Loughgiel manager PJ O'Mullan marching on
It was on October 27 that Loughgiel Shamrocks secured their fourth consecutive Four Seasons Cup, the trophy for the Ulster Club Hurling Championship. After that, manager PJ O'Mullan told his players to set down their hurls for an extended break.
This was to be their fourth year of winter training and, mindful of the mental fatigue that can cause, he needed to change tack. They took an extended break over November, attended gym sessions in December and were back out working on their stickwork on New Year's Day.
They are now gearing up and everything points towards February 8, when they meet Carlow and Leinster champions Mount Leinster Rangers.
The Barrowsiders defeated Ballyboden St Enda's in their province, before causing an upset by beating Oulart-the-Ballagh in the final. It came as no surprise to O'Mullan though, who points to the fact that they play their club hurling in the top flight of Kilkenny's domestic leagues.
Loughgiel had a challenge match last night against DCU at the Queen's facilities. They face UCD tomorrow and on Sunday play Anthony Daly's Dublin county team. Further challenge matches against Kilkenny and Offaly await them in the coming weeks.
But while everything is organised and ship-shape for the team, O'Mullan has suffered considerable anguish over a long-standing injury. He needs an ankle completely reconstructed, a condition that was further complicated by a spell with gout over the autumn and he continues to delay surgery until after the All-Ireland campaign.
"There were a lot of tears over December and January there, I was in that much pain," the 2012 All-Ireland club-winning manager reveals.
"Tears trickling down your cheeks to be honest, a lot of sleepless nights. The boys always try to cheer you up and send you messages, so I have good support from them, from the wife and my mother and father.
"I had been off work in October time when it flared up badly. I am off again this week, was at work on Tuesday and I had to go home.
"It's excruciating pain. I try to get training organised as best I can and for a lot of December I couldn't make it due to the fact that I am laid up. I need a total reconstruction of my right ankle and it entails 12 weeks lying on your back once it's done. Then there's another two months of rehabilitation, learning to walk again."
Last summer, Shamrocks coach Jim Nelson was diagnosed with an illness and had to step down. He has since been on the mend and is helping O'Mullan in the background and, to compensate for his absence, Gavan Duffy has been drafted in as coach, with considerable coaching experience with Queen's.
Misfortune struck a fortnight ago when selector Dominic Casey fell and broke a wrist. He ended up spending over a week in hospital. It left a threadbare coaching staff of Chris O'Connell, Joe McGurk and Niall Gillen, and a situation where the players were more concerned about the fitness of their management than the management about the players.
However, with the cerebral McGurk present, PJ knows the Shamrocks are in good hands.
"Joe is putting in a big effort at the minute. He understands the position we are in," he comments.
"He could work with the Dublin footballers, he's at that level. It's just fantastic work and we have Niall Gillen who is a selector. His dedication and commitment to it is second to none."
O'Mullan's own injuries have led to acute frustration and stress however as he explains.
"I would lie at home and you can make phonecalls, but at the same time there's the worry of losing your job and that's not easy either. I would rather be at work.
"It genuinely is tough and a lot of people don't see these things, they just see the team turning out to play on a Sunday and think everything's alright," he says.
"But it's tough, tough work. It's a second job. My own work is a 37-hour job in the civil service and the hurling is another 30-35 hours on top of that every week."
In the meantime, the Shamrocks keep on keeping on.