The narrative surrounding Louth boss, Wayne Kierans, is one of optimism in the Wee County, however, much has been said about the fact that he is supposedly a ‘soccer man’.
The soccer man, an old-school Gael’s worst nightmare. The ‘ground ball’ loving coach who’s coming in to change the way the game is played.
Sure, he’ll probably be teaching the players to dive next.
Upon meeting the Louth boss, it turns out the narrative surrounding his links to soccer are vastly overstated. As the saying goes, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Wayne Kierans is the same as so many in this country, a staunch GAA man with a grá for soccer.
Following his retirement from both sports, Kierans was offered a role within soccer coaching but he always knew his future lay with the GAA.
“I was always both (GAA and soccer). Always played half and half and just when I finished playing at club-level in both, I just happened to end up coaching a soccer team first before I started coaching Gaelic,” Kierans told Pundit Arena at the launch of the Leinster Championship.
“But the plan was always to delve into the Gaelic coaching.”
Whilst he always envisioned himself coaching GAA, there’s no doubt he takes great influence from all different disciplines.
A proud Liverpool fan, Kierans admires Jurgen Klopp, the charismatic German manager who has won the hearts and minds of soccer fans around the world due to passion and the way his teams play.
The days of shouting and roaring at players are long gone in Kierans’ eyes. Management has become much more about… well… managing.
“Yeah absolutely, he’s a brilliant man! He gets the best out of his players so why not try and learn from that area.
“You have to work with players and work with personalities first of all and work with the mindset of people so I think the days of shouting and balling at people to get the best out of them is long gone. You have to try and build a relationship and I think that’s what he does really well.”
While he takes inspiration from managers in other fields, he’s also had the opportunity to work under a legendary coach closer to home in the shape of two-time All-Ireland winner, Pete McGrath.
It was an experience Kierans enjoyed thoroughly, although he’s not so sure he would describe being in the top job himself as enjoyable.
“I was a selector with Pete, I didn’t do much of the training but I was involved last year. Yeah, it was very, very good. I got on well with Pete and learned a lot from him. Obviously, a very experienced man and a legend of the game. I really enjoyed working with him.
“I don’t know whether enjoyment is the right word now (laughs). It’s definitely a privileged position and I do enjoy the responsibility and working with the boys but it’s a tough job.”
It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it and based on their performances in 2019, Louth are heading in the right direction under Kierans. They may have missed out on promotion to Division 2 but they had some great results in an uber-competitive Division 3.
One facet of their play that caught the eye this season has been their threat in front of goal. Louth bagged 12 three-pointers in the Allianz Football League which only heightened the narrative around Kierans’ soccer background.
However, the Louth boss puts their goal-scoring form down to players making the right decisions and executing goal scoring chances when they present themselves.
“As a whole, it definitely was positive (the league). I wouldn’t go as far as saying a success because we did miss out on promotion by literally one score. As a whole, it was a positive experience for us, we’re still building as we go forward.
“Scoring goals was not something we particularly worked on. What we did work on was making the right decisions in attack and if we feel there is a sniff of a goal, making the right decision to execute that goal.
“If not we want to make other decisions and build attacks other ways. It just happened to work out that way which is great, we got a lot of goals which is obviously good but it’s about the overall attack and how we build and how we make decisions. Hopefully, we can save one of those big scorelines now for the championship.”
The Championship is in full swing and following an opening round win over Wexford, Louth are preparing to welcome Dublin to championship football for 2019.
The Wee County face the All-Ireland champions this evening in Portlaoise and speaking ahead of their game against Wexford, Kierans admitted that the opportunity to take on Dublin in what could be a historic year for Jim Gavin’s side was a massive prize.
“Absolutely massive, massive prize. It’s difficult not to think about that because you have to focus on your game but for Wexford or Louth I definitely think it’ll be an amazing experience to play, particularly this year, what could be a historic year for them. It’s a great prize on offer but we have to go out and earn that prize.”
Louth have now earned the right to face Dublin and not many are giving them a hope of toppling the All-Ireland champions but that’s what championship football is about.
The men from the Wee County will go into tonight’s game with no fear, ably led by their soccer loving manager who’s as big a Gael as the rest of us.