Tullamore manager Niall Stack.
TULLAMORE manager Niall Stack has led his team back to the Offaly Senior Football Final for a third year in succession and as in the previous two finals, Rhode will be providing the opposition at O'Connor Park in Tullamore on Sunday.
Rhode have dominated Offaly club football over the last quarter of a century and are the team others aim to emulate at the current time.
Niall Stack is well aware of the threat posed by Rhode and while some of their more seasoned players might be past their prime, he acknowledged that they are still a very dangerous threat and he will be planning accordingly for them.
The final meetings in the previous two years have been tight affairs, with Rhode edging the 2020 final before Tullamore made amends in a replay last year, so there has been little to separate them and the Tullamore manager is expecting another close contest on Sunday.
This is Niall's third year as Tullamore manager and they have got the county final in all three years, which is not a bad record.
“Not a bad record I suppose,” he agreed. “Very disappointed in the first year when we lost even though we didn't have reason to be so as we were in a relegation play off the year before.”
It is new ground this year for Tullamore as many people regard them as favourites with some thinking they could win it handily, do you listen to them?
“I don't really listen to them. I have a huge fear of failure at the same time. We prepare for Rhode the same way we prepare for every team. We identify their strengths, which there is a huge abundance of in Rhode. We go through their potential forward line and on paper they are the best forwards in the county. You couldn't possibly take them for granted. I think there will be nothing in the game,” Niall said.
The fact that it is the third final in a row as well means the team are familiar with each other and that will be a factor as well.
“I think both teams will have their set game plans. They are very different teams. We're a different team as we have lost players like John Furlong. Rhode have lost Niall Darby and Eoin Rigney. It's still very different even though it's the same teams. You could be looking at five or six different players to last year,” he added.
Tullamore have just welcomed back Cormac Egan in the semi-final after a long injury lay off and Niall was asked how much of a boost that is to Tullamore?
“Massive. For him and the group but especially for him. To see a young lad being on the sideline for so long. I really felt bad for him last year when he missed the county final. We didn't give him a platform to play in Leinster and he had no U-20 campaign really. We gave him loads of time to get ready. It was a gradual process. It's great for him,” the manager added,
He said it wasn't a big call to start him in the semi-final against Edenderry.
“No it's based on every bit of advice and on how he's feeling and how training is going. There was no risk at all really. It was based on a solid foundation,” added Niall.
You sometimes see fellows coming back from injury and they are frailer. That does not seem to be the case with Cormac?
“He's passed every little hurdle on the way in his recovery. His confidence in his body is based on the work he has done since he came back. He wasn't rushed. We ran the whole league and championship and nearly a whole U-20 campaign without him,” Niall said.
Another of Tullamore's long term injuries is John Furlong and the manager was asked how his progress was going?
“I genuinely don't know. I don't push John. I just make enquiries as to how he is. He's not going to be back this term and John doesn't know himself how well he is. John is a man of few words. He has to be given time. It's same with a lot of the U-20 lads who are picking up knocks. There is an eagerness there but they have be left to their own devices and to follow the medical advice.”
There have been a huge amount of injuries in the U-20 ranks and Niall was asked his opinion on how to account for their severity?
“I think it's just a case of bad luck,” he said. “Poor Kieran Dolan suffered a freak accident. But as long as they are looked after correctly medically they'll be back.”
Last year some of the U-20s were out in the minor final the following Tuesday night. There was a huge volume of games in a very short time frame and Niall was asked if he was disappointed with that?
“Yeah it was hard managed but if I was to dissect it the amount of time they got in the games was very little. But there was still an onus on them to go out and play. I don't think anyone is to blame – not the players, the parents, county board or management. These lads should be left to recover at their own pace and they'll be fine.
“John Furlong was man of the match in both county finals last year. I think it's how you view things. We never stopped and felt sorry for ourselves. It's just a case of play what you have and leave them to recover as best they can.”
They is a lot of excellent young talent emerging in Tullamore and the manager was asked how excited he was by that?
“They are a great bunch of young lads, their attitude is great. We're very lucky and unique for a club. We all train together in the one system. Na Fianna, St Manchan's and St Vincent's are very good but they're amalgamations pulling from different clubs.”
What do you say to people who say that Tullamore are about to enter a period of Rhode-like dominance?
“I'd be delighted if it does happen but I'd be very very surprised,” was Niall's simple reply.
Historically Tullamore has had a problem with player retention for minors and U-20s but doesn't look like being a problem with this bunch of lads who don't seem to be turning away from football.
“We were lucky. I think with the Covid situation players weren't going elsewhere. I think as the years progress due to the age profile of our players you will see some going abroad. I think player retention will affect the club in the years ahead. Lads have to go and enjoy themselves as well,” he said.
There has been much said about the fact that Tullamore haven't retained the senior title since 1926 and the manager was asked if that was a blot on Tullamore's record?
“It's something that I have never mentioned to players. We are focused on the next game and that happens to be Rhode. Maybe in the past players did not do the work and they just lost a bit of their edge. I'm hoping this group don't lose that edge and keep focused on the process of trying to win every game.”
The manager was asked what his ambitions were and if he saw himself staying with Tullamore?
“I have no ambitions to go anywhere else at the moment. I'm happy here. I'm close to home. It's my home club. I have a good work/life balance and I like it in Tullamore. I'm happy to stay at Tullamore as long as they want me. You are managing and coaching your own which can be difficult sometimes as you are judged a bit differently when you're from the area,” he commented.
He was asked if he would have any fear of Rhode?
“I'm always on edge when it comes to Rhode. I wouldn't call it fear. But I'll be concentrating that we're not conceding possession or play or being dominated.”
Along with the talented youngsters, Tullamore also have a core of experienced players and the manager was asked how important they were to the younger ones?
“They're brilliant. I'm blessed to have such a great group of leaders. Paul McConway, Johnny Moloney, Declan Hogan, Michael Brazil and Nigel Bracken are all great leaders. Blessed with the management team as well. They are all good characters. They are all lads I could say that are good people not only on the field,” Niall said.
On Sunday next they will get the opportunity to display that on the field when they bid to bring the Dowling Cup back to Tullamore for one more time.
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