JOHNNY CROWLEY always felt that he would return to the role of Sarsfields senior hurling manager and he is delighted with the potential of what he has to work with in 2023.
Last week, Sars confirmed the reappointment of Crowley, who led the club to the 2010 county SHC, succeeding Barry Myers, who had been in charge for the past two seasons.
Crowley had previously enjoyed success with Sars at U14, minor and U21 levels and the time since his two-year stint with the seniors saw him involved with Ballinhassig — with whom he won the 2012 Premier IHC — Ballymartle, Inniscarra and Castlelyons.
He is glad to be back in Riverstown, but he’s happy to have spread his wings, too.
“Oh, absolutely,” he says.
I had some great years with great teams and I really enjoyed it. I made super friends and met great people. As a coach or a manager, you have to have a goal and friendship is my goal.
“With Ballymartle, we got to a league final against Erin’s Own and it was a pity we didn’t win that as it would have been great for that bunch of players to win a title.
“The day against the Glen in the 2014 quarter-final, they were fierce unlucky. That’s the way it goes, the margins are so tight.
“My time in Castlelyons was fantastic, as was Inniscarra. I was texting the lads congratulations last week after they won the PIHC, I was delighted for them.”
And, while the coach imparts his advice and guidance to the players under his tutelage, the flow of information is very much a two-way street, Crowley has found.
“The experience or wisdom or whatever that I’ve gained through various individuals and teams has been fantastic.
“The day you stop learning is the day you’re finished. Any day you meet a new player or a new personality, it’s an education.
“The game has totally changed. If you go back to that county final against the Glen in 2010 up to now, it’s completely different in terms of types of hurlers and system and deploying set-ups and what-not.”
Since the change in championship format for 2020, Sars have been regarded among the pre-competition favourites.
In the first year, they topped a tough group but then lost to Erin’s Own in the quarter-finals; in 2021, they were again unbeaten in their pool and secured an automatic semi-final spot only to fall to Glen Rovers; then, this year, they missed out as county finalists St Finbarr’s and Blackrock progressed from the group of death.
In terms of raw materials, Crowley is excited with what he’ll have to work with.
For me, I don’t know if there’s ever a right time or a wrong time to take over or go back to a team, but looking from a helicopter view, it’s a fantastic time to take over, I feel.
“You still have four of five of the 2010-2012 team — the two Kearneys [Daniel and William], Conor O’Sullivan, Alan Kennedy, Craig Leahy — and you have the ingredient then of the younger lads.
“While I’ve been watching them from afar, I haven’t had direct involvement. Trying to integrate them together and the younger lads coming through — the 20s of the last few years — you’re trying to find the right mixture.”
To that end, he’s very happy with the nature of the split-season giving time to bed in.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he says. “It’s really made club GAA over the last few years. If you go back four or five years ago, you were back training in January and, realistically, you didn’t know when the first round was on.
“If you get over that, there was a fair chance you wouldn’t be playing a quarter-final until September and it’s so hard to keep a team fresh.
“The new system is great. You know your dates and times and players can look at it and get a holiday in. I’m very happy with the way they’ve developed it.”
There’s certainly a lot to look forward to. Right now, Crowley is focused on getting a strong backroom team in place, ready for the return to training. Diarmuid 'The Rock' O'Sullivan has been linked with a role.
“At the moment, I’m taking my time with it,” he says. “I want to get the right mixture. I’ve been looking and probably pencilled in three or four different teams in my head.
“It’s important to get it right. You look at the lads on the team, they’re coming to the time when promise or potential must be fulfilled so it’s a big 12 months.
“We’ll take our time and hopefully put the right team in place and take it from there.”