Billy O'Loughlin still enjoying the game
Friday July 19
EirGrid Leinster Under 20 Football Final
Dublin v Laois, Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park, 7.30pm
By Cian O'Connell
“I could be the youngest manager left in it, I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing,” Billy O’Loughlin, the well regarded Laois Under 20 manager, laughs on the eve of Friday’s EirGrid Leinster Under 20 Final against Dublin.
Despite his young age O’Loughlin has spent more than a decade minding teams at various levels of the game, remaining synonymous with DIT, where several exciting Freshers outfits were stitched together.
A son of former Laois selector Declan O’Loughlin, who was heavily involved during the Mick O'Dwyer era, guidance is still being received from the decorated Waterville genius.
“That is probably where I got my interest in coaching and managing,” O’Loughlin admits. “I was in and around the dressing room when dad was a selector with Micko when Laois won Leinster in '03.
“I was actually down in Waterville on Friday playing golf, so I was with Micko for two hours in the golf club. There was a couple of Dublin lads with me, Philly Ryan would have played for Dublin, they were mad keen to get photos.
“We even went down to the statue with him. I've been going down to Kerry for years, I know Micko since I was a child. He is probably the best man that has ever managed or coached. He would always give little pointers and tips about things you should be doing training. It is just a great experience to be getting that down through the years since he was in charge of Laois.
“It was incredible what he did with Laois, to come in to win a Leinster Championship, we hadn't won one in 57 years. The way the Leinster Championship is at the moment there isn't too many counties doing that anymore.”
Since O’Dwyer patrolled the sideline with a match programme rolled up in his hands a lot has changed, but most of the fundamentals still remain the same.
“Definitely, he was only talking about the training teams are doing nowadays,” O’Loughlin replies. “There is a lot more of the technical side, technical aspects with different types of drills and the exercises and training with different aerobics and mobility type training.
“When it comes back down to it as he was saying the other day, he used to do the running, the laps, laps, laps, but a lot of what lads are doing now is stamina based too.
“It is pretty much the same type of stuff. He really would give you a different insight into your outlook on how you see teams and approach games and approach the opposition. That side of it is great.”
Football always occupied a central role in O’Loughlin’s interesting sporting journey with valuable lessons learned in the DIT colours.
A memorable Sigerson Cup match in 2011 saw star studded DIT and UL outfits collide in Clontarf. In the blue DIT corner Colin Walshe, Gareth Bradshaw, Peter Domican, Kevin McLoughlin, Gearoid McKiernan, Alan Nestor, Graham Guilfoyle, Aidan O’Shea, Bernard Allen, Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Reddin, Tom Cunniffe and Kieran Martin.
UL’s panel included Fionn Fitzgerald, Jonathan Lyne, Seamus Hickey, Anthony Maher, Philip Austin, Brian Fox, Michael Geaney, and David Moran.
That particular loss hurt O’Loughlin deeply, but it also served as a reminder that anything can happen in Championship fare. “In 2011 I was a selector with DIT just after I had finished playing Sigerson myself,” O’Loughlin recalls.
“We had such a strong team, we went out as favourites to win the entire Sigerson competition, we got beaten by UL. I really got into it in about 2007 or 2008, I was still in college and accidentally got in managing one of the Freshers teams in DIT. I think Alan Brogan might have been doing it, but he broke a bone so he couldn't continue to do it.
“I just did it and I saw there was a good bit of talent there so I ended up staying with them. We won a couple of Freshers that we had never won before in those few years. I went in with the Senior team then, I did a couple of the Foundation Level courses, then Level One and Level Two.
“I just had a keen interest in it along with while I was playing. I just loved being out on the field having the craic. At the end of the day it is about enjoyment and I get enjoyment out of coaching. I'm sure the players involved at the moment are getting enjoyment out of playing, even if you are not getting the results.”
O’Loughlin’s home club was Arles-Killeen, but he enjoyed a trophy laden stint as a player with St Loman’s also, coming close to securing an AIB Leinster Club medal before Moorefield staged a remarkable recovery mission in 2017.
“I was doing a bit of work in Athlone so I moved from my own club in Arles-Killeen,” O’Loughlin explains. “We had been in three or four county finals.”
It proved to be hugely beneficial because O’Loughlin spent his time wisely accumulating knowledge from Luke Dempsey, who continues to forge a successful coaching career. “Luke was over Loman's, he was great and said while I was travelling up and down I might as well come in while I was passing Loman's,” O’Loughlin adds.
“I ended up playing there, it was probably the end of my career, I was getting a bit older and slower. I won two Leagues and Championships with them, I played in nearly every game over two or three years and on the unfortunate day in the Leinster Final.
“Overall it was an excellent experience to get to play with lads like (John) Heslin, (Paul) Sharry, and Shane Dempsey, these lads.
“Getting the experience under Luke was unreal, he is an incredible manager. He gets the best out of all of his teams, he was over Moorefield and Loman's over the course of five or six years. He won every League and Championship they entered in. He also had success with counties like Carlow and Longford, his underage success was great.
“I just thought there was no better man to be learning the ropes from than him. Thankfully I was able to take out my little blue book to take down a few notes to pass on whatever bit I can to the Laois Under 20s at the moment. It has been going well so far.”
That is most certainly the case because Laois have enjoyed a good eastern adventure thus far ahead of the Leinster decider against Dublin. Westmeath, Meath, and Kildare have all been outfoxed by Laois which encourages O’Loughlin. “Very much so, Meath and Kildare are very strong and they have been at minor and Under 17 level for the past number of years,” O’Loughlin remarks.
“So we definitely set out our stall that we had to go a difficult route, we have got to the final with a couple of bumps and bruises along the way. We played the first few games without our senior players, Sean O'Flynn and Mark Barry.
“We came through, believe it or not Westmeath was the toughest game we played. They took us to extra-time and we got through that eventually.
“We played Meath last week with the two boys back which strengthened up the panel a bit. We've gone on a good run, we have landed in the final. I won't say we are in bonus territory, but we will be in bonus territory if we win on Friday.”
Three All Ireland minor titles were secured by Laois in 1996, 1997, and 2003, while the Leinster Under 21 triumphs in 1994, 1998, 2006, and 2007 illustrate what can be achieved.
O’Loughlin is optimistic about what is happening in Laois. “There has been good work going on,” O’Loughlin comments. “We probably didn't perform that well last year, the panel probably wasn't as strong. For the last 10 years or so since Laois as a county has probably dropped the ball in a way.
“We are only getting back to where we were 10, 12 or 15 years ago when we had great underage teams. We won the minor in 2003. We are a small enough county, but we used to punch above our weight a good bit.
“We are only really getting back to it. The minors were in a Leinster semi-final this year, unlucky to be beaten by Kildare, who beat Dublin in the final.
“Now we are in the final against Dublin on Friday so it is coming back around I suppose for the underage. Improvements are being made. You have great structures in place in Laois at the moment.
“There is an unbelievable Centre of Excellence around O'Moore Park, I wouldn't say another county has a centre like it. It has gym facilities and we have really good people in charge of the Under 14s, 15s, and 16s in Laois at the moment.”
A pathway is being developed once again, O’Loughlin, who fondly remembers when the blue and white team were feared and respected, has impressively steered Laois to a decent place once again. That journey continues.