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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
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‘It’s not based on winning, it’s based on how lads are giving everything’ – how Brian Lohan revived Clare

Brian Lohan: Driving standards in Clare hurling. Photo: Sportsfile

For the three years that spanned Clare’s two All-Ireland titles in 1995 and 1997, the same six defenders remained intact.

Slight changes were built into other lines through those three championship campaigns but there was an untouchable feel to the last two.

Then a fracture in 1998. Mike O’Halloran was first to break off and drift, losing out for the opening Munster Championship game against Cork to Brian Quinn.

When they travelled to Dublin for games they generally took an early morning flight from Shannon and then rested for a couple of hours in a city hotel before travelling on to Croke Park.

The accommodation arrangements were based around a player sharing a room with a colleague they would be in proximity to during the game. So a defender would room with another defender, for instance.

That brought Mike O’Halloran and Brian Lohan together. Not only were they right corner-back and full-back, they were also great friends.

However, when O’Halloran was dropped, it was Lohan who initiated a different arrangement, according to then manager Ger Loughnane in his autobiography ‘Raising The Banner.’

For Loughnane, it was a reflection of Lohan’s team-first ethos, the single-mindedness he brought to it.

“They are as close friends as people can be,” wrote Loughnane at the time. “They always roomed together but in ’98, ‘Hallo’ didn’t make the team. Brian Lohan came to me and said, ‘Hallo’ isn’t playing, I want to be in the room with somebody who is playing.’

“Lohan will be best man at ‘Hallo’s’ wedding but this was business. It showed how professional Lohan was.”

Loughnane would also reflect on how his full-back was “one of the most loyal people you could meet,” adding how he “couldn’t find words to praise enough”.

Anthony Daly was the team’s inspiring captain, its loquacious leader, but Lohan had equality in the high command for the attitude he brought.

“In all aspects of his life he is ambitious. He is driven to succeed but he is a totally calm calculating person,” wrote Loughnane.

How is that attitude transmitting now that he’s on the sideline more than two decades later, those calm calculations?

Clare are in a third All-Ireland semi-final in a decade and for much of this summer and last there’s a consensus that the team is becoming an expression of the manager himself.

Is it too convenient to attach a team’s trait to the personality of the man in charge?

Ollie Baker, Lohan’s old midfield colleague and manager of Offaly a decade ago, saw it in the team’s comeback against Wexford almost 13 days ago.

“The Munster Championship went well but the question for me was, what if things go wrong, how are they going to adapt? Has their character been tested. I know their hurling has been tested,” he said. “I think we saw that in the Wexford game, it was really a triumph of their character and resilience, perseverance, those emotive skills that came to the fore rather than dependence on a brilliant patch from play from Tony Kelly or Peter Duggan doing unbelievable things in the full-forward line, or John Conlon making one of those last-gasp tackles.

“It was a collective. They looked at each other and said, ‘We need to up our game.’ They put their shoulder to the wheel for the last 10 minutes.

“Go back to Brian Lohan’s playing days, that’s exactly what he did. When it came to the last 10 minutes they were the most important. That’s what set you apart from a training sense.”

What stood out for Baker about Lohan the player was “honesty of effort”, and now he sees that too in the team, lending itself to the feelgood factor in the county all summer.

He recalls training sessions when Lohan would “call out” those who won the last sprint of a night, suspicious that they hadn’t been energetic in the previous six or seven.

“Brian would always ‘bollock’ a lad for winning the last one because he was saving himself for the first five or six and then thundering home and looking impressive in the last one but he wasn’t putting in the work.

“That rubs off on players. He’d call it out. That’s the leadership, to call it out when honesty of effort wasn’t there,” said Baker.

Lohan didn’t have the most gilded underage career with Clare but hard work brought him far and it was only his graduation as a senior in 1993 that saw him accelerate quickly into the player he became.

When he felt his speed was deserting him in the early 2000s, he got in touch with a Limerick-based speed coach for guidance and a programme, common now on an individual basis but not so much then, and it had the desired effect.

For Baker, Lohan has always had Clare hurling’s interests at heart and that, he figures, has to come across to his players.

“He has established great structures around the team now so that they can perform, that they are free from worrying about other aspects and can totally concentrate on their job.

“There’s a good coaching staff there, backroom, a lot of good work put into the centre of excellence, the infrastructures are all there.

“There were teething problems, issues that have to be resolved but they are after coming around, albeit nothing is perfect but enough that there is a sense of togetherness about the whole thing. That carries through.

“There is a general excitement about Clare hurling, not just because we’ve been in a Munster final or an All-Ireland semi-final.

“It’s that it's back to the grounded values that Clare hurling was used to, for me anyway.

“It’s not based on winning, it’s based on how lads are going to give everything and leave it all on the field and see where it takes them.

“There just seems to be a contentment from supporters’ point of view, a real togetherness, a bond, which has been very difficult for teams to achieve because players don’t go out much any more, they don’t meet supporters as often.

“But even in the club championship in Clare it has been competitive and there has been a real recognition that the teams with the best spirit and the best character are the teams that are coming out, and that those lessons are being brought into the inter-county scene. I think Brian can take a lot of credit for it.”

Baker praises Lohan for releasing the substitutes back to their clubs for games on the day after the win over Wexford.

“Clubs appreciate that, that their players are going to be available to them. The message there is you are not an elitist, you are part of Clare GAA so that’s all good. It gets the supporters behind you and there isn’t a ‘them and us’ divide.”

Maybe nothing reflects Lohan’s tactical changes more than the current composition of the half-back line, John Conlon now flanked by Diarmuid Ryan and David McInerney.

For Lohan’s first game against Limerick in October 2020, Pat O’Connor, Séadna Morey and Stephen O’Halloran were in place.

But management recognised the need for size and physical power in that area, given the Limerick benchmark, and acted accordingly.

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