Daly confident task of restoring Offaly's fortunes is right up Baker's street

 

Dublin manager Anthony Daly tells GAVIN CUMMISKEYwhy he thinks Ollie Baker and Offaly are a clever combination at this moment in time

IF OLLIE Baker can develop an Offaly hurler, or three, the way Ger Loughnane did with him then a sulphuric summer of revolution would surely follow.

During Clare’s magical late-1990s period, Loughnane was known to be constantly cajoling his big midfielder into action.

“He worked so hard on me, encouraging me and criticising me at the same time,” Baker told journalist Enda McEvoy in 2000. “His hurling training was fabulous. I don’t think I’d be able to play at the level I am now but for him.”

Baker delivered as much as anyone in the 1995 capture of Liam MacCarthy. Offaly people will remember the sight of him belting their “Millennium Man” Brian Whelahan over the end line for a vital 65 or powering through the granite rock that was Kevin Martin.

They know the Garda Sergeant well. And not just because he’s stationed in Tullamore.

Ollie Baker, the hurler, has already secured a seat in hurling’s Valhalla.

Now to a far more challenging task.

Much like former Manchester United players following Alex Ferguson into management, several of Loughnane’s rough diamonds have slipped on the Bainisteoir bib. With precious few moments of success.

Sure, Davy Fitzgerald won a Munster title with Waterford to go alongside an awful beating by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final of 2008. Of course, Fitzgerald’s not finished.

Anthony Daly’s term as Clare manager (2003-06) was bad timing, coming smack in the middle of a power struggle between Kilkenny and Cork. Daly is now involved in a long-term and clearly progressive project with Dublin.

Ger “Sparrow” O’Loughlin’s recent tenure with the Banner County ended abruptly and quietly.

Baker has taken a more circuitous route, which started after Daly dropped him from the Clare panel in 2005.

“Then he retired,” said his old friend Daly. “Jaysus, I saw it as an opportunity to get him in as a selector. A fella who could really drive it on. He’ll call a spade a spade. There would be no in between with Ollie. It’s black or white.

“Ah, he brought a great steel to the set-up for that year. We’d had two years of myself, Father Harry and Alan Cunningham, then he was with me for a year and I pulled out in ’06 and Tony Considine took over in ’07.

“Then that broke up and Mike Mac was straight in and Ollie was with him. He showed massive loyalty to Mike during the strike, by walking away.

“He got involved in Roscrea and gave a hand to Westmeath and Antrim as well. That’s plenty of experience.”

When Offaly icon Joe Dooley stepped aside last year, Baker was ratified into a job that most hurling observers feel is a hiding to nothing.

The Faithful have threatened a revival in recent times, none more so than the 2010 draw and replay with tomorrow’s opponents Galway, but they have also developed a knack of faltering when games are there to be won.

It almost occurred in the Leinster quarter-final against Wexford on June 3rd. Arriving at a respectable 2-12 from 52 minutes hurling, mainly through Shane Dooley’s excellence, Offaly didn’t score again.

They survived to record their first victory in this fixture since 2000.

“I think he couldn’t have written a better way for how that finished up,” said Daly. “Driving home that night I switched on the radio and even Daithí Regan was saying there are serious worries there for Offaly.

“Now, whether Daithí was playing the party line . . . but they were hanging on.

“ That will have suited Ollie over the last fortnight.

“He can also play on the good record against Galway. If they play like Offaly teams traditionally played against Galway I think they do have a chance.”

Taking the emotional and historical context out of it, and putting a fit again Joe Canning into it, Galway should progress to the Leinster final.

But Baker and Offaly, certainly in Daly’s mind, are a clever combination at this moment in time. It is a group littered with enough experience and quality to beat most opposition, providing they translate brief moments of quality into a 70-minute performance.

“Their minor and 21 results suggest there is a bit of a struggle ahead so they really need this team to deliver for them now. I think they are going down the right track with Ollie.

“Number one, he’ll have them fired up. He always played with fire and brimstone himself but he was a fairly cool fella . He wouldn’t be one who got overly excited when he was playing.

“He’ll get the maximum out of them in terms of the build up and motivation.”

As the Dublin players made a swift exit from O’Connor Park, having cleaned out Laois earlier this month, Daly couldn’t help smiling at what he heard through the walls.

“We were next door to Offaly in Tullamore and the noise out of their dressingroom! They were coming out tanked up.

“They are a bunch of players who feel they have been written off among their own as well as neutrals. They are a fair old team now and while they can throw the odd poor one in, and maybe some of their own supporters are hard on them for that, but when they are good they can be very good.

“We know from last year. We had a titanic struggle with them in Croker. Then there was the draw and replay with Galway in 2010. They will feel they have come on from that. They have a clean bill of health as well.

“And if they can win this one they will be in for honours.”

With Kilkenny eyeing up Dublin, Daly wouldn’t dare suggest it but imagine the momentary glance of these old room-mates should they share the Croke Park sideline come July 8th? The colours on either man alone would make them laugh inside.

Outwardly, of course, it would be fire and brimstone.