Credit: Denis Byrne
I arrived at Kevin Doogue's office in Graiguecullen GAA last Thursday afternoon not knowing what to expect from the interview. I don't know why but I had kind of expected a hard Roy Keane-like personality but that couldn't be further from the truth. What I had seen so far from the press box of O’Moore park was a man whose passion for the game seemed more exuberant and entertaining than any “die-hard club man” sitting in the stands. From the moment I stepped in though I saw a more personable kind side of Kevin. A firm handshake and a bottle of Lucozade sport greeted me as I entered. We had a lovely chat that put me at ease before commencing recording. Between the interview and the chat before and after, Kevin gave over an hour of his time and the whole conversation was very enjoyable and insightful.
We first discussed Graiguecullen's two championship games so far. Graiguecullen had two relatively tough opening fixtures against Clonaslee and Stradbally. To their credit, they dispatched both sides and looked very impressive in doing so.
“Yeah, we are in a good enough place. We were good at times, we were poor at times, and we took the foot off the pedal at one stage against Stradbally and let them back into the game. We finished that game fairly strong though. Clonaslee were a decent side, they set up defensively, and they showed against Stradbally the last day that they can mix it with the top teams. They move at pace and are tough to break down. We've had a nice 4 or 5 weeks since, We are going well in training, and we have had some rest as well.”
We then looked ahead to the next game against Courtwood. On paper, this game looks to be the best draw that Graiguecullen could have got but Kevin is not taken anything for granted.
“I'm looking forward to the Courtwood game. They gave us some bother in the league, We conceded three goals in thirty minutes that day. We only won by a point in the end. They knocked out Portlaoise last year. We were beaten by Emo last year and we would have been favorites for that game having beaten them the two or three times previous. This is a kind of redemption day for us now. We have been pushing to get back to this stage. We are nice and fresh going into the game this year. Very focused. There will be nothing taken for granted. I know myself watching Courtwood the last they that they will dog it out with us and they are a fit outfit. They will be well set up for the game.”
Back on the first of July, Graiguecullen contested the league final against St Joesph’s. They lost that game by 4 points but the consensus was that a few decisions went against them that day.
“We said after that game that from now on, we are to expect refereeing decisions to go against us. If they don't great, but when they do you just have to get on with it. Nothing is going to change the referee's mind. Even since then, we have not received a black or yellow card. Maybe it was that kick in the arse that we needed. It must be said though, we had an immaculate disciplinary record tough in the lead-up to that game. We have learned to not ask or expect anything. We just get on with it and do our own thing. You can't be physically strong without being mentally strong. If setbacks like referees going against you affect our overall game then we are going nowhere.”
Graiguecullen has good county representation but also a great mixture of youth and experience throughout the team. Kevin spoke about the harmony and balance within the squad and how well the lads gel together.
“Yeah, it's a nice mix at the moment. There is youth mixed with age and a few in the middle as well which is probably the core of the team. Take Trevor Collins for example. He's playing at a level right now that I haven’t seen anyone in Laois play at for a long long time. His reading of the game is exceptional and he's always in the right place at the right time. He is very vocal and has great communication with the younger lads. The youth that has come through this year is fantastic. That's great for them. Like Aaron Dorgan and Jack Byrne, they're back to school next week. Conor Harte, and Jaime Murphy, who you haven't seen yet because of an injury, are all top-class young players. You honestly couldn't want anymore. At training there you have thirty lads that are playing a high standard of football. At the end of the day though it's no good having this fantastic mix of lads with great talent if we still come up short. Anything else other than the Delaney cup is a failure. The lads know it. They know that they have to do it now when we do have such momentum and such a talented group. I have to say though to their credit, everyone has bought into the way we want to go about things.”
From what I had seen, I noticed that there was great hunger and drive about this Graiguecullen team. I asked Kevin about how he went about installing that into his players.
“We have a philosophy that we want the ball all the time. We coach in the direction of always doing the right thing and making the right decisions with the ball and everyone in the group seems to enjoy that and everyone has bought into it together, which is great. When I came in Padraic Clancy had already done a lot of groundwork with regards to defensive structures and that kind of thing. The one thing I had said when I first came in was that we were not going to step off teams. We will work hard and push man to man. If teams were better than us, we could take lessons from that and go again. You can see that in how we play, we very seldom step off a kick-out. Even in the county final that we played against Portarlington, they were better than us that day. Jason Moore was exceptional that day, particularly from kick outs. There is no point in saying anything else, Portarlington is the benchmark. You have to learn and develop if you want to challenge them.”
Kevin is also a publican in Graiguecullen and is very proud of the community. He spoke about how much the community has gotten behind the team and how the local support is a huge factor in the team's drive for a county championship.
“It's a top-class place with some fantastic people. The likes of Mick Boland washing the jerseys, the locals watching you train from the bank, there is no division in the community. Trevor Kelly is the financial man in the club here and gives us every support that he can but he also gives the under-11s the same as what we're getting, which is only right too. It's a really special place and the players know what it would mean to win a championship, but everyone outside in Graiguecullen is giving us everything to try and get us over the line. Like the lads that were on that 65 panel that won the championship are considered heroes around here but one of them said to me the other day that he hopes their taking off the throne. So look it if we do get over the line, I reckon the place will shut down for a week. The place needs it and the place wants it. Everybody is pushing for this championship win. It's just fantastic to be a part of this community.”
Kevin is the former manager of the Laois Ladies team that won the Intermediate All Ireland this year. Kein spoke about his delight for the team and how the success was well deserved.
“It was amazing. I was so happy for the girls involved, They have a few unbelievable servants on the pitch but also in the background. Donie led the charge, what a footballer he was. You can see his brain in the way the 6 forwards move on the pitch. The likes of Maggie Murphy, her influence on the team is very evident in their play. I remember when we were relegated, the devastation was unhuman. We probably did deserve to go down. It took us that length of time to come back up. I honestly couldn't have been happier for them this year though. The players were unbelievable this year. Laura Marie Maher stands out to me. I remember coaching one day and she was pinging balls over the bar with her left. I told her to switch on to the bad foot just to change it up, she told me that the left was her bad foot. She's an unbelievable talent. The younger players in the squad as well, the likes of Erone and Emma, seem to bring the same freshness as our young lads do here. Yeah, I was delighted for them all, Honestly, I nearly cried watching the game, that's the truth.”
Finally, Kevin spoke about the direction the Laois Men's team could go in over the coming years and was very strong on getting more players involved from his rivals in the club championship.
“I think the county team has to get Portarlington lads involved. Some top-class individual footballers with them are not playing with the county. Division four is not an easy place and you still need your best players on the pitch. Yeah so they need to get the Portarlington lads involved, our lads obviously, Josephs are going well maybe get one or two more of them involved. Billy and Chris are a year into it now so hopefully, they can get the right lads involved now to carry out their plans. Saying that it seems right now the only way is up. I think they will be promoted. But maybe if there was someone involved from Portarlington as a selector or whatever it might entice them, lads, to get involved. As well as that Laosi Championship football has to improve. There seems to be a lack of young players that are leaving a good enough mark on the championship to put themselves in the inter-county conversation. There is too much reliability on Timo and John O Loughlin before he retired. The baton has to be passed but the young lads need to be willing to grab that baton. Finally, as well I will say, the county needs to get behind the team a little bit more. It's very easy to say this lad or that lad is useless but there is no need for that kind of negativity towards the players. I went to see the game against Longford where they got bet. I don't think there were any more than a hundred people at the game. Laois people have to go and show their support a bit more.”
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