Offaly footballers motivated to do Liam Kearns proud
By John Harrington
Since Liam Kearns’ passed away suddenly on March 12, the Offaly footballers have been highly motivated to do his memory proud.
The Kerry native was in his first year as team manager, but had quickly become a hugely popular mentor for all the players.
According to team captain, Declan Hogan, his death affected the group ‘profoundly’.
“On the Sunday we had trained the morning it happened,” recalls Hogan.
“It was just your regular inter-county training sessions. Good buzz and I remember chatting to Liam afterwards in the canteen.
“It was just a regular conversation about how we were going to move things on, improve and just chatting regularly about the next session. I was in my girlfriend’s house later that day and Michael Duignan actually rang me.
“He gave me the news and I just couldn’t believe it. I was checking the phone. It was just complete shock, the only way to describe it. I just went numb completely.
“He just delivered the news. I suppose once I saw the phone call coming through., he's not the type of person who would be ringing me regularly, so I knew something was up.
“I just felt like it lasted so long even though it was only a short phone call. It was just really, really like a dagger to the heart.
“From a personal perspective Liam rang me closer to December, the end of preseason and he told me he was going to make me captain.
“In the circumstance now it’s a phone call I’ll never forget. He was so well respected by absolutely everyone on the team.
“The impact he had on everyone was just so immediate and so profound.
“To be named captain of your county it’s the biggest honour of my career to date and I’ll be forever grateful to Liam Kearns for that phone call.
“As a group our aim was just to do him justice over the course of the League and the Championship and we will definitely be trying to do him justice in the Tailteann Cup as well.”
Hogan believes that the process of grieving Kearn’s passing together as a group has strengthened the bonds between all the Offaly players.
“We immediately met on the Monday as a group and in hindsight now that was incredibly important because people grieve in different ways,” he says.
“And it doesn’t hit people until maybe different stages.
“I know personally myself it took until the Monday for it to really hit home for me and I know a couple of other guys were the same.
“I suppose the group as a whale reacted really well to the whole situation. I can’t be complimentary enough to the County Board who really put every structure in place for us to make sure we were dealing with the loss of Liam as well as we could.
“We met the Monday and look there was a couple of I suppose powerful words spoken.
“We wanted to really respect Liam and at that stage there was obviously the situation with the Tipperary league game, was it going to be played, was it not going to be played.
“We talked things out as a group and we ultimately just said, we will all stick together over the next couple of weeks and make sure your phones are on if anyone needs to ring anyone, and if anyone needs a chat really that everyone is available.
“I suppose those things are often said, but it did happen during the week that there was a good few phone calls between players. I think that was very important. People react in different ways to these things.
“As a group we hadn’t experienced anything like that before and hopefully never will again.
“So it was unique and a strange couple of weeks, but definitely the whole thing, although it was a devastating blow, helped to bring the group together and we have probably never been as tight as a group since.”
Hogan is proud of the fact that he and his team-mates have delivered on the goals that Kearns set out for them when he took charge of team by retaining their Division 3 League status and then having a positive Leinster campaign that saw them beat Longford and Meath.
“Liam came in and even in such a short space of time he had such a significant stamp put on the team,” says Hogan.
“It’s hard to put in words really unless you are within the group. He had such a profound impact on everyone.
“At the start of the year his goals were really clear, we wanted to really solidify our Division 3 status, which thankfully we did.
“And then, yeah look to be honest, the goal in Leinster was quite clear. We wanted to get a win, first of all, because our record in Leinster kind of speaks for itself in that we haven’t got a whole pile of good results over the last number of years.
“He was definitely looking forward to a crack at Meath and the win there and the emotion afterwards was really gold because I think everyone afterward really knew how much it would have meant to him to get a win in that match.”
Team selector Martin Murphy stepped up to replace Kearns as manager and has so far done a stellar job as the team prepares for their pivotal Tailteann Cup Round 3 clash against Cavan this weekend.
For the players, the fact that Murphy fully bought into Kearns’ vision made the handover easier than it otherwise might have been.
“We are very, very lucky,” says Hogan. “Obviously with Liam's untimely passing there were going to be question marks with who is going to take over the role. Martin stepped in seamlessly and we are very lucky that himself and Liam were always working in tandem.
“Martin has a wealth of experience there with Portarlington. He has had a successful tint with them at club level.
“He knows the players inside out. He’s had experience with Offaly at under-21 level in previous years.
“We were very lucky there we had Martin Murphy, just stepped into his shoes. We had a seamless transition there from one manager to the next.
“I suppose it’s not something we are taking for granted. I suppose it’s rare you’d have two managers that would be so aligned in their ideas. We were very lucky to have Martin there to step in.
“Good coaches there, John Rouse, Alan Flynn, they are all I suppose have joined up thinking and they are all on the same page, on the same wavelength, and that transfers down to the players.
“The communication is quite clear, our set up in terms of playing remained very, very similar.”