IRISH NEWS

Lowry's Offaly dream: "if I could somehow see an Offaly man walk up the steps in Croke Park, I’d probably die a happy man."

By Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry might not have made becoming world No 1 a major goal, but the Open champion knows he’s good enough to compete with the best, and that’s what he wants for Offaly GAA as he announced a major partnership that will see him sponsor his home county and their efforts to rejoin the sport’s top table.

Offaly GAA is preparing a Strategic Plan which will have a significant focus on player development. As an elite international sportsman, Lowry has offered his experience and expertise to inspire and help improve the development of players in the Faithful County.

The Clara native (34) will also support Offaly’s commercial and fundraising initiatives to help fund improvements in their underage coaching programmes and develop educational bursaries for young players.

Like many other counties, Offaly GAA experienced a challenging financial year in 2020, and the county is presently on a fundraising drive following a very successful Grand Canal Walk to support the County and Clubs. In support of our fundraising drive to put Offaly GAA on a more sustainable financial footing, Lowry has also pledged a personal annual financial contribution to Offaly GAA over the next five years.

His desire to help Offaly GAA began last December, just as Michael Duignan, Chairperson of Offaly GAA, was watching a replay of Limerick’s All Ireland Hurling final victory earlier that day.

His phone beeped, and he received a text from Lowry wondering why Offaly could not enjoy a similar resurgence in fortunes to Limerick, who have received significant backing from JP McManus.

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

“It was the evening of the hurling final, and obviously Limerick won again,” Lowry explained. “I’m friendly with Gerry McManus, who is JP’s younger brother. The McManus family have had a huge part to play in everything that’s gone on down there. I want to stress that what I’m able to give to Offaly is a lot less than they’re able to give to Limerick.

“I sent JP a text that night. Said, ‘I’m sure the people of Limerick are very proud, very happy, and very grateful of what you and all your family have done for Limerick and Limerick GAA and Limerick hurling.’

“I did say to him in the text that I’d only love to be able to do something for Offaly someday. JP texted me back and said something along the lines of the underage system and getting involved in that – that’s what it’s all about. That’s what they looked at, putting good structures in place.

“I talked to my dad that night, albeit it was a Sunday evening, so he might have had a pint or two of Heineken on board. He’s very passionate about Offaly GAA, always has been. We talked about us both getting involved, our family getting involved, and try and push it that way. I texted Michael, I’m sure he did as well, and we got the ball rolling there.

“I met Michael over Christmas. We went out to the Faithful Fields in Kilcormac. It was the first time I’d seen it finished. So it was nice to see that. An amazing facility, probably one of the best training facilities in the country. To have that there and not have the structures in place to fulfil that facility we have is kind of sad to see.

“I’m going to try and help as much as I can. I think there’s a long road ahead for Offaly GAA, but hopefully, this is the start of great things. We’re probably not going to see any reward over the next few years, but in 10 or 20 years, if I could somehow see an Offaly man walk up the steps in Croke Park, I’d probably die a happy man. That’s what this is all about for me.”

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

While Lowry never reached the heights achieved by his All Ireland winning father Brendan or his uncles, he’s steeped in Offaly GAA and continues to support his county and native Clara when he is not competing on the PGA Tour.

"It probably would have been easy for me to bury my head in the sand, watch it go by," Lowry said from Jupiter in Florida. "Me over here in Florida, in America, living my life, going about my business. But any time I get the chance, I go to O'Connor Park, go and watch Offaly play.

"I'm the first one to give out if they're losing and be shouting at them sitting in the stand. Things haven't been great for a few years. I've been trying to focus on my own career, haven't really been in the position where I feel like I could give that time or effort. While I feel that now, after the Open, you kind of hold different status in world golf and sport – I think.

"I'm an Offaly person who has travelled and live across here in America. I'm sure there are many other Offaly people who are quite successful out there who, maybe on the back of this, might want to get involved. That's where I see myself getting involved, where this might really help Offaly GAA.

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

"Look, it's not all about money. Because that's just what it is about. I see the job that Michael and his team have done since they've come in. When I see the love that Michael Duignan has for Offaly GAA and what he wants to do… it's not an easy job he is after undertaking. It's a long road ahead of him and everyone else, but it's something everyone involved is passionate about, and I'm passionate about as well. Hopefully, with a bit of funding and the right structures in place along the way that we can get back at a competitive level that we feel like we belong."

Lowry can help raise money through hosting corporate days in Ireland or the US, and that will have a massive effect at the grassroots level.

"Yeah, 100%, every little helps along the way," he said. "That's why I got involved, and hopefully we can raise a lot of money and put it to good use, target the underage systems, the school system, getting young lads into college, into third level and playing Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup, that's where the progress will be seen if Offaly lads are doing that again."
A standing ovation for Shane Lowry in Croke Park.


He plans to help out by talking to squads about performance and preparation, adding: "Yeah, all that is I'm... willing to give as much time as I can, I'm obviously very busy and over in America at least half the year, but any chance I get I'll go out and do that type of thing.

"I don't just want to put my name to something and then not get involved. This is something I'm very passionate about, that my family is very passionate about, my dad's over the moon that this is happening, it's great for us as a family to be able to do something like this.

"The underage is where I think is the big target for us, and if we can start producing good players who want to wear the green, white and gold jersey again, that's what it's about for me.

"I'd love to be able, once or twice a year, go out to the Faithful Fields, and we'll get all the development squads together or something like that. That's all part of the plan too."

Defining progress is difficult, but Lowry sees youth development as key to Offaly's plans.

"Getting numbers is the big thing," he said. "If we can back into schools and getting more kids playing GAA, hurling and football, it's a numbers game.

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

"I think it's a numbers game, and the more people we can get back playing, the more good footballers and hurlers we're going to produce.

"I'd just love to go back each year and see progress, and progress right now for Offaly GAA isn't trophies, that's not where we're at, progress is the underage system.

"Look, we've two underage sides in Leinster finals last year that unfortunately never got to play, so for me, that's progress. If you see stuff like that and underage development squads doing well, beating the bigger teams.

"If we put the right plan in place, you can't define progress by results over the next while.

"It's almost like when I look at myself, I fully believe what I'm doing is the right thing, and as long as I believe that, I think we're going in the right direction.

"Michael and his team will put a plan in place, and as long as people believe in it and push in the right direction, I think that's where the progress will come from."

Shane Lowry of Ireland and caddie Brian Martin on the No. 2 tee during Round 3 of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Saturday, April 10, 2021.
While Offaly man Joe McKenna has played a major role in Limerick's success, Lowry is unsure what needs to happen, Duignan knows Offaly needs its own Joe McKenna.

"There's huge work that has gone on, as Shane says we have taken a fresh look at it, that's why we're involved, we're working on a strategic plan that will be out in August,' Duignan said. "We'll try and find our own Joe McKenna.

Lowry added: "I'm not going to tell the lads what to do, I'm a golfer, I'll do what I'm told when I'm there, I'm sure my dad will be happy to get involved, and that's the way we see it, the lads put Joe in there, and he does a great job, it's a pity he moved to Limerick in 1971 and won an All-Ireland there in '73, but we have to deal with what we have in Offaly."

As for his own GAA career, Lowry had talent by golf took over, and he never managed to pull on the Offaly jersey.

"I played the whole way up to minor," he said. "I remember my last match I ever played was against St Vincents in a relegation match for Clara. I was away playing golf all summer and was about 17 at the time. Ballyconlan was where it was.

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

"I was handy enough. I played corner forward and used to kick the frees, Tullamore used to beat us in the county final every year, and I never won a county medal, which still to this day haunts me.

"That was my GAA career. I never played for Offaly. I was never good enough for that but played for Clara up along.

"When I was a young lad coming up in Clara, the only thing you wanted to do was playing hurling or football for Offaly.

"Right now, there's a lot of young lads who want to play golf because of me, but it would be nice to create a thing where young lads want to go out and do everything they can to wear the green, white and gold of Offaly, that's what it's all about for me because that's what I wanted to do as a kid.

"Obviously, look, my path changed, and I went down a different road, but you look at lads in other counties, and that's what they're successful because it snowballs.

"I feel like when teams are successful, young lads have heroes, and all they want to do is play for their county.

"When I was growing up, my heroes would have been Johnny Dooley, Brian Whelehan, not so much Michael Duignan! Offaly were obviously very successful when I was growing up, so it would be nice to create that around the county again."

He got a standing ovation at Croke Park when he showed the crowd the Claret Jug as Open champion before the 2019 All-Ireland hurling semi-final and admits his competitive spirit came from his family's GAA background.

"I think I got my competitive edge and my competitive spirit from my father, and he would have got it from playing football for Offaly at a very high level," he said. "So, I think that's where I get that from. I am a very competitive person. I don't like losing. That's where I get that from.

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

"As regards walking out to Croke Park on that day, it was one of the most special experiences I have ever had in my life. I think there were about 60,000 people there, and I got a standing ovation off everyone. It was two minutes before throw-in, and the place was buzzing.

"I brought all my friends up from home, cool experience for everyone. One of those days that will live long in my memory. I look back, and I have got pictures of that, and it is great to have stuff like that.

Shane Lowry during a press conference prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Monday, November 10, 2020.
“That’s what the end goal is, the success of Offaly GAA and to get to see an Offalyman walk up the steps of Croke Park, and that would be, a lot of us would die happy men if that happened. That is obviously the end goal, it might seem a long way away, but look, I am in a sport where it can feel further away than it actually is. So hopefully, put in a bit of groundwork now, and we will see the rewards fairly soon.”

Offaly last won an All Ireland football title in 1982 and the most recent of their three All Ireland hurling crowns in 1998.

But just as Pádraig Harrington’s 2007 Open win opened the floodgates for a string of Irish Major wins, he knows small details can utterly change things in sport and does not rule out a similar resurgence for Offaly.

“Ten weeks ago, I couldn’t shoot a score, and then I walked off the 18th green at the Masters absolutely devastated I had only finished 20th and felt like I had a chance to win the tournament if I cleaned up a few mistakes here and there, which is at the very highest level of world golf,” he said. “I think in sport, sport is funny if you get a group of lads together and everyone is pulling in the same direction with each other you are never as far away as you think.

“Golf, especially you are never as far away at this level as you think, and maybe if you get a group of young lads winning a minor championship and you get that group to stay for a few years, you never know what will happen. Hopefully, that’s what it does take, get a group of 16, 17 years olds and even younger together and keep building and adding another player here and there, and before you know it, you never know in five, six seven years have the days we have all been dreaming about.”

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffle

Becoming world No 1 is not a concrete goal for Lowry, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be the best, and he sees no reason why Offaly can compete with the game’s big guns.

“No, I don’t have any ambitions to be world number one. Not that I don’t want to be world number one, or I’m not working towards it, but I don’t. To be honest, I just wake up every day and do what I can do to be as good as I can be. I literally try my best every day. I go out and gave it 100%. I work hard, and I do everything I feel I need to do to play at this level.

“Do I feel I can compete with the best in the world? Yes, I do. Do I feel like I can become world number one? I am not sure. The standard in world golf is incredible at the minute. If you look at the top 10 in the world at the minute, any one of them could be world number one. So no, I don’t really. But people might criticise me and laugh at me for saying that. But I don’t have any ambition to be world number one. I just want to go out every day and be myself and be the best person I can be and be Shane Lowry. The best version of me every day is good enough for me, so that’s all I want to be, I suppose.”

So can Offaly be No 1 by simply being Offaly and not a poor man’s Dublin or Limerick, he said: “Yes, there’s no point in Offaly going out and trying to be Dublin because we’re not, we’re different. As I said earlier, if we go out and get a group of people together and this group of people seems to be pushing in the one direction, we can be very successful doing that. I can be very successful being me, so I think Offaly could be very successful being them, and that’s the way I look at it.”

As Duigan pointed out: “We won All Irelands in ’81 and ’82 with a population of 58,000, which was never done in the history of the GAA. And I think we are up to 70,000 now. We have to do what works for Offaly GAA. We are very much focused on our plans and what works for Offaly GAA, and what’s tailored for Offaly GAA. And we couldn’t look for a better ambassador or partner than Shane Lowry, who has he says himself does it the Shane Lowry way.

“To be the best you can be every day and that’s the way we want to be, wherever that brings you, that’s an ambition I would have for Offaly GAA. We can’t guarantee where that’s going to end. We can guarantee that we will give it our best shot, and we were going to give our players the best shot. And that’s the piece that is so important. We are going to put the participant in the middle of this. They are the most important person. The hierarchy of county boards and management down, it’s not the way we want to go.

“As far as we are concerned, the players are in the middle, and everything that we do is about player participation, and then we will see where we go. I have no doubt we have some very talented players in our existing squads that are probably lacking a bit of confidence because of the way things have gone over the years. We have young players coming, and we don’t want them to have that baggage. We want them to do things the Offaly way. We don’t fear anybody, and we will do our best every day.”

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Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile

As for his own career, Lowry is happy his caddie Brian “Bo” Martin will be able to travel to the US to work for him over the next month as he plays next week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and the US PGA at Kiawah Island, two weeks later.

“He is back next week,” Lowry said. “I think he is back for a decent stint over here. He might do quite a few weeks, not sure how he has it arranged at home. I know he is coming back next week, and I am playing next week and the PGA, Memorial, US Open, I have got week on, week off for the next two months. He knows what I am playing, and hopefully, he will be there as well.

“Neil (Manchip) is back out for the PGA. When the lads come out here, I think the vaccination will be available to them out here, along those lines.

“The PGA Tour is offering vaccines to every player next week. It is fairly easy to get the vaccine here in America, all you need to do is walk into a Walgreens or a CVS, and you can pretty much get it. I think Bo has definitely had the first dose up north. I have not spoken to him in the last week or two, just texted him this morning.”

As for his game, he’s confident good things are coming.

“After Hilton Head, I felt jaded,” he said. “I had a tough week, and I felt quite tired, and I had played seven out of eight weeks. I feel like my game is in a good place, and I am happy with the way things are going. I am excited about the PGA at Kiawah Island.”

As Ireland opens up following months of lockdown, he called on parents to encourage their children to play as many sports as possible rather than focus on just one.

“That’s a great point,’ he said. “I played every sport right up until I was 17. When I started to play golf for Ireland, I really need to step aside from the rest of the sports. Up to then, I played football, hurling and soccer and every sport that was available to me, including pitch and putt, and a bit of snooker — anything that was available to me, I would play.

“That’s where I feel I got my competitive edge. I obviously got it from my family history as well as that and from my dad. But I feel like playing a lot of sports just helps kids develop competitively more than anything, and I am talking more so about becoming a high-level sportsperson.

“Sport is great for getting people out and getting people mentally in the right place, and I think it’s a great getaway for a lot of people. But I do think that me playing all sports up until I was 17… When I talk to these parents who have a 12-year-old kid, and they say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t play anything else, he gave up everything else because he’s concentrating on his golf’. Well, I just don’t agree with that at all.

“I tell every parent that their kids should play as many sports as possible and sport is great for meeting friends and meeting new people. And I think golf is great for the development of a child because you get to hang around with older people and you mature a lot quicker, I feel. Whereas playing competitive sports with their own friends, playing football or soccer whatever it might be is great for the development of a kid as well.”

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