Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Rebel' Flannery driving force as Oulart aim for Croker's St Patrick's Day parade

'Frank Flannery knew something different was needed with Oulart-The Ballagh' Photo: Sportsfile
'Frank Flannery knew something different was needed with Oulart-The Ballagh' Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Albert Einstein reportedly said that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

So after losing four consecutive AIB Leinster club hurling finals and watching their six-in-a-row hopes go up in smoke in Wexford, Frank Flannery knew something different was needed with Oulart-The Ballagh.

Cork native Flannery came on board towards the tail end of the 2014 county campaign and declares his "embarrassment" over how things ended as a last-minute Glynn-Barntown goal dumped them out at the quarter-final stage.

While admitting they deserved their beating after standards dipped, he was never going to abandon ship and dug his heels in, leaving his role as selector with Derek McGrath's Waterford to give everything to Oulart.

"There was no way I was going to let it end like that," Flannery declares. "I just decided to draw a line in the sand and start again. I wanted to put my own stamp on these lads and there was massive redemption there for me."

Putting his own print on a club which had enjoyed a golden era since 1994, winning 12 county titles, meant a lot of adjustments, including greater emphasis on their attitude and performance in training.

"Oulart is a very proud club but I have allegiances to no one, the best players on the training field will play and we select on form in training. A lot of changes have been made and everyone thinks they have a chance of playing," he adds.

"Everyone is on their toes and while there are a handful of regulars, there are at least 10 lads fighting for their places every game. Body language is vital and lads are picked on how they're playing."

The Brian Cody philosophy to team selection was evident in their breakthrough Leinster final win against Cuala last November with Tomás Dunne proving the key man, hitting 1-1 after impressing in training.

Dunne had been sprung early in the county final win over St Martin's but was withdrawn just 21 minutes later. Most managers would've cast him aside but this regime is different and he was rewarded.

Midfielder David Redmond has no bones about admitting that an outside voice was needed and that Flannery has been the driving force in their long-awaited success.

"Sure he's the main reason. That's it," Redmond says. "Without him I don't think we would have won it. It was a poisoned chalice, he was told, but Frank has been a breath of fresh air. He's made changes no one else would have made.

"I mean, no disrespect but Tomás Dunne wouldn't have been playing in the Leinster final previously. He was full-back with the intermediates but Frank had said earlier in the year that if we got to Leinster, he'd be playing."

The tag of 'bottlers' hung uncomfortably around their neck until eventually getting their hands on the O'Neill Cup and the 29-year-old saw "something different" in Flannery the minute he came in as hurling coach.

His attention to detail, with every base covered, won over the squad and Oulart are enjoying their hurling "for the first time in years". Redmond says: "We're finally showing our emotions and we're expressing ourselves.

"He'd be asking us to do something different and the way we're hurling right now is basically his personality shining through. There's a stubbornness about us now.

"There was a lot emotional stress from those Leinster finals and it was holding us back.

"I don't think anyone ever wants to be called a bottler and that drove us on massively."

Mixing his new role as coach with Kieran Kingston's Cork seniors and the 270-mile trip to Oulart from his home in Kanturk has been challenging for Flannery, not returning home until after midnight most nights, but in his own words he is a "lucky man".

He is a deep thinker when it comes to hurling, with specific game-plans for different opposition, and one of his many aims throughout the year is now in sight with Limerick's Na Piarsaigh standing between Oulart and St Patrick's Day.

With one major hurdle cleared, you'd think they may be happy with their lot but this isn't the same old Oulart as Redmond duly explains. "Judging from training it's been upped again," he says.

"There's more players tried out so that shows us we're in the right mentality to win an All-Ireland title. We may never be there again, so why not."

Na Piarsaigh v Oulart- The Ballagh

Live, TG4, 3.45

Irish Independent

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