O’LOUGHLIN GAELS HAVE proved time and again this season they have resilience in abundance but their habit of starting slow is a trend they are desperate to buck in Portlaoise this afternoon (2pm).
This time last year the pain of a county final defeat to Clara was still raw, a two-point loss ending their hopes of landing a first Kilkenny title since 2010.
But the group rallied this year under manager Aidan Fogarty to win their fourth county crown, against the odds, seeing off Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final.
The Gaels have reeled in top-class opponents in their last two outings, in the county decider and then against Wexford champions Oulart-The Ballagh in the provincial semi-final, but club chairman Brian Murphy has warned they can’t afford to do the same in the Leinster club showpiece today.
Another sluggish start could prove costly against a Cuala attack containing the likes of Mark Schutte, David Treacy and the electric Con O’Callaghan, the Cork dual All-Ireland winner warns.
“It’s going to be a big challenge ahead for O’Loughlins,” Murphy, a four-time All-Ireland club football championship winner with Nemo Rangers, explains.
“They’ll have to start better than they did against Oulart because I think Cuala have the forwards to punish them.”
Finishing games strongly has been a trademark of this O’Loughlin Gaels side, a trait they have in common with this year’s All-Ireland champions Na Piarsaigh, and a lot of the credit for that is being aimed towards strength and conditioning coach Michael Comerford.
But the players have also exhibited excellent character to pull themselves out of the doldrums they were in this time last year.
“It was an awful downer altogether for the players,” recalls Murphy.
“At the start of the year they decided to make another go of it. To win the county final this year was huge.”
Cuala, for their part, know all too well how costly stumbling out of the blocks can be on such a grand stage.
The Dalkey club made a nightmare start to the provincial final last year, falling 1-7 to 0-2 behind to Oulart by half-time and 12 points behind with 16 minutes to play.
Mattie Kenny’s side rallied late on but it was too little too late as they lost out on a 2-13 to 0-13 scoreline and waved goodbye to their shot at Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Murphy, who joined O’Loughlin Gaels in 1971 while working in the area as a garda, is conscious that their Dublin opponents will have no shortage of motivation this afternoon.
“Cuala will try to make amends for last year, they’ve a very strong team and they’ll be hard to beat.
“I think it’s a very 50-50 game heading into it even though Cuala are slight favourites.”
The Gaels have twice captured Leinster glory yet they have yet to land an All-Ireland crown, having come closest in 2011 when they lost out to Clarinbridge on St Patrick’s Day.
Murphy has seen the Kilkenny city club transform into one of the county’s heavyweights at senior level since the turn of the millennium, their four titles since second only to Ballyhale’s six.
It’s impressive when you consider the club was only founded in 1969. And Murphy expects the good times to keep rolling.
“Numbers have grown, we’re very strong underage and the camogie is very strong.
“For all clubs really the most important thing is the underage setup, they’re the ones who are going to be the senior players in the future.
“We’re in a good position at the present time, and obviously looking forward to Sunday.”
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Win, lose or draw this afternoon, you get the impression O’Loughlin Gaels are a hurling force that are here to stay.
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