Shane Lowry, pictured with Offaly hurling heroes, Joe Dooley and the Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan, has given the county a massive boost.
SHANE Lowry has given Offaly GAA a massive boost. The golf superstar has made an undisclosed but sizeable personal donation to the Offaly GAA County Board but his contribution will go much deeper than that as officers hope that young footballers and hurlers in the county will be inspired by his exploits.
Lowry will also give talks to young players and help out in other practical ways while there are also plans for a major fundraiser later in the year or next year – depending on what Covid-19 restrictions allow.
The Clara professional has pledged support for the next five years and while the overall figure was not revealed this afternoon at an online press conference, it is likely to be well into six figures. The partnership between the supremely talented golfer and Offaly GAA was announced at the press conference with Lowry revealing that he had instigated it in a text to Michael Duignan on the evening of the All-Ireland hurling final last December.
Stating that he is very friendly with Gerry McManus, a brother of Limerick backer JP McManus, Lowry revealed that he had sent a congratulatory text to McManus after Limerick's win and asked what he should do to help out Offaly. The reply was that underage was where it all started and he then spoke to his father Brendan about his plans – he got a very positive response from Brendan, though Shane joked that “he may have had a few pints of Heineken on board as it was a Sunday evening”.
Lowry later contacted Duignan, promising his support for Offaly GAA. He joked that he would not be in a position to provide the type of financial backing that McManus has given to Limerick but he wanted to give what support he could.
Lowry will help Offaly organise a couple of major fundraisers each year of the partnership as well as chasing other commercial opportunities. He also confirmed that he will give talks to Offaly development squads and other groups a couple of times a year. He stated that he was too busy previously to commit in this manner but the time was now good to come on board.
He acknowledged that it could take several years before the partnership yielded success but he would “die happy” if he saw an Offaly man receiving silverware on the steps of Croke Park again.
He spoke about the importance of promoting underage football and hurling and asked what he hoped the partnership would yield, he said: “It is about getting more people playing football and hurling really. It is a numbers game. The more people playing football and hurling, the more good footballers and hurlers we will produce.”
Lowry previously supported Offaly GAA when backing a big golf classic for the county training grounds, the Faithful Fields in Kilcormac. That splendid facility was provided debt free after a big fundraising campaign that was spearheaded by former Offaly footballer and hurler Michael Duignan. The Shane Lowry golf classic raised near €100,000,
Banagher man Duignan, now a member of Durrow GAA Club, was subsequently elected as Offaly GAA chairman, ousting Tommy Byrne in an acrimonious contest two years ago. Him, treasurer, Dervill Dolan and secretary Colm Cummins along with Brian Gavin combined to provide a package seeking a change of direction for Offaly GAA – Cummins was defeated in a contest for vice chairperson but was elected secretary this year after Pat Horan (St Rynagh's) stepped down, Clara man Gavin was elected as Leinster Council delegate but lost out in a vote at Convention last December.
Duignan and company have ambitious plans to develop Offaly football and hurling, starting from underage level up. However, Covid-19 has thrown a big spanner in their works and it resulted in them showing a whopping loss of €259,983 on their yearly trading last year.
Lowry's backing could not have come at a better time. The money will be used for the development of underage football and hurling. A number of clubs have appointed or joined together to appoint full time coaches with financial support from the County Board and Leinster Council. The money will be used towards this as they bid to get more clubs into the scheme and the County Board will examine under areas for development. Michael Duignan stated that they currently have five full time coaches employed in the county and they hope to get this up to 11/12. He also revealed that they want to provide bursaries for third level scholarships and apprenticeships and will be outlining their plans in a Strategic Plan that will be published later this year.
Shane Lowry comes from Offaly GAA royalty. He played underage football and hurling with Clara before golf became his sporting passion after joining Esker Hills Golf Club. He is a passionate Offaly GAA supporter and this has shone through regularly as he embarked on a fantastically successful professional career, with the crowning glory his 2019 British Open triumph.
His father Brendan scored three brilliant points in the sensational 1982 All-Ireland senior football final win to deprive Kerry of five in a row. His uncles Sean and Mick were also on that team and the Lowry family as a whole are steeped in Offaly and Ferbane football folklore. Brendan Lowry married Bridget Scanlon from Clara and they set up their family home there. The Scanlon's are also steeped in GAA – Bridget's brothers Colm and Mark played football for Offaly at different levels as well as winning Senior Football Championship medals with Clara while they are a renowned musical family as well.
Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan said: “On behalf of Offaly GAA, I wish to sincerely thank Shane for coming on board as a partner of Offaly GAA. We are all excited by the prospect of working with Shane in the coming years as we strive to improve the fortunes of the county. Shane has inspired us all in Offaly by the way he has progressed to the upper echelons of world golf and we are all extremely proud of his achievements. Shane has pledged his support to help our players of all ages to fulfil their potential. His passion, ambition and honesty of endeavour, while at all times remaining humble and grounded, are leadership attributes that we are looking to enhance in the culture of Offaly GAA.
“We are on a journey in Offaly GAA and it is fantastic to have Shane on board particularly supporting our coaching and games initiatives, which we hope will benefit all our clubs and players. Offaly GAA are also very thankful that Shane has committed to support Offaly GAA financially and we are very grateful for his commitment to offer his time to help our players and support our commercial and fundraising initiatives.”
Duignan also referred to Offaly legends, Brian Whelahan and Matt Connor, comparing them to Shane Lowry and late jockey Pat Smullen. “Their drive, ambition and ability are what we want to see. Yet they were so grounded and humble and so proud of Offaly.”
Lowry spoke about his own GAA career, outlining that he played for Clara up to minor level and his last game was a minor football relegation match against St Vincent's in Ballycommon when he was seventeen years of age. Once he was picked to represent Ireland, golf became his sole focus as his “path took a different direction” than his father and many of his uncles and cousins.
He revealed that Brendan Lowry was delighted with this initiative while he described Brian Whelahan and Johnny Dooley as his GAA heroes. Lowry was delighted to see Offaly reach both Leinster minor hurling and football finals last year and he said that small steps such as this can lead to big things down the road – he compared it to him feeling off the boil earlier this year, before discovering his confidence again. He said that sometimes, it doesn't take a lot to change things and this can happen with Offaly.
“Ten weeks ago, I thought my game was not good, yet I walked off the Masters disappointed at finishing 20th. I felt I could have won the tournament if I could have tidied up my mistakes. Sport is like that. If you have a group of lads together pulling in the one direction, you never know what will happen,” he said.
“It is not all about the money, it is about helping Offaly GAA,” Lowry outlined. “I am delighted to get involved. Underage and young players is the target for me,” he added, promising that he wouldn't be telling the Offaly County Board how to spend the money.
He talked about getting his competitive spirit from his father, who got his from “playing football at a high level” and how he developed this by playing everything he could as a young lad: football, hurling, soccer, pitch and putt, golf and snooker. “I am very competitive and I hate losing,” he admitted.
Now preparing for the US PGA on May 14, Lowry revealed that he will be rejoined by his caddy Bo Martin next week – the Down man had to return home to get vaccinated. He also stated that he will be playing week on, week off for the next few months as he felt very tired after a recent run of tournaments.
Lowry spoke about the importance of young people playing a wide range of sports. “I played everything that was available to me in Clara until I got to seventeen years of age. When someone comes up to me and says to me their child is going to concentrate on golf at twelve years of age, I don't like it. I don't think that is a good way to go and as a child, you should play everything.”
Asked was it a goal to be world number one in golf, he said that it wasn't. “I want to do my best every day and be the best that I can me. Do I feel I can compete with the best players in the world? Yes I do. Can I be world number one? I am not so sure, it is so competitive out there. I have no ambition to be number one. If I can be the best version of me every day, that will be good enough for me.”
Michael Duignan said that Offaly GAA shared the same vision. “It is the Offaly way forward and that is what our strategic plan is about. We can't be anyone else and we never were. We won All-Irelands in 1981 and 1982 with a population of 53,000 people. No one else did that. Now we are up to 77,000. We couldn't look for a better competitor than Shane Lowry and we want to develop footballers and hurlers like him,” he concluded.