Conor Cleary excited about new campaign
By Cian O'Connell
An intriguing hurling year looms with Conor Cleary delighted to be occupying a central role for Clare.
Sunday’s Co-op Superstores Munster Hurling League Final against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds is the next on the agenda before the defining spell awaits in the Allianz Hurling League and Championship.
The versatile Cleary continues to deliver for Clare and the prospect of representing Clare in front of a passionate Cusack Park audience in the summer is exciting.
“Yeah, I think the main benefit is the home games we will be getting in Munster,” Cleary says about the revised Championship format.
“I suppose as a young lad growing up you'd be hearing stories about games that had gone on in Cusack Park in years gone by, years ago when big games were played there. Great occasions.
“So it will be great to play Munster Championship there. A lot of us have played Munster Minor and Under 21 Championship in Cusack Park, but senior is a bit different with the hype and everything around it.
“To get to play games in Cusack Park will be great, hopefully the Clare crowd will get behind us to make Cusack Park a fortress for those games. When you are at home you want to be making them games count.”
With every county set to play four matches, Cleary is relishing the impending challenge. “As a player you want to be playing games, especially when it comes to that time of the year in May, June, and July. You want to be playing games and to be involved in the big games. It is great to have so many big games this year.
“Maybe this year you might have two or three games and you'd be gone, whereas this year you are guaranteed four and maybe five games which will all be really high profile and really competitive games. You want to be playing these sort of games and you want to get a chance to be doing that.”
Cleary, who started a Postgraduate course in teaching in UL last September, is happy to be involved in this weekend’s decider against Limerick before Tipperary visit Cusack Park on January 28 for an attractive League opener.
“I suppose at the start of the year with the way the League has been pushed forward a lot of the dogged and hard training is being done now,” Cleary admits.
“It is great to have games because if you didn't have them you'd just be training and a lot of the training at this time of the year is hard training. It is great to have games and such a competitive one as Limerick this Sunday.”
Ballyea’s involvement in the AIB All Ireland Club Championships in 2017 impacted Clare, who have close to a full deck to pick from at the start of the current campaign.
“We do, but no more than any other county we have a lot of lads involved with the Fitzgibbon,” Cleary states.
“Looking at it another way we are very lucky, because other years it wasn't as healthy with injuries and stuff. We have a lot of our hand to pick from at this time of the year and it is great that the majority of the panel are injury free at the moment.”
Flickers of encouragement were available for Clare during Gerry O’Connor and Donal Maloney’s first year in charge. “When you are playing and putting in so much time you want to be getting results out of it,” Cleary acknowledges.
“While it was great getting to a Munster Final it was a pity not to win it. In the Munster Final and the All Ireland Quarter-Final we had chances to win the games, but we didn't take them.
“We definitely met better teams on the day, though, Cork and Tipperary were definitely better than us on both days.
“In another way when you bring a performance to the table in the Munster Final and the Quarter-Final, we did perform well for large parts of the day them two days, we just didn't have it for the full 70 minutes. That is something we will definitely be looking at this year, bringing a real 70 minute performance to the table.”
Underage titles were accumulated with class and consistency, now Clare want to deliver on their significant potential at the highest level.
“When you are knocked out of the Championship in one year there is amazing disappointment, but once the new year comes there is a clean slate for everybody,” Cleary adds.
“The Championship is so competitive now a lot of teams can win it. New lads coming into the panel really does bring a bit of freshness to it and there is no guarantees on the Clare panel, everyone is really pushing hard for their place.
“The way the boys operate they pick on form so every training or internal game you play or any time you get a chance to pull on a Clare jersey you have to perform. That is very much the mindset of the whole panel at the moment.”
Cleary’s twin brother, Eoin, is an accomplished and accurate attacker for Colm Collins’ constantly evolving Clare footballers. Ultimately, it is an exciting period for Clare GAA.
“It is a great time, the same with the footballers whenever they are playing we want them to win and whenever we are playing they want us to win,” Cleary remarks.
“We have the full backing from them and I know from playing club football in Clare the standard of club football is very high and I suppose thanks to the work Colm Collins and his team have put in the profile has risen.
“Maybe a lot more young lads who mightn't have come in other years when Clare were in lower Divisions because of Colm Collins them players are committing now. I think the Clare panel is very strong and they will be focused on Division Two and building on what they have done in other years.”
The hurlers are adopting a similar brief; both Clare panels are fortunate to have a Cleary twin seeking to bring further glory to the Banner.