them and played to our ability, we would be as good as them. I thought on the day, we were better than them in normal time. We deservedly qualified on the way we played.”
Tullamore were also fully prepared for a penalty shootout, practicising on the Friday before it and Stack spoke about how they selected their kickers.
See Tullamore and Midland Tribune for full interview.