‘I want to get this right because this is going to be my last job’ - Liam Kearns’ poignant message to Michael Duignan

Offaly manager Liam Kearns passed away at the age of 61

Frank Roche and Colm Keys

Offaly GAA chairperson Michael Duignan has said the Faithful County is in “deep shock” over the sudden death of their senior football manager Liam Kearns at the age of 61.

The Kerry native, who previously managed Limerick, Laois and Tipperary, had only taken on the Offaly role last August. His new charges had won three of their first five outings in Division 3 of the Allianz Football League, leaving them in the promotion shake-up with two rounds remaining.

"Straight talker, he knew his football, he was very organised and ambitious,” Duignan said on RTÉ Radio this morning. “He had retired from the Guards, as a sergeant in the Gardaí. And he said something to me; he said, 'I want to get this right because this is going to be my last job’ … and we didn't think it was going to end like this."

The Offaly chair, a two-time All-Ireland winning hurler, spoke of the shock and devastation that hit the entire county when news broke of their manager’s sudden passing.

Passing on condolences to his wife Angela, daughters Rachel and Laura, family and close friends, an emotional Duignan told Morning Ireland: “Whatever we’re feeling is nothing compared to what they’re feeling this morning.”

He added: “He was up training with us yesterday, in great form. He was never looking as well, he’d lost a couple of stone in weight, he was training himself and he was dieting and looking after himself so well. And it's just hard to believe.”

Duignan had admired Kearns from a distance over the great job he had done “with limited resources maybe at times” in Limerick, Laois and Tipperary. "And just from the first time I met him - he drove up to the Faithful Fields to meet me maybe last July, and the minute I met him I knew he was the right man for the job.”The Sunday Game analyst expanded: “He just had a great ambition for Offaly - a great love, the way he settled in. I’m really upset for our players. He had assembled a top backroom team, but he had developed a great relationship with our players.

“I spoke to Declan Hogan, our captain, last night and Anton Sullivan. Just, the respect that we all had for him. We were down nine or ten players this year, for different reasons – injuries, lads travelling, a couple of retirements to key players. And he just got on with it, and he had huge plans for Offaly.

"One of the lads texted me last night, Ruairí McNamee, and he just said he had the dressing-room in a chokehold since he took over. And I think that says it all really."

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Former Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy has described the sudden death of Liam Kearns as “a huge blow to the GAA family”.

Kearns managed the Tipp footballers while Sheedy was at the helm of the hurlers during his second sting with the county.

“It’s really trough. It’s a huge blow to the GAA family,” said Sheedy on the Sunday Game. “A huge blow to everyone, especially Liam’s close family and friends. He gave a lifetime service to the GAA, both as a player and a manager. His contribution has been incredible really.

"I was very lucky and fortunate to get to meet him when he was across from me managing Tipp at the same time. We got to spend a few days together in America, days I will always remember. He was great fun and a smashing fella who loved the game and gave so much to the GAA. It’s another really really tough blow to the GAA family. My thoughts are with Angela and all of the family.”

Donal Og Cusack added: “Our hearts go out to his family, his club, his county and all his colleagues. Our games are important, but our people are even more important.”

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Kearns won an All-Ireland minor title in 1980, has been one of the highest profile football managers over the last two decades, having taken charge of Limerick, Laois and Tipperary before replacing John Maughan in Offaly last autumn.

A popular figure at inter-county level, it was with Limerick and Tipperary that he made his biggest impacts and he constantly strove to challenge the old order in Munster.

A retired Garda by occupation, he made his mark as a manager initially with Garda College. He was a gym instructor in Templemore and took charge of the football team, guiding them to back-to-back Trench Cup successes before they lost a Sigerson Cup final to UCD in 1996.

He then graduated to manage a Limerick U-21 team to an All-Ireland final which they lost to Mickey Harte's Tyrone team that was the bedrock for their future All-Ireland senior successes in the decade that followed.

Many of those Limerick players, under Kearns' direction, developed into Kerry's most formidable opposition in the 2000s when they contested Munster senior finals in 2003 and 2004, taking Kerry to a replay in 2004, the most difficult games Jack O'Connor's team had as they cruised to All-Ireland success.

When he left Limerick in 2005 he was in demand and replaced Mick O'Dwyer in Laois, taking charge for two years (2007-2008) that included a Leinster final defeat to Dublin in 2007.

He then managed Aherlow to a Tipperary senior title in 2010 and also went back studying after retiring as a Garda, completing a fitness-related degree with Setanta College.

For a period he was helping out John Evans in Roscommon and was among the contenders to take over prior to Kevin McStay's appointment there

But an opportunity then opened up to take over Tipperary and in his first year, without Steven O'Brien who had committed to the hurlers and Colin O'Riordan who had taken up an AFL contract, he guided them to an All-Ireland semi-final which they lost to Mayo after beating Galway in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

They had also beaten Cork in a Munster semi-final that year, a feat he also achieved as Limerick manager in the 2003 Munster Championship, one of Larry Tompkins' last games in charge.

Kearns remained with Tipperary for four years and was a contender for the Galway job when Padraic Joyce was appointed in 2019.

He was originally associated with the Austin Stacks club in Tralee and played 10 league games for Kerry after winning that All-Ireland minor medal in 1980, half-forward on a team that featured future All-Ireland winning captain Ambrose O'Donovan.

In a statement confirming the news Offaly GAA said it is "devastated to learn of the sudden passing this evening of our senior football manager, Liam Kearns. In his short period of time as manager of the senior footballers, Liam made a hugely positive impact and he was extremely well respected by everyone associated with Offaly GAA. Offaly GAA extend deepest sympathies to his wife Angela and daughters Rachel & Laura. May he rest in peace."