"Once a Loughmore man, always a Loughmore man." - Laffan spreading the gospel in Clough/Ballacolla 1 week ago

"Once a Loughmore man, always a Loughmore man." - Laffan spreading the gospel in Clough/Ballacolla

When he became Clough Ballacolla hurling manager, it meant that, for the first time in his life, Declan Laffan was involved with a club that wasn't Loughmore-Castleiney.

They say it's hard to be a prophet in your own land but in Loughmore, Laffan made a good go of it. He took over his native club's hurling and football teams in 2009 and if a mammoth ten year stay doesn't say enough, the roll of honour does. The club made Tipperary GAA history in 2013 when, as the first ever to do it, they won the senior hurling and football double. Further football successes followed in '14 and '16 but as long as Laffan was there, in both codes, Loughmore were there or thereabouts.

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It was in 2020 when Clough Ballacolla called and seeing as Loughmore-Castleiney was all he'd ever known, as a player and a manager, this was a step into new ground. As a player, he scored 0-4 in their county senior football final victory in 2004, the same year he captained the hurlers to the mid-Tipperary title.

But as is the Loughmore/Castleiney way, there are no airs or graces here.

After much humming and hawing, he said why not to the shrewd Clough/Ballacolla caller and as a match they were made in heaven. In Laffan's first two years in charge, they have won two Laois championships and they haven't lost a game.

"It's been great," says the bainisteoir.

"We drew our first game last year with Rathdowney/Errill and we've won every game since. Listen it's a lovely place to be. I've come up here and I've been met with just an extremely committed bunch of players and a brilliant group of players as well. Maybe they just needed that extra bit of guidance but it's all been good so far from my perspective because anything I've asked of them, they've given it back to me.

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"It's not that I've purposely tried to bring a bit of Loughmore-Castleiney up here with me but that's just probably happened naturally. I have my own way of doing things and the lads here in Clough/Ballacolla seem to have bought in."

As Laois champions taking on Wexford champions Rapparees, they'll be underdogs this Saturday night (the game is televised live on RTE at 5.30) but dangerous underdogs at that. O'Moore Park will without a shadow of a doubt be jammed with giddy Colla supporters who, over the last two years, have enjoyed watching their team hurling out of their skins.

"I wouldn't say it makes it easier not having the dual commitments like we had (in Loughmore-Castleiney), but it just gives you that bit more time to prepare for games. Before, you were 100% focused all the time on the game that weekend, there was always a game coming up, now you have more time to hone in on certain aspects of the game in training.

"We're really looking forward to Saturday night because it's completely new territory for most of our lads. As is always the case in these provincial championships, both teams have a bit of momentum behind them, it's a team we haven't played before so there's a lot of excitement in the dressing room ahead of it."

Meanwhile, back in Loughmore, the wheel has kept on turning. They'll be aiming to repeat those 2013 heroics when they take on Thurles Sarsfields in the county senior hurling final replay this Sunday, and, from the outside looking in, Laffan will be shouting them on every step of the way.

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"They needed a change as much as I needed one," he says of moving on from his position as Loughmore-Castleiney manager in 2019.

"A lot of people would say you'll have trouble managing your own but I never experienced that and that's down to the lads. Those lads are made of tremendous stuff."

"I'd be very good friends with them players still so I've been at a few of their games and it's great to see them going as well as they are. But I'm not surprised."

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So is it something in the water down there?

"One is the will and desire. Those lads leave everything they have on the field. Secondly, there is a tremendous amount of ability down there, which sometimes gets overlooked. We obviously know the McGraths and these guys, but of the lads that don't play for Tipperary, they have a tremendous amount of talent as well.

"As well as the talent though, they're a calm bunch and they always make sure to enjoy it. Some teams might worry about stuff like playing every weekend but these lads embrace it. When you're going well, it's great and the momentum can keep you going then. That's what it's doing for them now."

"Once a Loughmore man," he says, "always a Loughmore man."

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For now and on Saturday, he's a Clough/Ballacolla man, on Sunday and forever more, he's a Loughmore-Castleiney man.