Gary Laffan relishing Glenealy role
By Cian O’Connell
Garry Laffan chuckles when asked about how the Glenealy project commenced for him. There was no history or previous link, but it didn’t take long to make an impact.
It started in February 2017 and now Glenealy are gunning for a third Wicklow Senior Hurling title in a row against Bray Emmetts at Aughrim on Sunday.
That the former Wexford full forward will face a fellow Glynn-Barntown clubman, Paul Carley, merely adds another layer of intrigue to the occasion.
“We grew up within a couple of miles of each other, we played senior hurling and football with Glynn-Barntown,” Laffan says.
“He is a couple of years younger than me, but it is a funny thing that the two of us are contesting a county final. At adult level we played together for at least a decade.”
Since his playing days in the purple and gold ended, Laffan has enjoyed being involved with different teams. Glenealy, though, interested him. How they persevered and believed that Laffan could make an impression.
“I hadn't a connection, but I know Seamus Murphy quite well, he was there previously, I know different guys from Wexford who had been involved,” Laffan explains.
“Glenealy had a few Wexford managers over the years, who had a bit of success with them. I think maybe superstition brought them down over the Wexford border.
“I got a phone call, I met the lads in Gorey one evening. We had a second meeting then. They offered me a two year deal, but I said if we couldn't make progress in year one that I felt there was a Championship there to be won if everyone commits to it.
“I said if everyone doesn't commit to it in year one then I would find it very hard to get everyone to commit to it in year two.
“So there was no point in wasting their time and our time. Realistically that is what happened, everyone committed to it in year one and we managed to win it. That was the year we got beaten in the Leinster Final also.”
The AIB Leinster Intermediate decider defeat to Ballyragget hurt deeply. Still valuable lessons were learned with the main one being remaining focused on what is happening in Wicklow.
“The first year we played Ballyragget in Nowlan Park, we were three or four points up with five or six minutes to go,” Laffan recalls.
“Unfortunately they reeled us in, to beat us by a point on the day. We were very disappointed with that, it took us a good while to get over it. We had put a massive effort into that campaign.
“No Wicklow team had ever reached a Leinster final in hurling before that so it was a really big thing for the club and the county.
“Unfortunately we went out in the first round last year to a strong Portlaoise team. We aren't even thinking about it this year, which has been the same as the last number of years.
“We try to concentrate on our own Championship first, if we are lucky enough to get out of it, we sit down to see what way we would approach the Leinster Championship.”
Laffan has stitched together a team with promising emerging players alongside established and experienced performers including the totemic Bosco O’Neill.
“We have been quite lucky, we managed to get a few of the older lads back and we got through some young fellas,” Laffan acknowledges.
“We have five lads under the age of 20, three of them have played in the last couple of county finals. So they came in at 18, we have another lad, 21, so there is a good mixture of youth and experience. Hopefully we will have enough in the tank.”
With the O’Neill father and son combination still going strong Laffan accepts it is a peculiar, but hugely rewarding situation to be spearheading.
“Bosco Senior had half retired the year before I came up,” Laffan states. “I was on to him fairly often to be honest because I knew he had a lot of experience.
“I remembered him hurling when I was with Wexford. His young lad, the same thing, he was still in school, he was hurling away with us.
“I just saw something in him and by the end of the year he had his position. Bosco was back in the middle of the field.
“It was great for him and it is a funny thing because they are going for a three in a row themselves as father and son. I don't know if you have too many other people in clubs that are after doing that.”
Seven dual players are in the team with football commitments for Rathnew and St Patrick’s carrying importance, but that isn’t a major issue for Laffan.
“It is probably as much as any club in Wicklow really,” Laffan remarks about the seven footballers. “The players enjoy playing a bit of football, I'm from a dual club myself, Glynn-Barntown.
“That was probably one of the things that benefitted me, I came from a strong dual club which played senior hurling and football. So I was able to deal with that circumstance pretty well.”
During the past year Laffan has been busy off the field after replacing the widely respected Tony Dempsey as a Fianna Fail County Councillor in Wexford.
“I worked with Tony at underage level, I worked with him on a personal level away from GAA on a number of things,” Laffan comments.
“Tony was the local councillor in my area, he was stepping down, and about a year ago he mentioned to me would I be interested in going. I suppose I gave it a shot, we are where we are now. It is a new challenge, a learning curve. Everyday is a new day.”
Such an approach has also served Glenealy on the playing fields in Wicklow. Laffan, though, remains adamant about the potential which exists in Wicklow.
“There definitely has been strides made, but it is probably within a small cohort of clubs if I'm being honest,” Laffan replies.
“You probably have four clubs in Wicklow that can compete. Being realistic we beat St Anne's (2017 Leinster Intermediate Championship), who are now competing in a county quarter-final in Wexford this year.
“I'm not saying we would be at the level of club hurling in Wexford or anything like that, but we'd probably be as good as the best Intermediate teams and maybe compete with the lowest four senior teams in Wexford.
“As Wicklow only has a certain amount of hurling clubs at any stage we could have between six to 10 guys in the Wicklow panel.
“Realistically we wouldn't see them until the inter-county is over and really we don't expect to see them. The Nicky Rackard is usually finished by the end of May or start of June one way or another. The Wicklow Championship doesn't kick off until after that.”
Ultimately Laffan has used that time wisely with Glenealy, who are aware that another demanding task awaits in Aughrim.
On the Wexford front Laffan is thrilled with the news that Davy Fitzgerald is set to remain in charge of the Model County for another two years. “It is brilliant,” Laffan instantly responds. “There was a lot of disappointment around when there was word he wasn't going to stay.
“Again if you read the articles he said himself that he had his mind made up that he wasn't going to stay. I can absolutely understand it, he is doing 12 hour days the days he is training. That isn't taking into consideration the amount of phone calls, organisation, and talk with players outside of training.
“It is a full time job at a level like that. It would have been very hard for us to replace him with somebody with the same experience. I think everyone in Wexford is delighted to have him back, to see if we can kick on again.
“Leinster is going to be tricky next year. Galway will be coming back with all guns blazing after not qualifying this year, Dublin are improving, Kilkenny are going to be there, Laois are after coming in, and I'm sure they will be trying to upset someone along the way.
“Our biggest problem now is getting out of Leinster for the All Ireland series, that is where it all starts again for us now.”
Before then Laffan will want Glenealy to continue on their own daring adventure.