19 Jan 2022

From the “torture” of managing Offaly to the joy of his beloved Tubber

From the “torture” of managing Offaly to the joy of his beloved Tubber

Padraig Farrell

HE describes his experience of managing Offaly minor and U-21 football teams as “pure torture” and while his native Tubber is not always a bed of roses, it is clearly a labour of love for Padraig Farrell.

In his second stint as Tubber manager, the former club playing stalwart is accompanied by a glowing CV. In his first stint as manager, he guided them to the Intermediate Football Championship in 2006 and the following year, they posed plenty of questions of then champions Rhode in the senior football quarter-final: a game he still looks back on with regret and some refereeing decisions that went against them remain painful.

After that he went around the block. His biggest career achievement was leading Castledaly to their first and only Westmeath senior football title in 2008, a real against the odds win as they scraped out of the group on the last day and embarked on a fairytale run. He was the Raheen manager when they won the Intermediate Football Championship in 2014 while his club achievements had his phone ringing from the Offaly County Board.

He managed Offaly minor and U-21 footballers and his experience here has left a sour taste in his mouth – a taste that has not really gone away with the advent of time, though he is happy that things are now changing under the chairmanship of Michael Duignan.

He was particularly upset at losing the Offaly U-21 job in 2017. He had guided them to the Hastings Cup a year earlier, believed he had a second year in the bag but the job went to then Offaly senior football mnager Pat Flanagan – Farrell had publically hit out at the decision at the time, stating that he was made a “scapegoat” over the departure of then strength and conditioning coach Dave Hare from the U-21 set-up. He maintains that Hare's departure had nothing to do with him and it was a board decision.

Now preparing for Sunday's Senior “B” Football Championship final against favourites, Clara, Farrell took time out last week to speak about his career.

Farrell on Tubber

A long serving player with Tubber, Padraig Farrell was a member of the Offaly panel that lost to Cork in the All-Ireland U-21 football final in 1986, though he was injured at that stage. He won Junior, Intermediate and Senior “B” medals with Tubber in the late 1980s and played senior with them for a couple of seasons at that stage before they went back.

His managerial career started with Tubber and he did five years from 2002 to 2006. After winning the 2006 intermediate, they made an instant impact at senior and he retains fond and some sore memories of this first stint. They went to the Leinster club final in 2006, where they lost and that was a special year for the club.

A 2007 senior football quarter-final defeat by Rhode was a particular regret: “We were hard done by. We were four points up with ten minutes to go and we should have got a penalty and a fourteen yard free. The goalkeeper picked the ball in the square and he didn't give it. Someone hit Noel Browne a box in the side of the head and we should have got a penalty. That was with ten minutes to go.”

Was it a hard decision to come back? “No I always wanted to come back to Tubber and I have two lads playing, Patrick and Ronan.”

Tubber have been very competitive since Farrell came back. They were well beaten by Shamrocks in the 2018 final and spurned a great chance against champions Durrow in last year's semi-final. He was also over the Tubber team that were beaten by a very experienced St Rynagh's side in the Junior “B” Football Championship final in his first year back.

In 2019, they lost the semi-final to winners Bracknagh while Durrow got a winning goal deep into injury time last year. “I thought we really played well against Durrow and with a smaller panel. We lost in the fifth minute of injury time.”

While Durrow have made a stunning transition to senior level, reaching the semi-final this year, he is uncertain if Tubber could do the same. “We have a very small pick. I remember talking to Dom Daly and he told me after they beat Rhode, they had 46 training. I wouldn't have 46 in five years. We have a panel of 23 or 24. Numbers is a huge game in Tubber.”

He pointed out that he had to ask Brian McManus to tog out against Shannonbridge last year while the emergence of three 2020 minors this year has been a godsend to him – Offaly minor hurler, Eoin Murphy, minor footballer, Pauric Robbins and David Colgan. “That is like gold dust. Clara had a minor team in the final two years ago and would have the pick of 23/25 minors. Three to me is like winning the lotto. I had no one last year and I don't think I have anyone next year.”

The fact that two of those minors have county experience is a help, even if Murphy's is in hurling. “Yes and the surprise is David Colgan. David is a great man to train. It is a huge advantage to us, it gives us a bit of a panel. In last year's semi-final, Dan Kelleher was injured and Ciaran McManus wasn't around. If you add them two and the three minors, you could say I have five extra but we are a very small club, a small pick.”

He talked about an ongoing debate in Tubber about the merits of them playing their underage football with St Manchan's where players from Ballycumber, Doon and Erin Rovers are also catered for. There is a body of opinion in Tubber in favour of them looking after their own players and ensuring everyone gets games instead of the handful that play with Manchan's but Farrell is all for the big set-up. “I think this year Tubber alone in the U-20 championship only supplied three players. They were arguing should we stay with Ballycumber (just the two clubs) but we had only three and I'm not sure what Ballycumber had. The numbers wouldn't add up.”

He agreed that they might have a lot of numbers at some age groups but he stressed that you can't “pick and choose”. “As I said, we had only three lads, three good lads and the three of them quite capable of being on the team on any day,”

Eoin Murphy started against Ballycumber in the semi-final, playing very well while Robbins came on as a sub. Murphy's is a cultured left footed player and this has allowed him to kick frees for them, releasing their star player Bernard (“Panda”) Allen from that duty. “Panda had been talking the frees and I asked him to release them and give Murphy a bit of confidence. The next thing I saw the way he was able to ping those frees and I said to Panda, you stay where you are. Leave young Murphy on them and he was happy, one less job. It is great to know that if Murphy can't kick them, Panda will step up.”

Tubber had a much easier than expected win over Ballycumber in the semi-final, 1-17 to 2-5 and Farrell was particularly pleased with the spread of scorers and the fact that Allen didn't have to win it on his own for them. “Panda got two points and we had eight scorers. It takes pressure off Panda. Everyone is watching Panda and now that we might have a few more lads. . It always was the Panda show, but we kicked 1-17 and he got two points. Semi-finals are there to be won but we played really well. We targeted their forward line and the names they have. We said we would keep them tight, we got space. Whether Clara give us that space or not, I don't know.”

He acknowleged that Tubber could have beaten Ballycumber by a lot more. “We have missed a lot of chances this year. Against Walsh Island, we kicked sixteen wides. We beat Gracefield by twelve points and kicked sixteen wides as well. We have started to do shooting drills here at training.”

They targeted the Division 2 League this year after players asked Farrell to change his attitude towards it and they won it, beating Clonbullogue in the final.

Both Ballycumber and Tubber beat Erin Rovers in the championship and if anything Ballycumber's performance was more impressive but Farrell stated that the Pullough men pulled fourteen men behind the ball against them in the first half. “They didn't do that against Ballycumber. It is a very difficult game and it took us a while to break it down. We went 11-5 up and gave away a bad goal. Deccy Buckley came up the field and the boys fell asleep. We got the scores to win it. Comfortable enough in the end. I expected us to win against Ballycumber but I didn't think it would be by as much.”

Farrell looked back on their games, pointing out that they were missing players in their first round defeat by Walsh Island while they got a late goal that could have been a free out. A big result for him was their win over Gracefield as a defeat would have left them facing an early exit, though he was surprised at how poor the losers were that day.

They played a handful of challenges but a half dozen plus players on the Brosna Gaels junior hurling team meant that there was no point in general.

Farrell on Ciaran McManus

A big bonus for Tubber this year has been the return and form of Ciaran McManus. Now in his mid 40s, the former Offaly stalwart is Tubber's most decorated footballer and he has contributed really well at midfield as well as doing most of the physical training for the team after returing from a few years working in the USA.

“I actually played him full forward the first night against Walsh Island and he scored five or six points and got five marks. I thought this was the best thing since sliced pan. I always like having a big full forward. It is just a matter of finding the right lad which is not easy. It just didn't work out for Ciaran after that. It was changing our play to high ball all the time and that is not what we are about either. I put him in midfield then and that is going reasonably well. Obviously he has to pace himself. I don't know how you hold him back and I am telling him every day, I don't want you going up the field because there is 65 minutes in a game but telling him that and getting him to do it. . . .”

McManus is playing a more contained style than he would have in his prime and Tubber are benefitting from this. “He is 45 years of age and to be fair, he is a mighty man to be playing at all. I asked him to give me a hand at training and he has been a huge help. He loves that.”

In the semi-final against Ballycumber, McManus played well and with victory assured, Tubber took him off in the 43rd minute. McManus, however, did not look happy coming off, wore his heart on his sleeve as the second half progressed and couldn't wait to get back on the field when thrown in for the last few minutes. Is he still a bit hyper when it comes to that stuff?

“No, he wasn't happy but he hates losing. He has hated losing since he was under 12 and that hasn't changed. Losing is not in his dictionary. He made a statement out here the other night. Lads this is my last hurrah. Plenty of ye are very young, ye can go at it again but for me to get this chance. . .

“As I said he hates losing. He came back and could play league with me and junior league. It has been a magical year for him back. Mac has serious passion about football. I see him coaching the young lad. Mac is Mac, like him, hate him, love him. He mightn't be the most popular everywhere but who cares. I am used to him. Mac was my captain back in 2006.

“People will argue that we punch above our weight all the time and we have been so competitive. We held senior for near ten years. I genuinely think we could have taken Rhode that day if the referee made the right decisions. I had two sent off and a player hit Ciaran McManus a box in the jaw and got a yellow card. We had to beat Ferbane by five points on score difference to top the group. We were 2-6 to 0-5 down ten minutes into the second half. I remember Mel Keenaghan (Ferbane) ringing Sod Daly (St Rynagh's). St Rynagh's were playing Clara or someone, to know how was that going. What the score difference was. The next thing our boys were tapping, tapping and I heard Mel on the phone with ten minutes to go and he says I don't want to know anything, I think we are going to be beat here. And we got the five points and topped the group.”

Farrell on Tubber's size and the Rosemount factor

Anyone who attends games in Tubber – and it hosts a lot because of its floodlights – will testify to the spirit that is in the club off the field, the professionalism in which they host fixtures and the pride they have in their facilities.

On the field, they have regularly punched above their weight and they are clearly a booming club. Tubber has a small area – their pitch and main catchment area is on the main Clara to Moate road. Their border on the Clara side is around the famous market there while on the Moate side, it is near their GAA pitch. They are bordered by Ballycumber to the east and a huge factor of life for Tubber is that they are a cross county border parish, located in Rosemount parish.

Before Tubber reformed in 1979, players from the Tubber area played with Ballycumber or Rosemount, depending on where they lived. Obviously playing in Westmeath was a particular bone of contention for such a proud Offaly club and some players from Tubber actually played on Westmeath county teams.

Even now some players in the Tubber area in Offaly play with Rosemount – the former main Moate to Kilbeggan road at the Well is the unofficial border and people across the road tend to play with Rosemount, even though they may be in Offaly. Leinster Council have had to adjudicate on it on the past while players from Horseleap play with Tubber even though it is in Clara parish – Clara have traditionally agreed to this, though Tubber have no players from that area at the moment, and some play with St Joseph's in Streamstown in Westmeath. Pauric Robbins father, Gerry was from Horseleap but now lives not far from Tubber GAA pitch while Noel Robbins played with Tubber years ago.

Farrell himself actually played U-12 and 14 football with Rosemount and his late father Packs Farrell won three senior football medals in a row with them in the 1960s – they originally came from Castledaly before moving to Tubber. “I had a good history with Rosemount and my father won three in a row. Marty Healy and a few locals were on that in the 1960s.”

He rattles off other Tubber nams who played with Rosemount: John and Eddie Moran, Ollie McManus (father of Ciaran). “Fr Bannon, the parish priest used to pick us up. I don't know whether we are in their parish or they are in our parish but the parish priest used to live in Tubber. The last parish priest lived in neither Tubber nor Rosemount, he went bought a house in Moate. The big parochial house has always been in Tubber.”

He contests the assertion that Tubber have punched above their weight, pointing out that they have always produced good footballers. Again, the names of county players roll off his tongue: “Ciaran McManus, Padraig Moran, John Moran, Paddy Sheridan, Pauric Robbins now, Gerry Robbins I think played minor for Offaly. Brian Kelly. Panda is playing senior for years. I was on the 1986 U-21 team but broke my ankle. Willie Colgan playd. There has always been a county player in Tubber. There are a lot of clubs in Offaly who never had one. Sean Farrell, an Offaly U-20. We lost a lot of players. A couple of lads left clubs. Some blamed me but I wouldn't put up with their stuff and they decided to transfer. I would be tough on discipline and have no time for messing. That doesn't suit everyone. Brian McManus played U-21. We have a fair group of county players.

“As I say I am big into discipline and I have no time for off the ball stuff. I was at the Walsh Island (v St Rynagh's game when they had two players red carded late on) and I thought that was madness what they done. Five points up, a row breaks out, they finish with two straight reds and can't play the next day. Madness. People say, years ago you could do this, that and the other but it is not years ago any more. The rules have changed. You could end up charged with assault now and pay out a ball of money.”

He spoke about the pride that exists in Tubber, the way they host games and their chairman Joe Higgins' determination to have it looking its best for visitors. They have a strong committee while players themselves organised buying gear for themselves, paying €100 each, before sponsorship came in from Brian McManus and the Cat and Bagpipes.

“It is all good, good, good so hopefully it will pay off Sunday week.”

Farrell on Clara

Tubber are very close neighbours of Clara but funnily enough, there doesn't seem to be any animosity or real rivarly between the clubs. Farrell would love to put one over them, smiling:

“There is a great bunch of lads and it would be great to beat Clara. It would be great to drive through Clara and the cup not stopping there, coming on this way.”

However, he doesn't feel any bitterness between the clubs. “I don't think we have ever beaten Clara in the championship. We might have got close. There is more rivalry between ourselves and Ballycumber but in a nice way.”

People in Tubber tend to do their small shopping in either Clara or Moate, their big shop in Athlone or Tullamore. Years ago, a lot of people from Tubber went to secondary school in Clara and Padraig Moran won an All-Ireland Vocational Schools medal with Ard Scoil Chairain but most gravitate towards Moate now – they compete in the Leinster senior “A” colleges championship, and Tubber generally supply a few players to these teams.

“In latter years if you are a handy footballer, you go to Moate, they are always looking for footballers. I think we have three or four lads on their schools team this year.

“I would know a lot of Clara lads. I played football with Aidan and Jimmy Stewart, Colm Scanlon. I know John Reynolds, Davy Reynolds. I couldn't say there is a bad relationship between Tubber and Clara.

“It is going to be hard to beat Clara. You can argue that they are down senior B for a reason and ask why are they down but they played Division 1 league all year. How good are they? I don't know. They have been favourites from the start of the year and no one has really touched them. Ballycumber gave them their toughest game. Who knows? I hope we didn't play as well last Sunday to leave it behind. The other point is are we peaking at the right time and can we take it up another 10%, to put them under pressure? They have never been under pressure.”

He agreed that Clara have more to lose than Tubber, even if a defeat will be devastating for them. “There wouldn't be the same pressure on Tubber but it will really hurt if we lose. It is a final. If we lose, everyone will say we weren't expected to win but that will be the outside people saying it. We expect to win. Let's be under no illusions, we are not going to walk behind the band, we are going to win and hopefully put as much pressure on Clara as we can. All of a sudden, maybe those players aren't as good as they thought they were. Force their hand. Hopefully that will happen but on the same hand, I hope Clara don't walk the final. I hope we stay with them and the longer the game goes on, I would be expecting them to crack. We won't crack. I would expect them to crack becasue they are expected to win and are outstanding favourites. I hope we can stay in the game and put pressure on them. We have to be still there at the second water break. If not, they can run in the subs. If we are anywhere there at the second water break, the pressure will be on them. We will be bubbling and what will be left, 12-13 minutes, where they will be feeling the pinch. I don't know what to expect from Clara.”

On his managerial career and Offaly teams

Padraig Farrell has experienced plenty of highs and lows in his managerial career. He is particularly proud of winning the Westmeath Senior Football Championship with Castledaly. He recalled that in the final round, they had to win, Tyrrellspass had to beat Mullingar and Garrycastle had to beat Athlone for them to go through. He met Westmeath chairman Tom Farrell around that time and told him that the three games should be on at the one time. “Tom says, it makes no odds to you because there is no hope in hell of you coming out,” he smiled.

They beat Bunbrosna by 0-18 to 0-10 and an injury time Martin Flanagan goal saw Tyrrellspass beat Mullingar. “They were a point behind and a draw would have put us out and them into the semi-final. Nine times out of ten, he should have fisted it over the bar. He drove it into the net knocked out Mullingar and let us back in. Garrycastle beat Athlone that evening and we came out third in the group. We were 40-1 to win the championship We beat Kinnegad in the quarter-final and knocked Tyrrellspass out after a replay, Pat Flanagan was training them. We beat Garryastle in the final by three points. That was a fairytale story.

“Raheen hadn't won the championship in a long time and we won the championship and league.”

His experience with county teams, however, taught him hard lessons. Having managed the county minors first, he then got the Offaly U-21 job controversially as Declan Kelly, who led Offaly to the U-20 All-Ireland this year, had been initially put forward for the job but withdrew as he hadn't given the go ahead.

And then he was replaced after one year. “They accused me of getting rid of Dave Hare but I didn't. They asked me to train the team that year and they brought in Pat Flanagan the next year. They had a rule that you couldn't manage both senior and U-21s in the one year and they never even had a meeting to change it back. The year before he was told he couldn't do it. They went to the Leinster final that year and there were 12 of my team playing so I wasn't wrong with the team I had. We won the Hastings Cup but no one gave a damn about it. They never even said well done. There wasn't even a medal for it. I was so disappointed.

“I went through horrendous times. My first time minor manger, they wouldn't even give you gear. I wore a Derry jacket the whole year in protest. My experience with Offaly has not been good. I just ran into the wrong lads. They would never give you any help. As an inter-county manager, why wasn't a physical trainer put with me. Train the team yourself. It was cat.

“I wouldn't be a yes man, I would put the boot in. The next year, the team secretary told me to go ahead, everything was fine. And a month later, I was told I was not being reappointed. And I after putting a panel together.”

He recalled telling Offaly minors that he would never let a lad go without ringing him. “That backfired on me, I left myself with a heap of hardship. Every lad I rang, I tried to explain to him why he was off the panel rather than just sending a text. Then lads would fight with me for dropping. I remember one lad, I said, I just think you are not good enough and should do, this, that and the other. He said, you are the biggest bo****** I ever trained under. You are letting go the best county minor in Offaly is what he said.”

He outlined other sources of grievances:

* Having to fight with the County Board to get Clare minors into a league game between them and Offaly seniors after they had played a challenge game that morning and getting that across the line on condition that he reduce his own panel from 35 to 30. After agreeing to that, he then had to pay into the match himself.

* Issues over gear for full panels and the team management offering to buy gear or run a function for them.

* Only enough sandwiches being brought for fifteen players for one game in Louth.

“I am telling you, I went through some hardship,” he reflected. “In fairness to Michael Duignan, let it be right or wrong, he saw something and decided it needed change. You can see the football team has got better, the hurling is improving. I went through torture with my county career, a nightmare. Promising you this and doing the opposite.”

Coming back into Tubber rejuventated him after that, even if there has been flash points along the way. “I might not be Mr Popular with everyone but I am not there to be popular. I am not a popular manager. I am not here to be everyone's friends. Some lads go on drinking sessions with lads and that but I am not into that.

“I have only one selector, Kevin Sheridan and the team secretary is James Farrell, a great lad, he does everything. Willie Colgan does kit. Chris Daly is doing stats, he will come to me at water breaks and tell me what is going on. Valuable stuff, highlight a problem you don't see. Rob Connor is doing the physio. It is a very tight affair. Mac came back and was training a few nights and I asked him would he be interested in doing that. He was and let him off.”

He is annoyed that the County Board have told him that he can't have joint captains, Ronan Farrell and Ian Colgan for the final. “They have all these rules. I always try and have joint captains, one in the backs and one in the forwards.”

There have been some questions about the appointment of his own son Ronan as a joint captain. “He is 27 years of age and has been playing outstanding football for the last two years. He played his first championship game in three months last Sunday, he had been injured. There is this personal thing. It is the back stabbers, the begrudgers, people with conspiracy theories. A lot of them wouldn't have a clue with what they are talking about, they wouldn't have an idea what goes on in the camp.

“For us to win the final would be massive. The last final (v Shamrocks) was over at half time or just after it. We got over it quick. We knew at half time it was over, the players knew and it wasn't that big of a disappointment. Last year's semi-final did kill me. To lose in the 5th minute of injury time and to see Durrow beat Gracefield so handily in the final. We had them. Mistakes, costly mistakes. Just disheartening. Small things.”

He has experimented with different game plans this year, pulling players back down the field and attacking at pace. It hasn't won universal approval.

“It has taken lads a while to adapt to it. I suffered a lot with this. I remember people shouting at me against Pullough, what have you done to Tubber football. Puke football. To close your ears to that and you look out and Pullough with fourteen men behind the ball. Are you not looking at that. Pullough showed us huge respect to do that, they didn't do it to Ballycumber. I know they changed in the second half, they tried to win the match. To hear that from people, what have you done with Tubber football. What they said to me. I just said we are in a narrow pitch playing fourteen men behind the ball and they are crucifying me. And we were 6-4 up at half time. One person said it was a pleasure to look at the juniors but not us, and they a junior C team playing Division 5 football.

“We got onto the bigger pitch and we saw what the boys could do against Ballycumber. I was surprised at that but we did it. They got two goals, one from a retaken penalty. When do you see that and the second goal they got, we kicked it to them. They only got five points. Fellows were telling me Ballycumber were going well. They were shocked at it and I can't explain it. My lads played a lot better than I saw all year but it was the right time to play.

“I don't know if we will be good enough to beat Clara but anything can happen. I don't know what way they will play. Do they give a damn about Tubber? You hear some lads in Clara talking about a Leinster club championship. Are they that good? I don't know. If I was Clara manager, I would have culled the team. Now they are in the situation that if they win and go up senior, they are no further on. I remember my first time in Tubber, I gave the boys one game against Tullamore intermediates and they beat the lard out of them. I remember saying to the selectors, that's the last day we will have that team in place. I culled all over the place and we won the championship. We built to that and went to the Leinster final in that period of time. Now we had good minors at that time. Eddie Kavanagh was a minor, Keith Higgins, James Guinan, Joe Higgins. All them lads but I thought Clara should have done the same. They had a minor team in the final two years ago.”

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