Sean, Mick and Brendan Lowry.
IT was easy to understand the excitement in the Offaly GAA world last week when a new partnership was announced between the County Board and golfer Shane Lowry.
The basic nuts and bolts of the partnership is that Lowry will donate a yearly figure to the County Board for each of the next five years. That figure remains undisclosed but it is certain to end up as a significant six-figure sum.
The money will be ring-fenced for the development of Offaly underage footballers and hurlers. It will be used in particular to fund the appointment of more full time coaches. A number of clubs have put full-time coaches in place, either themselves or by joining together as Birr, Drumcullen and Seir Kieran have done most recently with St Rynagh's man Adrian Clancy. The scheme is part-funded by the clubs themselves, Leinster Council and the Offaly GAA County Board.
For Offaly, it represents a significant financial commitment and they hope to appoint more of these coaches in the coming seasons. While it wasn't stated at last week's press conference where the partnership was announced, in the ideal world the County Board would like every club in the county to have access to one of these coaches in some form. That may be hard to realise but the new look Offaly County Board with former county hurler and footballer Michael Duignan at the helm have set out their stall on improving standards from underage up – and it is only natural that widespread appointment of coaches is one of their key goals.
All will be revealed in a strategic plan that is currently being prepared and will be released later in the year. Money from Shane Lowry will also be used towards bursaries and apprentices for talented young players. Some will be diverted into secondary schools and this additional funding creates plenty of potential for Offaly.
Of course, money won't solve everything in Offaly as the county bids to climb back up the ladder. The reasons for the decline in hurling and football were many and varied and it wasn't caused by money. Money won't fix it but it will certainly help as Offaly try to match what other counties are doing.
Even with Shane Lowry money, Offaly still won't be able to match what Dublin and Limerick are spending. As Lowry quipped last week, his pockets don't reach as deep as JP McManus's does in Limerick and there are plenty of far wealthier counties out there than Offaly, with far more benefactors.
Lowry's involvement, however, is a great good news story for Offaly. It is being very well received locally and nationally, it paints a picture of a county with ambition and a real desire to move forward. His contribution and involvement goes way deeper than mere finance.
The Clara golfer may also be able to attract other big backers to the county.He has contacts in the big business world that few in Offaly have, and his charisma and endearing personality can get some of them to support the county. He may be able to get them to back fundraising ventures while it also sends out a very powerful message to those business people and individuals in Offaly with money. It says that here is something worth being involved with and backing.
He will also engage in other practical ways by talking to county development squads and others when his schedule allows him to.
Lowry is probably the highest sporting achiever to come out of Offaly. Late jockey Pat Smullen had a tremendous record and others have competed on international stages, Olympics Games and in World Championships. Offaly have produced some of the greatest footballers and hurlers that have played the games. Matt Connor in football and Brian Whelahan in hurling are two of the greatest of all time and several others were household names, brilliant performers.
However, Lowry is at a different level than everyone else. He has climbed into the top twenty in the world and he has won a golf major, the British Open in 2019. His story is a truly inspirational one and he is rightly revered in Offaly. Last week's announcement brought his popularity to new levels. While many other sports have made a great and profound contribution to life in Offaly, it remains essentially a GAA county. It is the sport of choice for the majority of its sporting residents, the one where most of the youth gravitate to in local communities throughout Offaly. It has a hold on the hearts and minds of Offaly people that no other sport can match.
Offaly people are rightly proud of Lowry's success but for many, their interest in golf is purely because of his presence in the upper echelons of the game. Golf is very popular as a sport, particularly among older age groups, but a lot of Lowry's golf supporters in Offaly are interested in the game mainly, and in some cases, purely because of his excellence.
It is significant that when Lowry decided he wanted to do something with his money for the betterment of his native county, it was GAA that he invested in and not golf. Offaly GAA is fortunate that Lowry comes from footballing royalty in the county. His father Brendan was a brilliant forward for Offaly for over ten years and his three first half points were instrumental in the win over Kerry in the 1982 All-Ireland senior football final. His uncles Sean and Mick Lowry were also on that team while Sean also won All-Ireland medals in 1971 and 1972.
His maternal family, the Scanlon's of Clara also deserve to be acknowledged. His mother Bridget had a huge influence on his development and her brothers Colm and Mark played football for Offaly at various levels, including starring on Clara senior football winning sides. Other members of her family were immersed in soccer and golf as well as music while Shane Lowry's affection for his granny Emmy Scanlon is obvious to all.
As a young lad, Shane Lowry also embarked down a GAA path, playing underage football and hurling for Clara. However, as it became clear that he was a golfer with outstanding potential, his football career ended at minor level and he concentrated on golf. However, his passion for Offaly GAA has remained infectiously high. He attends Offaly and Clara games at every opportunity when home and he showed how important it is to him when he said last week that he would die happy if he saw an Offaly man lift silverware on the steps of Croke Park.
Lowry might have wealth that most people can only dream about but he has still shown great generosity. Other people also have money but don't donate it like this and it was a very big thing for the golf star to do.
It also represented a great endorsement for the County Board and in particular Michael Duignan. Duignan led a package that put their necks on the block by seeking a change of direction for Offaly GAA two years ago. He ousted Tommy Byrne as chairman while Clara's Dervill Dolan was elected as treasurer. Another Clara man Brian Gavin was elected as Leinster Council delegate but lost his position this year while Edenderry's Colm Cummins was unsuccessful in his bid to be elected vice chairman – beaten by Rhode's James Murphy – but he became secretary this year and is instrumental in putting together the board's strategic plan.
People can only speculate if Lowry would have given his backing to a different County Board with other people at the helm. However, the reality is that he has come on board to the Michael Duignan led board and that says it all really.
It is, however, important to acknowledge the role played by Tommy Byrne and all former County Board officers. No individual was to blame for Offaly's decline and a lot of the good work that is now beginning to yield benefits at underage level – Offaly are in the 2020 Leinster minor hurling and football finals – began under other people's watch. The increased funding will help take this to a new level and new initiatives will be commenced.
It is also crucial to acknowledge all other sponsors down the years. Carroll Meats are still the county's official sponsors and will still be on team jerseys. They are the country's longest serving county sponsor and have been there through good times and bad, thick and thin.
Initiated by a great Tullamore business and GAA family, they have continued to support the county under new owners and have shown tremendous loyalty.
Posts with Shane Lowry's picture and name on an Offaly GAA jersey flew around on social media after the announcement last week. That excitement was understandable and it was harmless fun but let's not forget that Carroll Meats have been there since sponsorship on team jerseys was first allowed in the early 1990s. They have been the county's only official main sponsor. They were there when Offaly were winning All Ireland's and Leagues but they were also there when they were in the Christy Ring Cup and Division 4.
Other such as Tullamore Court Hotel, the Bridge House Hotel and Molloy Environmental Systems have backed Offaly on an annual basis for several years. There are many more and their continuing support is absolutely crucial.
Shane Lowry's support is a great addition to that and will open up many new avenues. Apart from his practical financial support, he will attract other big backers and it raises the bar, it creates excitement among supporters and this has to help generate interest at all levels.
Apart from the manner of Lowry's support, the pure passion he displayed for Offaly GAA is equally as important in its own way. That is something to feed into while his achievements and excellence and achievements can inspire every young person in Offaly to be the best that they can be, no matter what sport or activity they take on. Lowry's involvement gives the GAA in Offaly a big foot up in winning the numbers game and it is here where the real dividends can be obtained.
Last week's answers are:
1 -Who captained Offaly to their first All-Ireland minor hurling title in 1986?
Answer – Michael Hogan.
2 – Name the Westmeath man who played for Offaly in the 2007 Leinster Senior Football Championship?
Answer – P.J. Ward.
3 – Who scored Offaly's goals in the 1998 All-Irel;and senior hurling final?
Answer: Joe Erritty and Brian Whelahan.
This week's questions are:
1 – How often have Offaly won three Leinster senior hurling titles in a row?
2 – How many All-Star football awards has Mick Ryan won?
3 – When did Offaly win their first Leinster football title?
Answers in the next column. With thanks to former referee Carthage Buckley for supplying the questions.
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