Tommy Kelly enjoying Loughrea journey

“It is all about the kids and the future of Loughrea,” manager Tommy Kelly says ahead of Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Brooks Galway SHC Final against a decorated St Thomas’ outfit at Pearse Stadium.

The past, present, and future of Loughrea have forged a meaningful connection. “That is the way we are looking at it, that the next generation will have a hurl in their hand again, to try to drive it on again,” he adds.

“We had a great U14 team this year, I think our senior team were looking up to them, they have shown us the way.”

Momentum has been generated by Loughrea with Kelly’s backroom sprinkled with players, who were involved when Loughrea last won a county title 16 years ago. “A good few of us have a medal out of ’06 in the backroom staff, and we are very proud of that – there was no guy brought into that management team just because they had a medal in their pocket, they were brought in because they were very, very good coaches, and they are top, top class,” Kelly remarks.

Several of them have operated training teams at inter-county level. “From Shane (Cusack), Greg (Kennedy), Gavin (Keary), and Nigel (Murray) – the hurling coaches – Alan Curley and Mike Quinn in the backroom staff and the medics have been top class too,” he says. “It is a unit with Kelvin our s and c coach too, it is a unit that has come together. I’m delighted because without those guys you have nothing.”

The experienced acquired by Kelly and the coaches matters. The well regarded Kelly has been involved with Clare and Dublin in recent years.

“It makes a big occasion nice and relaxed,” he responds. “I was lucky enough to be involved with Dublin for three years and with Clare for two years before that and with Cuala too winning the couple of All-Irelands with those lads. So it makes a big occasion comfortable for us.

“Gavin has great experience at inter-county level, Shane Cusack – a county minor winning coach, Nigel Murray, a county minor winning goalkeeping coach, Greg was with Dublin, Gavin was head coach with Clare and Dublin too.”

Nuggets of information and advice were gleaned. “100 per cent you pick up things under massive men like Mattie Kenny, a brilliant, brilliant manager,” Kelly replies.

“Donal Maloney and Gerry O’Connor in Clare – fantastic men. You learn so much from those guys.”

Johnny Coen remains a key performer for Loughrea.

Fortunate that so many from the club have been in an inter-county environment, Kelly recalls spending his childhood attending matches throughout the country. For decades his father, Tommy Snr, gave distinguished service to Galway GAA in a plethora of roles.

“We were reared in a GAA house,” Kelly says. “There was never going to the beach on a Sunday, it was always going to matches. If you weren’t going to matches you were training. Straightaway after mass, ‘Daddy where are we going?’

“You were loading up in the car, you could be heading to Monaghan for a National Football League game or you could be heading to Ballinasloe for a National Hurling League game. That was our winters and summers every Sunday.”

Tommy Snr had a significant influence. “He was at nearly every level – an unbelievable man,” Kelly says. “He was let do that, to follow his dream because of my mother. So there is a connection there too.”

Kelly acknowledges the rich contribution made to Loughrea too by his brother Brian also. “Up all along it was Brian, who probably introduced us,” Kelly says.

“He was my oldest brother, he passed away in ‘06, it was him that introduced the hurl to us. We only came to Loughrea in ‘66, within two years he was winning an U12 county final.

“He played for Galway in ‘73, he actually scored a goal and a couple of points in the 1981 intermediate hurling final to bring Loughrea up to senior.
That connection definitely runs deep. When you think back it is lovely.” Matches have been won and lost, but the memories will always linger.
So when Loughrea and St Thomas’ gather this weekend in Salthill there will be no shortage of sub plots. Thomas’ craft is respected by Loughrea.

“Our history in finals percentage wise isn’t what we would like it to be,” Kelly says. “Thomas’ is unbelievable, they haven’t been beaten in one.

“They have six won in the last 10 years, that is three times as much as we have ever won. We only have two – 1941 and 2006.
We have to try to get those numbers a bit better – that is our aim.”

By Cian O’Connell