Saturday 16 December 2017

Bergin tweaking a successful formula in bid to get Galway over the line

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin

Daragh O Conchuir

After Westmeath defeated Kildare in the Leinster senior football championship last month, victorious manager Tom Cribbin spoke from the heart about how difficult it was trading blows with his native county.

Cribbin revealed that he had trouble sleeping in the build-up to the game, such was the anxiety he felt about plotting the Lilies' downfall.

Galway camogie boss Ollie Bergin possesses a name that suggests he is a Tribesman but the 41-year-old is in fact hewn from Urlingford oak and moulded in traditional Kilkenny fashion.

So despite going west for work early in the last decade and immersing himself in Kinvara when he moved there in 2006, it was strange being in the opposite corner to the Black and Amber when they met in the National League Division 1 final in May, and again in the group stages of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championship a fortnight ago.

"My blood is Kilkenny but my focus is on Galway," said Bergin. "That's my priority and I have to put that stuff aside in the interests of the girls. It's definitely different but you have to block it out."

Bergin succeeded Tony Ward, the only man to have overseen success at All-Ireland senior level in Galway. Ward provided the roadmap for the breakthrough win in 1996 and was back in charge when the O'Duffy Cup finally traversed the Shannon once more 17 years later.

Read More: Galway book spot in semis with powerful finale

The work Bergin had done as part of the management of the Kinvara hurlers had not gone unnoticed, and having lent his expertise to the camogie team as well, it made sense to approach him when Ward stood down. The more he thought about it, the more it appealed and now, he is preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final at Nowlan Park on August 13.

"Galway have always been at the business end of the Championship over the last few years and you're hoping you can bring something different to get them over the line," he says. "They've tasted a bit of success in 2013 but they've also lost a few finals. So you'd be hoping you could build on what was already there and just add a couple of things to try and improve the whole climate.

"I've been very impressed with the commitment that they're willing to show and the dedication they have towards the game, knowing that it is a minority sport. But the commitment they're putting in is nearly as much as the male counterparts.

"I really like their enthusiasm for it and you get sucked in then. When you see that level of commitment from them, you know you've got to give as much back."

Bergin impressed his charges immediately with the quality of his coaching and support staff. Current Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan was brought in along with team-mate Barry Daly to provide conditioning expertise. Another ex-county hurler, David Forde is a selector.

"We would have expectations and the players would have expectations that you put a professional structure in place. The board offered tremendous support and were enthusiastic about it," says Bergin.

Galway cruised through to the league decider but lost by two goals at Semple Stadium, having never raised a gallop.

"If you get into a final you want to win but we didn't perform and that was the worst part of it," says Bergin. "It was an opportunity to look at things to improve on. In one sense it was a good thing that it happened then, that we could just redress the issue. But we were very disappointed with our performance, there's no doubt about that."

Read More: Late Leacy goal sees Wexford defeat All-Ireland champions

It was notable that multiple midfield All Star and captain Niamh Kilkenny started that game at full-forward, with renowned goal sneak Molly Dunne moved to the wing, though they did swap roles mid-way through the opening half.

Meanwhile, regular centre-back Shauna Healy was at midfield, with underage attacking star Rebecca Hennelly lining out in the heart of the defence.

"We were just looking at different options," explains Bergin. "We all knew that Niamh Kilkenny was an excellent midfielder and she didn't have to prove anything to us on that side. We were saying could we get more value from her in the forwards? We tried it in the league and some games worked very well and some mightn't have worked as well, and that was the way with other things we tried as well, but that's what the League is for.

"You have to try and experiment and see can you make changes that are beneficial. You're going in with fresh eyes, and you have to start with a blank sheet almost. We've got a few positional changes that worked very well and a few that didn't work as well but that's the way it goes."

Having beaten Kilkenny to move directly to the semi-finals, the time for experimentation is now concluded.

"Our focus now is purely on getting to the final," says Bergin. "Everyone wants to win the All-Ireland, of course they do, but there's another step and you take each one. If we can get to the final, great, we can look at it then, but we have a semi-final first."

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