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Kilmacud Crokes manager Ollie Baker insists it is too soon for talk of winning the Leinster title. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Kilmacud Crokes manager Ollie Baker insists it is too soon for talk of winning the Leinster title. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Kilmacud Crokes manager Ollie Baker insists it is too soon for talk of winning the Leinster title. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

FOR some reason you can't quite articulate, the Ollie Baker/Kilmacud Crokes thing didn't strike as the most natural union when you first learned of it.

A county title later and the two appear much more compatible than many had expected.

As the Clareman says himself: "there hasn't been any great love-ins or fall-outs either. We're just getting on with the job."

The job has changed though.

First, they rescaled the Dublin foothill. Then, fulfilled their status as favourites at home to Rathdowney Errill and now, take on the great aristocracy of club hurling in Parnell Park this Sunday (2.0).

But after two oscillating years with Offaly, it's not a set of targets at which Baker saw himself taking aim any time soon.

"I hadn't thought about any form of management really," he explains, of the aftermath of a period in which Offaly neither raised nor dipped much above or below recent stock.

"I was going to concentrate on the kids at home, more than anything else."

And then Crokes got in touch, a club plump with the national kudos gleaned from their celebrated hosting of the annual senior Sevens tournaments in both codes.

ambitous

"An opportunity came along to get involved in a team that were ambitious and well-motivated and disciplined and had, as we say in the country, 'a good cut about them'," Baker recalls.

"It kind of raised my excitement levels to have an opportunity to work with a group of players that are like that. I see it myself with a lot of players, the attributes that they had.

"It just fits well and we've worked well together. They're a more famed football club in Dublin but they're a phenomenal club," he adds.

"They're not afraid to put something back into the players or the teams that they have. That's a good fit.

"And look, I've had nothing but a good experience in Kilmacud so far and hopefully Sunday is going to be another big day in our year, one in which we can take the next step."

In referencing Sunday, Baker naturally adds an addendum contextualising the scale of what's facing him and Crokes but really, there's no need to talk up the opposition.

Regardless of how recently they won their Kilkenny county title, Ballyhale aren't going to arrive to Donnycarney at anything less than the upper end of the scale.

For Crokes, conversely, nothing post-county final was ever a given.

"You don't know how lads are going to react after winning a county final," Baker admits.

"Whereas you might say whatever you might say in the dressing-room or whatever you might say at the beginning of the year - you might have your own ambitions, whatever they might be - you just don't know how lads react after winning a county final.

"You don't know until the ball is thrown in in the first round of the Leinster championship whether the boys want it or not,

"Look, that was the most pleasing aspect of the game against Rathdowney.

"Even when things weren't going our way, we never gave up.

"When shots were going wide, when we weren't getting onto the breaks of ball, the lads kept trying and trying and there was a real will there to persevere with what we were trying to do.

"That was the most pleasing aspect of the game against Rathdowney. So that just showed that the desire was there to do well in this competition.

"The last three weeks," he adds, "was just about getting our bodies ready and our minds ready and look, it's going to be a huge challenge."

Which isn't to say that Baker didn't see the Dublin title as an end in itself.

It's just, as he knows from his own playing experience with St Joseph's Doora Barefield, at this time of year: "When you win a game, there's always another game to play.

"It's when you don't win that next game that there's a small bit of pain that remains in your own system and you say: 'maybe we could have done a bit better there'.

"Maybe we could have focused more. Maybe there was an opportunity there for us.

realistic

"I definitely think with the emergence of Coolderry, Kilcormac, Mount Leinster Rangers, that it has opened up the Leinster Championship to everybody.

"Everybody is thinking 'there's a Championship there for all of us'.

"Because it probably is the most competitive championship of all the provincial club championships," he insists.

"It is the most competitive one out there. Everyone thinks they have a realistic chance of winning it

"As has been the case with Shelmaliers and Kilcormac going to extra-time and Kilcormac only scraping by. Ourselves and Rathdowney going to extra-time.

"So it's real competitive. It's brilliant. Look, we're into the third week of November and we're still hurling.

"The lads are loving it and delighted to have a chance to get a crack at a team like them (Ballyhale Shamrocks)," he concludes.


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