Wexford Mayo, Councillor Garry Laffan (left) with Deputy Mayor Councillor John Hegarty.
Wexford Mayo, Councillor Garry Laffan (left) with Deputy Mayor Councillor John Hegarty.

Mayor Laffan leading Tara Rocks' Leinster challenge

By John Harrington

One of the maxims that 1996 All-Ireland winning Wexford hurler, Gary Laffan, lives by is that if you want something done you should ask a busy man, which is presumably why his own phone rings at all times of the day.

His duties as Mayo of Wexford and a member of Wexford County Council means his diary is always full, and then there’s the not inconsiderable matter of managing the Tara Rocks hurling team that competes in the AIB Leinster Club Junior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final against Dublin’s Clanna Gael Fontenoy on Saturday.

“Becoming Mayor of Wexford this year was a great honour for myself and my family and my club Glynn-Barntown,” Laffan told GAA.ie. “I'm a local councillor here and very proud of that fact.

"It wasn't something at the start of the year that was on my cards, to be honest. Probably if I had of known it was on the cards I wouldn't be in this position with Tara Rocks because, I'll put it this way, it makes everything very busy.

“But, look, that's the way the cookie crumbled and I'm enjoying both roles at the minute. Thankfully I'm able to manage my time in a way that allows me to do both roles and hopefully that will continue.

“My political life and GAA life are two completely separate things. If anything I use my time on the GAA fields to forget about the issues of politics. I've probably always been like that. I remember as young fella going down to the field for an hour or two hours training or whatever and for that two hours everything else disappears and all you're concentrating on is your training and your team-mates.

“As a manager it's very much like that still for the couple of hours, albeit there's a lot more logistics and phone-calls and things behind the scenes that you probably wouldn't have to worry about as a player.”

His political and GAA life might be two separate things, but he enjoys them both for similar reasons because, for as long as he can remember, he’s gotten a buzz from being involved in his local community.

“Yeah, sure, look, I was born and reared in the local public house,” he says. “My father was a publican here in Killurin here for the bones of 20-odd years and that's where I was born and reared.

“So I would have always been meeting people there and we had the shop and we had the coal-run and the butter-shop and we were the usual little village centre as you'd call it. So I would have always been involved with the community and it's an absolute joy giving back.

“It's probably in my nature to help people. If someone rang you to ask you to do something then you'd try to find a way to do it. That's something that just comes naturally to me and it's not something I ever have to think about.

“You get a phone-call and you do your best. If there's a problem you try to find a solution, that's just it.”

Gary Laffan was an All-Ireland winner with the Wexford hurlers in 1996. 
Gary Laffan was an All-Ireland winner with the Wexford hurlers in 1996. 

Laffan hurled for the Glynn-Barntown senior hurlers for 20 years, and when he finally hung up his hurley at the age of 37 he went straight into management with the club’s minors and U-21 hurlers.

There hasn’t been a year since that he hasn’t taken charge of a club team of some sort and there’s been plenty of success along the way, most notably when he managed Glenealy to two Wicklow SHC titles in a row and came agonisingly close to winning a Leinster Intermediate Championship.

He’s now made an instant impact with Tara Rocks, winning the Wexford Intermediate ‘A’ title in his very first year in charge.

“It's a big part of me and it's probably something I love doing and it's something I enjoy,” says Laffan of team management.

“Look, if you end up working with a good group of players it's very satisfying. I talk about respect a lot and that goes both ways. It goes from the management team to the players and the players back to the management team. Then you throw in the executive and supporters on top of that and I think you need all those things going in the one direction to have success.

“If they are not going in the one direction it makes it very hard to get the best out of everyone.

“I suppose there's a time-frame where you have to get to know lads and that was the case with Tara Rocks. I always knew their abilities, I knew of what they were capable of. From an early stage I sensed they were lacking a little bit of confidence.

“It's like anything, if you haven't done something before then it's hard to be over-confident. You have to achieve something before you maybe have that little bit of air of confidence. I could really feel that they probably weren't as confident in their own abilities as I was in their ability.

“So, I had to bring that out of them and I always believe the best way to do that is to play as many matches as you can. I would be a big advocate of challenge games. I would say Tara Rocks have played the bones of 20 hurling games this year which I'd say is more than they've played in any other recent year.”

The Tara Rocks hurlers celebrate after winning the Wexford Intermediate 'A' hurling title. 
The Tara Rocks hurlers celebrate after winning the Wexford Intermediate 'A' hurling title. 

For most of their history Tara Rocks were the smallest club in Wexford, with a catchement area of just one square mile outside of Gorey.

They punched above their weight for a long time but eventually the numbers game went against them and they amalgamated at senior level with Kilanerin/Ballyfad in 2017 having previously joined forces with them at underage level.

This year’s county title and the competitiveness of the amalgamated club at juvenile level is a great example of how amalgamations can breathe new life into Gaelic Games in areas suffering from population decline.

“It's a good news story, a positive story, and hopefully it stays that way because it would have been a shame to see a club like Tara Rocks with their rich history fade away and at one stage it looked very much like they would have went under,” says Laffan.

Tara Rocks already have one win under their belts in Leinster, an easy victory over Wicklow’s Arklow Rock Parnells last weekend, and Laffan is hopeful that the confidence sourced from winning their county championship means they can have a real cut off winning a provincial title.

“You could see the monkey was taken off the back to a certain extent after winning a county final,” he says. “Look, it's very player-driven. We've a lot of really, really good players.

“But at the same time you're still going to play in places where you haven't been before. There's always an air of trepidation of what's going to actually happen here.

“You don't really know your own standard until you play these teams. It's very hard for me to put a standard on Tara Rocks against the standard of Clanna Gael Fontenoy because you just don't know what standard both teams are playing at.

“The way I look at it is that they're a Dublin club so I presume they're going to be fit and physically big team. Most of the Dublin teams in both hurling and football seem to be very physically fit and strong.

“It's winter hurling and I'll be giving them my utmost respect. I don't know a massive amount about them but I definitely will be trying to make sure our lads are in the 100 per cent right frame of mind to give a performance.

“As I've said to them all year, if we can perform to the best of our ability and we get beaten, then so be it, we'll have no regrets then. That's the way I'll be focusing on this game as well.”