Former Dubs skills coach Bohan finds home away from home with Banner footballers
Mick Bohan's focus was on improving the skills of the Dublin footballers when Jim Gavin took charge. Now he's helping to progress his father's native county
On the Friday night before Dublin's 2013 All-Ireland triumph over Mayo, Eoghan O'Gara scored from 33 of the '36-shot challenge' that had become a staple diet of Jim Gavin's first year in charge.
The concept is based on the use of two balls in a series of grids aimed at honing accuracy. Each shot off the right foot in a particular grid is mirrored with one off the left. If you dummied off the left side you kicked with the right; if you dummied off the right the shot was with the left.
It's a drill that was, says Mick Bohan, happened upon "by accident" among a few in DCU a couple of years earlier when the number of balls outnumbered players present at a Sigerson team training session.
When Bohan was invited to be 'skills coach' in the Jim Gavin backroom the original '18-shot challenge' was doubled and, between warm-up and warm-down, would take some 35 minutes to complete.
It became competitive as the year went on but, that night, O'Gara topped the charts for the season. Two days later his influence off the bench for Dublin was quite profound. Bohan saw it as no coincidence. To him O'Gara was proof that skills can be honed with the right application.
"I would tell this story to lots of people, I was lucky enough to come across him in DCU in 2011 and genuinely, at that time, he had no left foot. Not a situation where he had an average left foot, he had no left foot. Like most people I would have believed that to try and turn someone around at that stage of his career where he could use two feet, I didn't think he would have been capable."
Away from the regular training sessions Bohan and O'Gara engaged in 25 one-to-one sessions. The '36-shot challenge' was at the core of what they did. "Players love competition, that's why they are involved so this is a scoring challenge. They would come back to you with your score, you would record it for them, then they get back on to you and ask, 'What did Brogan score tonight.' That's a very healthy thing." But O'Gara, reflected Bohan, was "the one who went after it most."
When he spoke to his parents after the 2013 final his mother told him that it was the first year they could go to a Dublin match when they didn't have to listen to abuse from the crowd.
"I took that on board because Eoghan is a big strong man, tight haircut so immediately we have a perception. People, for some reason, feel it's okay to abuse somebody of that demeanour. And they forget about the people who are sitting in the stand."
He relates the progression of O'Gara that year to the emphasis placed by Gavin on skill. His own appointment in that particular role enshrined that.
These days Bohan, a PE teacher in the city, is involved as coach to Colm Collins' Clare, his father's native county, but he had initially worked with Dublin development squads, Dublin ladies and then DCU. For Gavin's first two years he was skills taskmaster, his profession helping to sculpt his interest. "I would remember going to Croke Park 10 or 12 years ago and thinking, 'How are these guys making so many mistakes when they put the time in that they do.'
"Putting time in doesn't necessary mean putting time in the right areas. I look now at that Dublin team and more often than not I see them executing the skill. You would have to hand that to Jim and say it was one of his priorities. Lots of us can talk about it but not everyone values it.
"A lot of players can be thankful to Jim. He doesn't waver, he doesn't throw wobblers. If you are dropped off the panel it is done in a quiet,calm organised fashion. Under a different manager, some players may not have lasted the distance. They may not have wanted to accept the way they were going on with it, but in his nice calm quiet way, he has directed them to play. Jim is a calm ruthless."
He left after 2014, the death of his father and, three months later, his best friend and former teaching colleague Hughie Kivlehan, a Sligo native and former hurler with the county living in Ennis, having a profound impact.
He spent last year managing his home club Clontarf but the death of two people so close to him and with such connections to Clare persuaded him to accept Collins' offer. "My intention would have been to return to Dublin but something in me said, 'I actually need to mark these two men's influence on my life.'"
He finds himself in a different world. "There's a lot of things in Dublin's favour. I look now with Clare, travel time is a huge thing; 35, 40 minutes in the city is the max. Clare players are an hour and a half away on bad, windy roads. How would you even get them the extra stuff or where would they go to? But I can guarantee this, there is no burnout with Dublin footballers, none. People can talk of going from club to county, club to county but they are getting more breaks and doing less than most counties."
The culture created under Gavin, the organisation, stayed with him. "At times the email would come in at half-two in the morning and you would think, 'Jesus, is this man sleeping!' But there was never anything forgotten.
"He was so efficient because maybe his own career would demand that. The standard was so high that your standard was driven to be high. We often would have said that to each other. You'd look around and you wouldn't want to let yourself down."
Clare offers a different environment in a football context but a home from home nonetheless. His uncle is Fr Harry Bohan, the former Clare hurling manager in the 1970s and a selector under Anthony Daly.
"He would have curled up when he heard I was getting involved with the footballers. It's a small-ball county!"
But the conversion has been quick, Clare' progress to Division 2 swaying Fr Harry somewhat. Last weekend Mick's sister Helen was getting married in Ballyvaughan and he had the honour of giving her away. But because of the fixture rescheduling over the Laois/Armagh game and Podge Collins' dual involvement, both wedding and qualifier against Laois were due to start at the same time.
"I missed the ceremony but got in for the speeches. Harry said the Mass and the first prayer was for the Clare footballers, the second was for my sister and Sean!"
His involvement with Dublin has imbued him with confidence as a coach, he feels. He regularly asks the Clare players if they are enjoying their football. And he's sure they are. That is ultimately his bottom line.
Laois was an important step. "If you're making progression these are the games you want to win. I think the stat is Clare had never won a game of football in Croke Park. You don't really understand the magnitude of these things until you get involved.
"I can't understand the commentators and the pundits judging the Clares or Tipperarys at the same level as Dublin and Kerry. They don't have the numbers, the club structures, the coaches involved to bring them on."
Later today Clare face Sligo, a match he stresses how disappointed he'll be if they lose. Sligo, he acknowledges, are entitled to feel the exact same way. A win will leave them one step away from an All-Ireland quarter-final which they've never contested. "We could be 20 years waiting for this opportunity to come again."