Clare minor hurling team built on solid foundations
By John Harrington
Clare’s presence in Sunday’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling Final against Galway is a nice example of cause and effect.
The Banner County have made a number of very smart personnel appointments and overhauled their underage Academy to great effect in recent years.
That has led to a huge amount of effort being put in to developing this group of Clare minors over a considerable period of time which has now been rewarded.
Rob Mulcahy is doing great work overseeing the athletic development of Clare hurling and football academy teams and it’s surely no coincidence that this year’s minor hurling team is the first to benefit from a full four-year programme of that work.
“Yeah, this group would have been the first group that would have had the full support from U-14s right through to minor with the full coaching and strength and conditioning programme,” says Clare minor hurling team manager, Brian O’Connell.
“It's rewarding to see the results we've gotten from that. It reenergises everyone because you can see results coming and it just gives that sense of accomplishment to all the coaches that are involved that there is progress being made.
“Hopefully we're just the start of a group of Clare teams that continue to show up and be in Munster Finals, be in All-Ireland Finals. It's great for the other lads who are entering into the Academy now to see that putting in some work reaps rewards.
“It's a great boost for them and the coaches and it's a great boost for us looking for support even from the Clare public in terms of Club Clare who have a big influence on what happens in the development squads in terms of the monetary aspect of it as well as the county board.
“It helps in that conversation in terms of, look, we're making progress, keep supporting us please because your money and your input is going to good use.”
O’Connell also managed the Clare minor team that reached last year’s Munster Final and All-Ireland semi-final, a side he coached right up through the Academy age-grades.
Eight of that team are still minors this year, and the fact they’ve built on last year’s achievements and gone one step further this year is an encouraging sign that Clare are building something sustainable when it comes to underage hurling.
“That's it, it's just all progress,” says O’Connell. “Having the eight lads that were involved last year does help as well just in terms of they know what we're looking for in terms of a management group and they can drive the standard and the rest of the lads can come in then and know what we're looking for in our training sessions and our matches.
“It kind of helps with that communication part of it. It's just the consistency and hopefully we're only the start of Clare consistently showing in Munster Finals and the latter stages of the competition because the work has been really done in development squads so we just want to see that rewarded.”
The current team has grown as the season has progressed. They suffered a set-back in the Munster Championship when they were beaten by Limerick, so it was a significant victory when they turned the tables on the Shannonsiders when they met again in the Munster semi-final.
Since then Clare have produced their two best peroformances of the campaign to defeat Cork in the Munster Final and Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, so they come into Sunday’s All-Ireland Final with good momentum.
“The beauty of the Munster championship we played in was the fact that you were nearly afforded a slip-up which we had against Limerick,” says O’Connell.
“We just felt we didn't really play that day. But you learn a lot more about yourself when you lose.
“Even just a couple of things that got thrown at us...we went down to Dungarvan on a Tuesday night and the match was called off just beforehand so we had to go down there on the Friday again. All of those little things build up a bit of resilience in the lads.
“They've learned a lot in a short space of time and are a really, really good bunch. This is going to be massive for them, win, lose or draw, just in terms of their hurling career and how they develop as players.”
Sunday's All-Ireland Final against Galway is likely to be the biggest test this Clare side has faced all year.
The Leinster champions have won the six matches they’ve played to get to the Final by an average of 16 points and look to be a seriously talented team.
“We're under no illusions, we've obviously watched them a good bit,” says O’Connell. “We stayed back the day of our semi-final because they were on afterwards against Cork. So we've seen a good bit of them and they're really, really well coached and are all accomplished hurlers.
“We know that it'll be no easy task but it's something we really want to put ourselves up against. In the minor age-group there's no real consistency in terms of a team from one year to the next, but in terms of history Galway have obviously massive pedigree in the minor competition so, yeah, we just want to go up against the best.
“If we were to go and win an All-Ireland it would be earned the right way if you've played against Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Galway. It's a really good path if you're to go on and win it.”