Sunday 23 July 2017

Comerford backs Gaels to use past pain for future gain

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IT sometimes takes a defeat to awaken a team to its own potential, a near miss to shake them from their slumber.

With O'Loughlin Gaels, it was a round-two loss in the Kilkenny SHC to All-Ireland champions Ballyhale Shamrocks that made them realise how far they could go.

"We were beaten by Graigue-Ballycallan and then lost to Ballyhale by a late goal. We knew then we had a good team and we all worked hard from there," says O'Loughlins selector and former Kilkenny star Andy Comerford.

"And we won the next three games from there to qualify for the knock-out stages. That was the turning point, no doubt about it."

Comerford was in charge of Kildare's hurlers when O'Loughlins manager Michael Nolan approached him in January to get involved with his home club.

He managed to combine the two but the city side got the year off to a horrible start, losing four key men for a variety of reasons. Among them was Tipperary's Paul Kelly, who returned to his native Mullinahone.

"Losing four players would be a blow to a county team never mind a club team, but we had the bones of the (Leinster-winning) 2003 side. We had to blood a few players and work with them," says Comerford.

On the other side of the draw, Carrickshock were blazing a trail as they sought a first senior title since the parish rule was introduced in 1954.

They had five county players and recently appointed Laois manager (and ex-Shamrocks player) Brendan Fennelly at the helm. It all but overshadowed O'Loughlins' achievement of ending Ballyhale's own 'Drive for Five'.

It was interpreted that fatigue had caught up with Ballyhale, who had been on the road since 2006.

Absence

That, combined with Henry Shefflin's absence from that Shamrocks side, meant O'Loughlins weren't given their dues for that victory, to the point where they went into the county final as 6/4 outsiders, a fortnight after beating the All-Ireland champions.

"When Ballyhale won the first of their four-in-a-row they beat us and we felt like we had a score to settle with them," says Comerford. "We have contested six finals in 10 years. How we went in as outsiders I don't know."

Just seven days later, O'Loughlins were in action again in Leinster against Laois champions Rathdowney-Errill.

"A typical Laois team," said Comerford. "They were very geed up. We got ahead and knew we needed a bit of a cushion because the legs were going to go in the last 10 minutes with a schedule like that."

And Ballyboden St Enda's are next on the cards. Comerford concedes that even in the few short years since he hung up his hurl in 2006, Dublin hurling has come on in leaps and bounds.

"Dublin under Anthony Daly have improved so much and Ballyboden have a good chunk of the Dublin squad and a couple of Wexford players too," says the 2002 All-Ireland-winning captain.

"We're going to be ready. We've studied them on DVD. They played Ballyhale last year and put 18 points on them. Okay they conceded four goals, but they can hurl."

After winning their fourth successive Dublin title, Ballyboden have openly expressed their dissatisfaction with their performances in Leinster over the last three years, but they have been beaten by good teams -- Ballyhale and Birr (twice).

"It's a massive challenge," says Comerford. "We're Kilkenny champions and that brings its own pressures. We won't know until the day about injuries but our lads will want to play regardless of the pain barrier because that's the way they are. We tend to get the best out of them when we have our backs to the wall."

Irish Independent

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