Thursday 14 December 2017

'It's a funny situation to be playing in the goals after getting the sack'

Former Sligo hurling boss Declan Loughnane speaks of unrest with officials after dismissal by email

Former Sligo hurling manager Declan Loughnane. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Former Sligo hurling manager Declan Loughnane. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's a tale that sounds absurd even after it's been relayed by the person at the centre of it: inter-county manager is sacked by email leading up to their championship opener but returns to fill the goalkeeper's position, and keep a clean sheet, en route to victory.

But that's the situation that former Sligo hurling boss Declan Loughnane found himself in over the past seven days after being relieved of his duties after six years of managerial service.

The controversy arose when Sligo GAA officials questioned the validity of five permit players plying their trade with Sligo, one of which was former Clare star Alan Markham (who played two league games earlier this year), in what Loughnane describes as a "different interpretation of the rules" from the county board.

Loughnane, and hurling coach Leo O'Connor (who travels up from Limerick), took their session as normal last Tuesday night, only to be sent an email 30 minutes later informing him that their services were no longer required.

"I even met the chairman after the training session and he didn't say a word to me, half an hour later I got an email saying that the management team had been dismissed with immediate effect," said the Shinrone, Co Offaly native.

"The county board are reading the rule differently than us, we're allowed five permit players and for some reason they are stopping the lads from playing with us. We questioned their decision and next thing I'm sacked. There must be something else at play here because we haven't done anything wrong.

"These are all legitimate permits, they are all above board. One of the lads, Niall McGrath, played with us last year and it's just a misinterpretation of the rule on the county board's part.

"Having permit players helps competition within the squad and doesn't have lads walking onto teams without going to training. It develops lads playing with good hurlers and it allows us compete.

"The killing thing is that it can be resolved inside the county but they don't seem to want to talk to us and they didn't talk to the players or interview them, all they had to do was ask them where they are living, what are they doing and if they're not happy then they could refuse them."

Loughnane, who will still keep his post as Sligo minor and U-21 manager, describes how Sligo have always availed of permit players during his reign and how hurling would struggle to survive without it (weaker counties will be reduced to three permit players next year).

"For our first league game away to Warwickshire, we have six U-21 footballers in our panel (the footballers first round was seven weeks away from that game) and the U-21 manager stopped them travelling over with us," he said. So we travelled with 16 players, three of them are permits and I was in goals, [so] you'd be down to 12."

Rather than walk away, the 41-year-old couldn't let his side down and filled the goalkeeping breach in their defeat of Lancashire on Sunday in a happy end to a turbulent week, but he demands that this situation is redressed as soon as possible.

"Everyone is saying it's a very funny situation, getting the sack and still playing in goals. I wasn't going to let the lads down. Our Games Development Officer Benny Kenny took over and he said he was only doing it because of me. There's probably only 200 hurlers in Sligo and we can't let it die."

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