Sporting pastures new await the most prominent Athlone GAA senior football managerial appointment in recent times when former Mayo centrefielder and All-Star, Liam McHale, makes his championship managerial bow, patrolling the sideline in an enticing local derby fixture with rivals, Garrycastle.
Appointed in November, McHale, who was part of the management team when South Roscommon club, St Brigid’s, made history in 2013 when winning the All-Ireland senior football club title, is charged with returning success to a club which failed to win a championship game in 2019 and has failed to attain the prized Flanagan Cup since 1998.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, McHale enthused with regard to the championship campaign to come, noting the ‘buy in’ from the squad since his managerial appointment.
“Having recently returned to training in line with protocol, the attitude remains a constant amongst the squad. There is a great desire to win and return success to the club,” Liam enthused.
Prior to lockdown, Liam was in the process of getting to know his playing squad with the recent three month break from group sessions impacting upon gelling progress.
“We started with six basketball sessions, working on ball handling and defensive set plays within a confined playing space and started on-pitch sessions in mid January with a couple of keenly contested fixtures taking place prior to lockdown. I was really happy with the progress of the squad and getting a feel for the players and their attributes,” Liam reflected.
A team that did not win a championship game in 2019 can ill afford to be three months without competitive action and despite the continuance of online training programmes, playing personnel remained hopeful that a return to playing fare would arrive.
“When we heard that a championship would proceed, it was a major boost. We initially recommenced training in small groups with ball work the focus. Numbers have been strong with in excess of 30 players all contributing to the development of what I believe will be a competitive squad unit,” Liam asserted.
While hoping that the original championship groupings would have remained as they were originally, Liam welcomed the revised format, but believes that there is “little room for error” in a three team setting.
“It is vitally important that we extract the maximum effort during our forthcoming training sessions and fixtures prior to the start of the championship.
“You have to build a level of confidence within a group setting which will enable total team development and afford you with the opportunity to remain competitive in the closing stages of championship games when the contest is very much in the balance and to be won.
“Having strong numbers committed to training sessions allows for such development as players cannot rest easy knowing there is a colleague eager to attain a place on the starting championship team.
“From what I have witnessed to date, there is that winning desire within the group and hopefully, such character will come to the fore when the championship commences,” Liam concluded.