Stack enjoying Tullamore journey
By Cian O’Connell
Remaining relevant can be difficult as a town team, but Tullamore manager Niall Stack is still embracing the challenge.
For the fourth year on the spin Tullamore will contest an Offaly SFC Final against Ferbane at Glenisk O’Connor Park on Sunday.
Another demanding assignment awaits for Tullamore with Stack encouraged that Tullamore are in the competing strongly. Stack was a player when Tullamore terminated a 23 year search for county glory in 2000, so he is fully aware that things can alter quickly and dramatically.
“Definitely,” he replies. “Overall as a club our record is really good. However, in 2000 it was the first time we won it in 23 years. I was part of the 2002 and 2007 panels, then I was a selector in '13, we won it again in '21. We have won it very rarely in the last number of years even though our record of titles is very high.
“Since the 70s we have only won seven championships, over a 50 year period it isn't very good. I think a lot of the consistency came from the fact that over the last number of years we have targeted the league here in Offaly.
“We have won three leagues in a row, again as a club we have only five in total. That consistency we have got in the championship, it definitely came from the fact that we targeted the league here. It has helped to make us consistent as a team.”
Ultimately that is the mission Stack wanted to accomplish as Tullamore boss – to be a serious and durable outfit in championship fare. So the league mattered to them too. “It was from the point of view of developing a winning mentality within our senior adult team,” he explains.
“There had been an attitude within our club towards the league, historically, that the league wasn't all that important. It won't be important when it comes to this weekend, nobody will be talking about the amount of leagues we have won. I just think there is a tangible aspect about how we went about our way in the league in the last number of years.
“It has transferred to that winning mentality we have on the pitch at the moment, our consistency has been really good in the last number of years. While I'm disappointed we haven't won two out of three finals, we are getting there, we are getting into finals, we are giving ourselves opportunities.
“Our history for a while since 2013 was we didn't find ourselves in a final from '13 up until the last number of years. I think it is very tangible, if you develop a habit of winning in the league that it transfers over to the championship.”
Stack is relishing being involved with Tullamore. “This is my fourth year now, the season before I took over, unfortunately we were in a relegation match in Offaly, we were that close to going down to Senior B or the equivalent of Intermediate in other counties,” he recalls.
“The following year when I took over it coincided with Covid which meant being in a town and the age profile of the players, in a mad way it benefitted us. It meant that we had a lot of guys at home, rather than going to college, so you had remote work and remote studying.
“Once the social distancing stopped we were able to train together and I think we really benefitted from that time. We got to a county final that year, we were narrowly beaten.
“We won it the following year. Unfortunately we were beaten last year and we are back in another final again, four finals in a row. I think it is more than 80 years since we last did that as a club.”
The planning and plotting continues. Integrating new players into the senior set-up is crucial, but Stack highlights the value of those helping emerging footballers flourish. “I'm so fortunate here in the club, our underage at every level for the past three or four years are in almost every county final,” he says.
“The work being done at underage is phenomenal by coaches such as the last senior manager in the club John Rouse. He is doing phenomenal work in the underage system, our club chairman Paul Dillane has done huge work at underage.
“It is because of the nursery and the set-up they have put in place, we are benefitting. We are getting younger lads coming into the panel every year now.
“We have won the last three U20s and we are in a semi-final two days after the county final in that. It is very much a case that we are benefitting as the adult team from huge work being done at underage level.”
Rouse is an influential figure in the Tullamore GAA story. “I played with John in the 2000s and in the late 90s,” Stack says. “I was a selector when he was manager in 2013, so we'd be quite close. His passion for Tullamore is really, really strong.
“He is with our current U15s at the moment, again they are a good team, who are in a semi-final. He is one of a number of people, we have a development officer at the moment Brendan McDermott, he took over from Paul Dillane. It is the likes of those guys that means as a club we are benefitting.”
Undoubtedly it takes significant commitment managing a senior club team, but there is plenty of joy in the journey for Stack. “There definitely is,” he responds. “You are knocking around with younger people, who really keep you young yourself.
“The groups of younger players I'm working with and some of the older players now, they are all very good guys on and off the pitch. They'd inspire you and restore your faith in youth around the place.
“You watch them work very hard on the pitch, but they are also working hard off the pitch, whether it is their studies or work. They all seem to be successful on and off the pitch, they are a pleasure to work with.”