Sunday 15 December 2019

Forde’s Faithful allegiance on hold as Tribesmen chase final spot

Galway coach with strong Offaly roots puts friendship aside with Leinster final prize awaiting the winners

Francis Forde. Photo: Sportsfile
Francis Forde. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

He will always have a huge affinity with Offaly hurling but all feelings will be parked at the gates of O'Moore Park tomorrow as Francis Forde looks to guide his native Galway to a Leinster final.

Having managed St Rynagh's to consecutive Offaly SHC finals in 2014 and '15, taught and coached in Banagher College for 17 years and worked with Joe Dooley's Faithful side in 2011, there's no doubt that Forde's adopted home is in the midlands.

Every Offaly player who lines out in Portlaoise will have some connection with him, given that he will have either coached or plotted against them, and he takes particular satisfaction in their progress given the bonds they have forged through the years.

He just hopes his own work doesn't come back to haunt him, and Galway, this weekend.

"It's not just the Rynagh's lads, there's the likes of Seanie Gardiner. For me personally it's great to see Seanie hurling for Offaly, he's one of the lads I would have had a lot of dealings with in school and always knew that he had massive potential," the current Galway coach says.

"For me to see him step up and play centre-back for Offaly is. . . I'd be very proud that I had some part to play in that.

"I've massive respect for all those lads and I'd be very eager to see them do well but obviously not at our expense."

The Offaly squad is all change since his involvement five years but he has "huge respect" for goalkeeper James Dempsey, "the best shot-stopper in the country", and knows what classy forwards like Shane Dooley and Joe Bergin are capable of on a going day.

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There was always going to be a sentimental link after watching the effort Offaly players made and he looks back on 2011 with a tinge of regret as some near-misses prevented Offaly reaching the next level.

League champions Dublin were pushed all the way, while "no-one gave us a hope" against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh before a painful one-point defeat.

"It was at a time when a win could have done a huge amount for Offaly hurling especially after taking Galway to a replay the year before. Unfortunately the break didn't come at a time when Offaly were being very competitive," the former minor and U-21 All-Ireland winner says.

"You do become attached to them, you know what they're giving, you follow them and hope that break will come. I'd be eager to see them do well but this weekend we have a job to do. Any emotional attachment or any grá I have for Offaly will definitely be put to one side."

Having played alongside Micheál Donoghue at minor, U-21 and senior level with Galway, Forde (left) helped to lure the All-Ireland club-winning manager to Turloughmore and played out his twilight years under him, before retiring at 39.

Now teaching in St Raphael's, Loughrea, Forde always knew Donoghue was cut out for inter-county management and jumped at the opportunity to get involved in his backroom team. And it's been a whirlwind ride ever since.

Relegation from Division 1 was an early setback and much has been made of the pressure to deliver Liam MacCarthy this year after the players ousted Anthony Cunningham. Forde, however, doesn't feel any added strain.

"In Championship hurling you're under a fair bit of pressure anyway, both individually and collectively. A lot of that kind of stuff is more from outside the camp and I don't think something that happened in the past will be a factor in what happens on match day," he says.

Talk of anything but an All-Ireland win being viewed as a failure, comments made by last year's captain David Collins, doesn't bother him as their eyes are fixed only on Offaly and booking a date with Kilkenny in the Leinster decider on July 3.

"When you exit the Championship, no matter what stage it is, you'll look back on your year as a failure," he says.

"We're looking at Offaly and if we don't succeed in implementing the game-plan the way we want, then you can look at that game as a failure too."

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