Conor Grimes: Mickey Harte’s culture of success is lifting Louth
Louth footballer preparing for a super Sunday
By the time we met for a mid-morning coffee in Dublin’s city centre, Conor Grimes already had a day’s work done.
Monday is production day in Spoonful Botanical, the company the Louth footballer and his wife Jayne founded. Their product is a blend of fermented fruits, herbs and spices designed to reduce inflammation.
Though the company, which has eight full-time and twelve part-time employees, now operates in a new production facility in Tullyallen near Drogheda, their product is still blended by hand
“My Dad and I were up at 4am to do the blending before a team of twelve lads came in. The entire process is done by hand. When we finished we had filled, sealed, and labelled 4,000 jars.”
Combining the roles of self-employed entrepreneur and county footballer might seem incompatible. Grimes can do it, thanks in particular to the support of Jayne and Louth manager Mickey Harte.
One of the few dressing downs he got from Harte was when he attempted to attend a trade show and play in an O’Byrne Cup match on the same day last January.
“He gave me a bollocking for trying to juggle both and told me my priority was my work. He is very understanding of my situation.”
Grimes was an established first-team Louth player when County Board chair Peter Fitzpatrick persuaded Mickey Harte and his long-time assistant Gavin Devlin to take over just weeks after ending a long association with Tyrone in 2020.
By then, the Glen Emmets player had played in three of the four Divisions in the Allianz League.
“Under Colin Kelly we won the Division 4 and Division 3 titles but then went straight back down to Division 4 and had won very few championship games.”
“I was shocked when it initially heard that Mickey Harte was coming. He is probably the greatest manager in the sport. Look at what he has achieved. We had just been relegated and were struggling. I was thinking there is no way he is coming. It is just rumours.”
Harte, Devlin, and Peter Dooley, who joined the set-up this season together with the backroom staff including strength and conditioning coach Ciaran Sloan and nutritionist Sharon Courtney, have changed the culture of the Louth GAA team.
Their training centre in Darver has become the epicentre of the transformation. Initially, there were structural alternations made to the centre but according to Grimes, the game-changer was the environment created by the team management.
“We now spent more time there together. They have created an environment you want be to around. There is a great buzz. Players arrive early for training. We have all the facilities, ice baths, hot and cold therapy, physio room, activation room, food room.
The food has changed completely. The Rocksalt Café are involved, and all our meals are prepared. It is restaurant quality food.
“There are screens around the place showing matches. Lads will hang around after training just to watch games. All these things are so important when you are trying to compete at the top level. Obviously, Mickey came from that environment in Tyrone. He knows what it is about.”
Everything the team management has said would happen has happened.
“They promised us we would win Division 4; we did that. They promised us we won Division 3; we did that. They told us we would get to a Leinster final this year and we have done that.”
Planning for today’s game began five months ago.
“I remember being at a team meeting; it was 145 days out from the Leinster final and we broke it down has far away it was. We wanted to get to a Leinster final, it was a massive focus.
“Where Mickey and Gavin come from, the championship is the be all and end all and they are trying to instil that into us. Once the draw was made and Dublin were on the other side, we knew there was a realistic chance of getting to the final.”
Harte’s philosophy on life has impacted Grimes in a profound way.
“It is just his values and what he stand for as a person. It is something you can relate too and buy into. He is not trying to exploit you just for the football. He is just a really, really nice man behind it all.”
When it comes to the details of football Grimes describes Gavin Devlin ‘as a magician’
“It is something we have never seen. I cannot watch a game of football anymore without looking out for certain things. It has completely changed the way we view the game.”
Against most expectations, Louth finished third in Division 2, achieving breakthrough wins against Meath, Kildare, and Cork. One of the key issues for teams progressing through the ranks is eliminating mistakes.
“Unforced errors have to be kept to a minimum. It is something we have been working so hard on to try and eliminate. We play a simple game, it is direct, but it is not passive.”
Even though they competed alongside Dublin in Division 2 Louth are rank outsiders.
“We are confident that if we bring the best version of ourselves to Croke Park today that we can compete with Dublin,” said Grimes.
Ultimately, today is just another destination of a journey which has still a long way to run.
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