Loughmore-Castleiney head into the breach once more in their attempt to double up
Tipp club aiming to win the county football title with the same squad that took the hurling crown
Loughmore-Castleiney’s Noel McGrath
At some point Loughmore-Castleiney’s season will end but not yet and not on Sunday either. When they line out to face Aherlow Gaels in the Tipperary football final, it will be their sixth weekend in a row playing championship of some hue.
And because Aherlow Gaels are a combined team made up of Aherlow and Lattin-Cullen, Loughmore Castleiney will be flying the Tipp flag in the Munster club football championship regardless of the result on Sunday. So the end is nowhere near, the final curtain won’t drop until well into November at the earliest.
“I’m greedy,” says Declan Laffan, manager of both the football and hurling teams. “I want to win everything. And to be fair, most of the players are like that. They were devastated afterwards on Sunday, there’s no point saying they weren’t.
“They put so much into it, just to get caught in the last minute was a real sickener. But instead of having time to dwell on it and feel sorry for ourselves, we have to get going again straight away. We have something to look forward to.”
If they do manage to pull off the county double it won’t be without precedent, albeit that it’s still pretty rare. Ahane actually managed it for five years in a row in Limerick back in the 1930s but their last football title was in 1939. Tullamore also did it twice in Offaly in the 1930s and two clubs in Wexford have done it, Faythe Harriers in 1960 and St Anne’s in 2000.
Generally when it happens, however, it’s a behemoth city club that has the wherewithal. Huge clubs like St Vincent’s in Dublin and St Finbarr’s in Cork have managed it several times down the years – 10 in the case of Vincent’s and three for the Barrs. The only club in the country to have managed it in recent times was Ballyboden St Enda’s in 2009. It has never been done in Tipperary.
Patchwork of brothers
Loughmore-Castleiney are not a behemoth club. They are a patchwork of brothers and cousins and others from two villages halfway between Thurles and Templemore. Their senior hurling and football teams are as near as makes no difference the one and the same. Laffan expects – hopes, given the niggles they’ve picked up along the way – that anything up to 12 of the team that lined out against Na Piarsaigh will face the flag against Aherlow on Sunday.
“Most of our players don’t have an issue with either code. The week after the county hurling final, 11 of them started the county football semi-final. It’s the same panel with just one or two extras. It’s more or less the same 29 or 30 guys. But inevitably down the line, most of them will want to be hurlers and they will want to try to make it onto the Tipp senior team at some stage. That’s just the way of it.
“If we weren’t playing as much hurling as we do play, we would reckon we’d win more football titles than we have. But obviously, we’re in Tipperary and everybody wants to play hurling and everybody wants to aim at the county title. We play so little football in fairness.”
Yet they’re a dual club that breeds dual players. Noel McGrath was mesmerising on Sunday at all corners of the pitch and if he wasn’t such a brilliant hurler, there’s no doubt that he’d be in interprovincial standard footballer for Munster. His brother John won an All-Ireland minor football medal with Tipp in 2011 and followed it up with a minor hurling All-Ireland last year.
Touch will go
“Most of our training is hurling training,” says Laffan. “I’d say it’s an 80-20 split. It’s simple enough really – you can’t afford to leave the hurleys down for too long because your touch will go if you do.
“We would do both the odd time, depending on what’s coming up. Not always but on the odd occasion. If there was a football game coming up, we might do a bit of hurling for the first 20 minutes to warm up. That way, you keep the eye in and the touch right and then we’re warmed up for a football session.”
They haven’t always gone with the one manager for both team but that’s been the way of it for the past four years. Laffan has been the figurehead, with the selectors changing from time to time under him. If nothing else, it cuts down on the potential for arguments.
“The fact that there’s such a crossover of players between the two teams means that when you have the same management, there’s a lot less chance of friction. You’re not pulling out of a player to disappoint another manager. You can manage it better all round.
“We would try to have it that we’re not overloading with football ahead of a hurling match and vice-versa. You know yourself – a hurling manager wouldn’t be overly happy for a fella to be leaving down the hurley to go to football training when there’s a game coming up. So when you have the same management, you can do a certain amount of both on any given night.”
Last year, they lost after extra-time in the semi-finals of both football and hurling championships. Strip everything else away and they’re probably due a football title, not having won one since 2004.
“We lost two hurling finals back in the 80s and then proceeded to win the football finals afterwards,” says Laffan. “This is the first time we’ve gone in having won the hurling. Hopefully it’s an omen.”