Aaron Kellaghan, Rhode
DECLAN Gorman is no stranger to county finals having played in and won titles with Rhode and later guiding them to a further title as manager.
He returned to the club as coach this year after a stint in Meath last year, but circumstances changed during the year and Declan assumed the role of manager and has guided the club back to the final where they hope to make amends for last year's replayed defeat to Sunday's opponents Tullamore.
Declan had previously served as Rhode manager in 2018 when they defeated Ferbane in the final, so he knows what's involved in winning a county title.
Declan went in as coach under manager Malachy McNulty at the start of the year but during the year Malachy was jailed for taking money from a school where he was principal. Declan was asked to take over as manager and he accepted and is working alongside Stephen Darby and Anthony Murphy.
“That is management team,” he said. “Jack Cooney is is giving us a hand with coaching as well, so when I stepped back from the coaching Jack just happened to be finished with Westmeath at the time, so that just worked out well. Peter Tormey as well was the Roscommon coach with Anthony Cunningham this year, so Peter is in and out with us as well giving a hand, bringing a different element to it.”
It was a position Declan didn't expect to find himself in at the start of the year.
“No, I definitely didn't. I came in with Malachy on the coaching aspect of it and the coaching is something that I'm getting more into in the last couple of years and it's something I wanted to have a go at, and no better team of lads to coach than Rhode. It's a great way of coming back into it from the management side of it and the selector side of it to see if you can bring something to the pitch side of it in a full time coaching role.
“That was going grand and unfortunately things took a turn for the worst but look, that happened on a Thursday and we happened to be training that night so we just got into a huddle and decided that we can either let this affect us or drive it on. I was asked by the club to step up to be manager but Stephen could have done it, Anthony could have done it but we just said there are three managers and I'm just out in front. We work well together.”
He said they knew that Malachy's case was coming up and were shocked more than anything by the outcome.
“I had met Malachy once or twice over the last couple of years, I wasn't involved, just to say hello to him, but just got to know him really well this year. For six months we worked together but we never discussed it, it was his business. From a Rhode GAA point of view we never tried to interfere, we are here for football. But yes it was a shock. You know something could happen but when it does happen it's hard. You have to take the personal side as well, a family man, football is one thing but family is different.”
Declan returned to Rhode this year having worked with Paschal Kellaghan in Meath last year.
“Last year myself and Paschal were in Summerhill in Meath. Paschal was the manager and I was coach over there. That was a good experience for me, different county, dealing with different players. We could have stayed on for a second year but we decided to go a different route and I ended up here with the seniors and under 17s. Paschal is under 17 manager and I'm giving him a hand. It's good, we are trying to keep the conveyor belt going. We probably did take the eye off the ball for a couple of years. When you look at the lads in the semi-final it looked like they were going to go forever but you have to be introduce new blood every year. We have an Under 17 quarter final coming up, so hopefully we can get into the last four. That gives three or four lads to come on to play senior or junior next year.”
He agreed that is pivotal to Rhode as some of their more experiended campaigners come towards the end of their careers
“You wouldn't think it Saturday evening (semi-final against Ferbane), but it's often about how you control a game, controlling training which is more important. Obviously it has to be tailored to suit their needs. They keep themselves right and they are professional in terms of their preparation, recovery. Talk about putting work second, it's definitely second with some of them. They are smart and they train smart. We can't be going out and driving them hard in every session. Plan what you are doing and get the most out of them. The game is obviously the one that counts and you have to have them fresh and ready for it,” Declan said.
They have done all that has asked to them this year and Declan said they planned ahead for how to approach the championship.
“The first thing we did was say it was a 12 week championship, so the first thing we said was there was no use talking about county finals when we hadn't the first round played. We broke it into two sections. Phase one was the group stage and we knew the three teams we were playing. We had a few injuries along the way, some of them were injuries that came from last year and a few new injuries, so it was just about getting to a semi-final and getting that month free. That's a good month there to get things focussed and get injuries sorted. Apart from that phase one was to get to the semi-final and once you got there it didn't matter, you were there and every game was going to be different,” he said.
Their semi-final against Ferbane went to extra time but Rhode showed great willpower to survive the 80 minutes before coming through on penalties.
“When you are looking around and seeing lads 25, 26, 27 cramping and Alan McNamee is runing by them and still going in the 85th minute, that goes back to the preparation and lads minding their bodies and training clever. Again there is drive. People ask how do you motivate them. You don't, lads just want to go out and play and do their best and win. They were running on fumes but they were finding energy from somewhere.”
This is the third final in a row between the same two clubs so a bit of a rivalry is growing.
“Yeah, there is a bit of mini rivalry there but I would have said it before the semi-finals, I definitely think any of the four teams could beat each other on any given day. We got over the line against Ferbane, the scoreline in the other semi-final seven points was probably flattering, Tullamore got the goal in the end to pull away but Edenderry will be there or thereabouts again. Obviously Cappincur drew with Ferbane, Durrow are there or thereabouts, Shamrocks, so it's a good championship and you would be foolish to think of a final before a ball is kicked. We saw it in the league. We finished second bottom in the league, so that was a grounding for us straight away if we needed one.”
Unusually for recent times, Rhode will go into this final with the underdogs tag.
“Yeah, it's only a tag. I don't really feed into it. Part and parcel of the build up to it. We are happy just to be in the final and we'll go out and give it a shot. Whether you are favourite or underdog, it is 15 v 15 and you go out and do the business.”
He noted that there were times Rhode were favourites down the years and were caught.
He said they are going into it now and are going to give it their all. “The Anton injury is a bit of a dampener and we're proably not going to know up until the last minute, Shane Lowry tweaked a hamstring, but there is plenty to be done beforehand, there is going to be a lot of things to be tied up and sorted.”
Rhode has had some long term injuries with Eoin Rigney and Niall Darby out long term.
“There is no sign of Eoin Rigney getting back. Eoin is doing what he has to do. If the county final was on the second Sunday of October as it has been for years, he might have had a chance, but Eoin is training with us and doing the best he can but it's probably a bit too early for him.
“Niall Darby is doing everything by the book but won't be back.”
Asked how much of a loss they are he replied “you are talking about two inter county players and I don't think there is any club in the country that wouldn't mis them – you don't want to lose anyone but to be without two experienced inter county players is a loss. But we have a good panel and as I said it's important we get our injuries sorted. You have six subs and you look at them and say one of them isn't going to weaken it and you're not afraid to throw them in. Huge loss for the two lads and it's hard for them to be preparing for a final and watching on from the sidelines but we just have to get on with it. That's why you carry a strong panel and lads do the work so that they are ready when they get the chance.”
Declan won four medals as a player, the first going back to their breakthrough year after 23 years in 1998 and then they won the three in a row. He finished as a player after the 2006 Leinster Final. He said he lost a few finals as well so knows both sides of the coin. He was involved again as manager in 2018 when Rhode beat Ferbane in the final.
Asked if he had any sense from some of the players that this could be last throw of the dice for them? He said “I don't know. I can see this year going back into coaching, and as I was saying, it is about management of them. I can see that you have to be a lot smarter about your training sessions and what you are asking lads to do. It is not that one session fits everybody. As long as the lads are well able to play and keep going they will keep going. They are enjoying it, they love the buzz about being around each other, they love each other's company and they live for it. Unfortunately when the day comes it's going to leave a huge void in their lives but at the minute they are going to keep going until the body gives and that suits us down to the ground,” he said.
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