Manager Ger O’Loughlin met the Kilmallock players for the first time in January 2014 in the Deebert Hotel.
It was a straight talking affair. The former Clare All-Ireland winner told them what he “thought of them”.
It wasn’t all pretty stuff, but the home truths struck a chord with the players.
The previous September O’Loughlin was in the Gaelic Grounds to watch the Limerick senior hurling championship semi-finals when Kilmallock were dethroned by Na Piarsaigh. It was the end of the four year reign of Tony Considine.
Little did O’Loughlin think that he would be guiding the fortunes of Kilmallock the following season, and now in an All-Ireland final.
“I got a call around November and although I was at a loose end I said no firstly,” he revealed. “Then, to be fair to them, they rang me out of the blue again. I was going to take a break because I had been involved since 2005 non-stop, but I decided after a week or so that I would give this a go for a year.
“I liked what I saw in Kilmallock in the championship semi-final against Na Piarsaigh,” O’Loughlin continued. “I just thought they lacked a bit that day. I saw a bit of potential and thought it was worth a go for a year.
“I had come across the lads for the last couple of years and I realised that they could be a serious outfit if they got their act together. I am not a fortune teller in that I could see that we were going to get to an All-Ireland club final, but I thought if everything was done correct they would be serious.”
O’Loughlin was speaking at the club’s pre-All-Ireland final media event in the Deebert Hotel, the venue 14-months previous for his introduction to the players.
“When I came down in January we had a meeting and I would have outlined that to them,” Ger continued. “I told them up front what I thought of them against Na Piarsaigh in the Gaelic Grounds in the semi-final. They didn’t seem to have any great hunger.
“I called that up front. They responded. I said to them, going forward, every guy would have to give it 100% and that there would be opportunities for all lads.
“The fruits of that is that you can pick a team now and there could be two or three changes and it won’t weaken the team. That is a good sign that we have brought on another four or five lads this year.”
Eleven games later, O’Loughlin is loud in his praise of the response of the entire Kilmallock squad.
“Everybody is believing in what we are doing,” he insisted. “Hopefully we can take one more step. We are going to Croke Park afraid of nothing and going to give it a lash.
“We have high quality players. When you go through it the likes of Philip O’Loughlin, Bryan O’Sullivan, the two minors in Robbie Hanley and Paddy O’Loughlin, Robbie Egan have all stepped up to the plate.
“Then there are the lads that are around longer like Liam Hurley and Liam Walsh, Eoin Ryan. Tey are as good as what is in the country,” insisted O’Loughlin as he spoke of the vital role played by those other than the club’s inter-county quartet.
“This is fantastic. Any club would take this from the start of the season. If you thought you would be in an All-Ireland club final 13-14 months later, you would take it with both hands. We are absolutely thrilled to be there,” said the manager, who was denied a March 17 Croke Park appearance when Clarecastle lost out in the semi-final of 1998.
Ups and Downs
“We have had our ups and downs,” Ger continued. “We have come out only winning by a point or two in certain matches, but that can be a good thing too to scrape though when you haven’t performed to your best and still come out the right side of it.
“We have been lucky on one or two occasions when we got the bounce of the ball. We have gone to extra time on two occasions and that would tell you how close it is in Munster to try and get out,” he recalled of the route to the club’s third provincial title.
O’Loughlin brought Kilmallock for a familiarisation walk around Croke Park at the end of February.
“Personally I never lost in Croke Park, so I am very happy to be going there again,” he insisted.
“I have the utmost confidence that Croke Park should suit us. We have a team that will relish the wide open spaces and have forwards that can threaten their backs. That’s what we need to do on the day.”
He added: “I am happy with our preparations that everything is done correctly. It is now a case of performing on the day.
“It’s not all going to be hunky-dory. We are going to be under pressure at times. We realise that but we should have the ammunition to be able to confront that and hopefully be able to out score them.
“If you thinking too much about the opposition you could get caught in the headlights. We haven’t really discussed Ballyhale.
“Obviously we will zone in on their type of play, but we are thinking about ourselves and hoping we perform. We have to be able to meet the challenge and perform to our utmost of our ability. If that is good enough, brilliant.”
He concluded: “We are not underestimating Ballyhale. If they get on top of you and get on a roll they could blow you off the field. We have the confidence in ourselves.”