THREE YEARS AGO at the press evening before Limerick featured in the Munster senior football final, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan was speaking about the progress his side had made in recent seasons.
In 2007 they were thrashed by 13 points in their provincial opener against Cork but had bounced back to nearly fell the same opponents in 2008 and were now getting set to meet them in the 2009 decider.
O’Sullivan was attempting to explain their improvements on a sun-splashed June evening in the Gaelic Grounds when he turned his gaze from the Mackey Stand to the pitch where the team were shortly set to train.
With a pile of cones tucked under his arm, the team’s trainer Donie Buckley was moving around to plot and prepare for the session that lay ahead.
“There is the man that ye need to talk to about how far we’ve come,” proclaimed O’Sullivan.
There was never a chance that evening though of Buckley sitting down in front of a swarm of dictaphones to profer his thoughts on Gaelic football. His focus was firmly on matters on the pitch and that is representative of his approach to the game.
At that stage Buckley was a low-key figure but his reputation has been notably embellished since. Limerick went on to lose out agonisingly by a point to Cork in that Munster final and were subsequently defeated by the same margin by Meath in the qualifiers.
The following year they were defeated by three points by Kerry in the provincial decider and it took eventual All-Ireland champions Cork until extra-time later that season to get the better of Limerick in the qualifiers.
Limerick may have been fed a diet of cruel and narrow defeats during that time frame but despite the lack of success they were consistent challengers. And the installation of Buckley as coach was critical to that trend.
Since then Buckley has sat comfortably in the bracket of elite Gaelic football coaches around the country and it is why the confirmation last night of his appointment with Mayo in that role has ensured the Connacht county’s prospects look brighter for 2013. The views of star attacker Alan Dillon epitomize why it will be welcomed.
Buckley’s innovative and intelligent style of coaching earned rave reviews in Limerick and it was that body of work which lead to him being snapped up by Jack O’Connor in Kerry for 2011.
All-Ireland honours just eluded them last September before Buckley’s departure from the Kingdom was announced in unexpected fashion last May. After undergoing a knee operation in February, he faced a more limited coaching role which influenced the conclusion of his tenure.
Yet that should not conceal a coaching CV which contains much more than just his achievements in Kerry and Limerick. He won Clare county titles with St Joseph’s Miltown-Malbay in 1990 and Ennis amalgamation outfit Faughs in 1994, before serving as joint manager of Clare in 2006 with Michael Brennan.
In Galway he was the county’s forwards coach under Peter Ford in 2007 and the following year steered Moycullen to the All-Ireland intermediate football title. And as a player it was Buckley who grabbed the winning goal that helped Castleisland Desmonds win the 1985 All-Ireland club title against St Vincent’s in Tipperary Town.
His latest role takes him to a county who are attempting to bounce back from the setback of losing last month’s All-Ireland final to Donegal. The uncertainty over manager James Horan’s intentions before he ultimately signed on for another term and the departure of trainer Cian O’Neill to Kerry created worries over their ability to progress.
Yet the acquisition of Buckley is a positive sign. If Mayo are to maintain their status as a top county and try to bridge the gap to attain that elusive All-Ireland title, then they need to maintain a culture of excellence in their preparations.
Horan has done a fine job to date but they need to make improvements in their attacking play and game plan if they are to keep developing. Securing the services of Buckley is a brilliant start at achieving that.