Flashback: 2012 AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final - Loughgiel Shamrocks v Coolderry
By John Harrington
Loughgiel Shamrocks of Antrim joined a pantheon of great hurling clubs in 2012 when they won a second AIB All-Ireland Club SHC title by beating Coolderry of Offaly.
It was a brilliant team performance by the Glensmen, but will be especially remembered for the superlative individual display of Liam Watson who lit up Croke Park.
PJ O'Mullan was Loughgiel's famously fastidious manager who left no stone unturned to bring a second All-Ireland title back to his club.
This week he took a trip down memory lane with GAA.ie to give some great insight into his team's historic success.
GAA.ie: PJ, I presume the 2012 AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final is something you still think about regularly in a quiet moment? It must have been a special experience?
PJ O'Mullan: Without a doubt. It was great for everybody involved with the club. It was very special for myself because when our club first won one back in 1983 my father was playing. There was a nice family connection there because he was club secretary when we won it in 2012 then. It was a great day for our whole family.
GAA:ie: You had lost an All-Ireland semi-final the previous year against O'Loughlin Gaels so presumably had learned a lot from the experience?
PJ O'Mullan:That was it, that was a great experience. We learned a lot from the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final. At that time it had been a long time since we had won a county title and I think we were just happy with what we'd had that year. Having watched the match back then we kind of felt that with a bit more work and effort that if we could get out of Antrim and Ulster again we'd give it a good shot. I think we learned our lessons and gave it everything we have and bore the fruits of that in 2012.
GAA.ie: You were up against Munster and Limerick champions, Na Piarsaigh, in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. That Na Piarsaigh team were hugely successful subsequently and were a very talented team so it required a brilliant performance to beat them after extra-time?
PJ O'Mullan: Yeah, we had our homework done. Na Piarsaigh had a couple of games in the Munster Championship that year that went to a replay. They were playing the Clare champions and we had a good look at them and maybe they didn't get a look at us because our championship would have been over earlier than theirs. We had a lot of time to prepare properly.
We had our work done and we probably felt that Na Piarsaigh would, maybe not underestimate us, but think we weren't as good as we possibly were. From that point of view we always felt that if we could get on top of them it would be tough for them to get out of a hole.
Having said that, if normal time had gone on for another few minutes they might have beaten us because they finished strongly in all of their games and they finished strongly that day but I just think it caught up with them then when the game went to extra-time.
GAA.ie: Were you quietly confident coming into the All-Ireland Final against Coolderry?
PJ O'Mullan: Genuinely we were quietly very confident. We had watched Coolderry in the build-up to the match and in any of the interviews they were doing it was more about them and not us. Within the group we knew we had our homework done. We were injury-free, we were super-fit and we had played great challenge games.
I have to give Anthony Daly and Dave Billings, God rest him, a lot of credit. I managed the Loughgiel seniors for five years and every year we'd spend a weekend away in Dublin playing the Dublin senior hurling team and UCD hurling team. That was always in January and February. The year that Dublin won a Leinster title we actually beat them in a challenge game, believe it or not!
We came into the Final and were just mad-keen to get going. No injuries, we had work done, and we were just confident. We felt we could get goals. We hadn't gotten goals up to that but we felt we had the ability to get them and targeted the Coolderry full-back line. Thankfully, on the day, it worked. There's other days it wouldn't work but on that day it did work.
GAA.ie: You put a lot of work into your management of the team. Did you enjoy it? I get the feeling you really immersed yourself in it?
PJ O'Mullan: I didn't fulfil my own potential as a hurler which is something I always regretted. I just got caught up in life too much at times. When the opportunity came around for me to go for the management job, a lot of eyebrows were raised within the club because I was very young at the time. I was only 35 going on 36 and was still playing reserve hurling.
I felt the one thing we required was a good coach. In 1989 when Antrim were at the peak of their powers, Jim Nelson was manager and my father was a selector. I had a chat with my father and I asked him to arrange a meeting with Jim Nelson because I felt Jim was the best coach in Ulster.
I set up a good backroom team because psychologically we were a bit damaged from being beaten in six county finals in a row. I just got good people around me, and morning, noon, and night for the whole time I was in charge of the team, I immersed myself in it. I took no holidays for five years bar when I got married in the middle of it, that was the only holiday I took.
We videoed every match. League matches, everything. The players wanted for nothing. When I say we videoed every match, I have two or three hundred DVDS from the time I was in charge. Every Championship, League, and challenge match. We had a fella from within the club doing our stats and to this day we still video all our matches. It's a great asset to have within the club.
It was just complete immersion, no daylight!
GAA.ie: I'm sure winning an All-Ireland title made all that hard work worthwhile?
PJ O'Mullan: After the match we went into the press room in Croke Park and I was just thinking to myself that every club player, manager, and supporter regardless of what level you are at deserves to feel the way we felt that day at least once in their life-time. There are just no words to describe it.
Even now I have my own wee boys and during the lockdown we were watching a lot of the videos from that time. Just to be able to show them, you'd still get a tear in your eye and the hairs would still stand up on your arms. I can't it into words, it's indescribable.
GAA.ie: The match itself was the Liam Watson show. He scored 3-7 in what was one of the great All-Ireland Final performances...
PJ O'Mullan: He was fantastic. People don't realise, back in August of 2011 he played in Croke Park for Antrim against Cork and put on an incredible display that day as well, scoring six or seven points from play. He got on the All-Star trip that year as a replacement All-Star so his form was good.
We probably hadn't used him enough throughout our championship campaign. He was left out for the Ulster Final. He had had an injury and we weren't happy with his form so we left him out. It worked. He came back from the All-Star trip a new man as well. I think the players there more or less said to him, 'You can really do this if you feel you want to'.
He was playing soccer at the time and quit playing soccer and got himself into the shape of his life. On the day he was unbelievable. He's just a really, really talented hurler and we were lucky to have him. Croke Park, as he kept telling us, was his playground and he was going to go and play. That's what he done.
GAA.ie : The goal he got from a free before half-time was crucial. Did he look over to you for a signal to go for it rather than take a point?
PJ O'Mullan: We had talked about it in the run-up to the match. When he went down I sent on one of the water-carriers to see how far out the free was. I had a bracelet on my right arm and if I held up my right arm with no bracelet he was to go for a point but if I held it up with the bracelet on it, he was to go for a goal. He just glanced over as he was getting up for his drink. We had no qualms about him going for a goal at any stage in the match from that area because he's entirely capable of doing it.
GAA.ie: When the final whistle went, what were your emotions? Did you seek out your father straight away?
PJ O'Mullan: I knew it was over because the linesman said it was over so I was making my way down to shake hands with Ken Hogan and then after that I met my father and my brother came down and my fiance came down. I didn't see my mother. We were actually in the hotel afterwards having a meal and I was looking for her but I since learned that she was outside praying on her knees while the match was on, that's the kind of person she is.
The emotion was more relief than anything. Because we genuinely had a serious inner belief that we could do it but we kept it to ourselves. I have to give the people of Loughiel a lot of credit because straight after the All-Ireland semi-final we put word out straight away that we were having an open night on the Wednesday for the local media and locals and after that we had the time to prepare for the match.
My backroom team was excellent too. Jim Nelson had been there and experienced preparing a team for an All-Ireland Final and that was a great asset. It was just brilliant. Even now talking to you I can't stop smiling. That's two generations of our club now that have won an All-Ireland club title. It's a big thing for an Ulster team and an Antrim team to have done that.
GAA.ie: There must have been a serious party when you got back up the road?
PJ O'Mullan: Don't talk to me! I didn't have to buy a drink for about two years! Our first League game was three weeks later against our old rivals, Dunloy, I'll never forget it. And if things weren't going right there would be no shortage of people telling you to get back at it.
The following year we had a great tussle in the All-Ireland semi-final against St. Thomas' and the year after that Mount Leinster Rangers beat us which was a big disappointment for us. We probably should have beaten St. Thomas' the first day and in the first 15 minutes of the replay they got in front and we missed three goals chances. But for a few years there we were as good as any club team in Ireland. We have another crop coming now and in another few years time I hope we'll be up competing at that level again.