Saturday 20 January 2018

Flannery driving 'hurling mad' Oulart down the right road with back-to-back titles in sight

Oulart-The Ballagh manager Frank Flannery celebrates with his players at the end of last year’s Leinster Club SHC final against Cuala. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Oulart-The Ballagh manager Frank Flannery celebrates with his players at the end of last year’s Leinster Club SHC final against Cuala. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Michael Verney

Ten hours door to door from his Kanturk base in Cork to the hurling mad village of Oulart would test the patience and durability of anyone but Frank Flannery knows he "won't be lucky enough to coach another club team like this again".

And besides, why would they let him go? In his first full year at the helm, Flannery led Oulart-The Ballagh to the promised land as they finally shed the 'bottlers' tag to claim Leinster SHC club honours.

While being self-employed as a construction projection manager helps, juggling his coaching role with Kieran Kingston's Rebels was challenging, but he couldn't leave this current crop behind.

Joint-manager Mark Dempsey has "made life easy" for him and while their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to eventual champions Na Piarsaigh, whom they pushed to extra-time, was still raw, he had already committed to another year and the rigours of more 280-mile round-trips.

"It was a done deal four or five days after we lost to Na Piarsaigh, it was always going to be very hard to say no to them. I'm very fond of them, they're fantastic to train and there's never a night you come home and say 'Oh I wish I wasn't there'," Flannery says.

"It's about ten hours training Oulart, three down and three up and you're on the phone in between or talking to our video analyst Sean O'Donnell in the car. I like to get down early. You get your work done and you can talk to people.

"I won't be lucky enough to coach another club team like this again. They'd do anything for you and I couldn't speak highly enough of them. The way they carry themselves is incredible like and once they're honest that's all you can ask."

Knowing the huge hours required, there's a natural demand for similar commitment from players but in Oulart, there's no such worry. They eat, sleep and drink hurling and Flannery feels their consistent brilliance is a testament to their devotion.

"The place is hurling mental. The one thing I really love about the place is that when I arrive down to the field there are always young lads pucking around and it's the same during our training sessions," he says.

"They're hurling mad, they know nothing else and they've made big decisions in their lives. They don't go travelling to America. They don't go on holidays. Girlfriends revolve around hurling. Wives revolve around hurling."

Oulart are "a benchmark for any club to keep trying" and with little left to prove after breaking their provincial duck, the only pressure was to maintain their stranglehold in Wexford. With that in the bag, they're in "bonus territory".

An efficient dismantling of Offaly kingpins St Rynagh's showed their intent to make it back-to-back Leinster successes as O'Loughlin Gaels visit Wexford Park tomorrow for a mouthwatering semi-final tie.

Having been involved in senior set-ups with Waterford, Cork and Kerry, forensic detail is Flannery's calling card and after watching the Kilkenny champions last quarter shut-out of 2015 All-Ireland club champions Ballyhale Shamrocks, he's well aware of the task ahead.

"I was very impressed," he says. "They're extremely fit and are finishing their games very strongly. They cut down a lot of space in the opposition forward line and for the last 16 minutes Ballyhale failed to score which is incredible. They've beaten Ballyhale the last two years and that's the bottom line really."

Flannery's trophy-laden coaching career made him the front-runner for the Wexford senior hurling post with many tipping him to lead the Model but when Davy Fitzgerald came on the scene, he admits his selection was a "no brainer".

"I didn't think I was ready for it just yet," he says. "I love coaching and being on the training pitch. There's a lot more to management at inter-county level compared to club.

"And it's almost like a business you're managing.I did think about it but it just wasn't feasible and I'd like to learn a bit more before committing."

The only job on his mind now, however, is the one at hand, to set up a possible repeat of last year's decider, where they upset Dublin champions Cuala. And if he can achieve that, Oulart may never want to let him go.

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