Gerry O'Connor ready for huge year
By Cian O'Connell
Having worked with the majority of the Clare panel at minor, Under 21, and now senior level joint manager Gerry O'Connor is ideally placed to discuss the pedigree and potential of a talented crop of players.
The Liam MacCarthy Cup was hoisted on a sultry Saturday September evening in 2013, but O'Connor feels that the team is different now.
"I think it is," O'Connor says. "Every team evolves over a period over two to three years. "Galway have arrived in that their team building is over now. Waterford have evolved. Tipperary, Clare and Limerick are still trying to build a team. A lot of our guys are very mature in terms of mentality and age now.
"While there is no elder statesman in our team, John Conlon at 28 is probably the older, there are a bunch of guys between 25 and 28 who have done a lot and they know it is time for this team to deliver some really solid performances in the Munster Championship."
That is the burning ambition with the next month set to be a revealing stint, but does O'Connor feel Clare haven't pushed on since 2013? "As a group, they probably feel they haven’t delivered," O'Connor says.
"We don’t need to reflect any more on that. For the last six months, I don’t think a group of players could have committed themselves more and applied themselves more than the Clare senior panel.
"They have been tremendous in their application. They realise time is running out. You only have a certain lifespan as an inter-county player in this day and age.
"This year is a huge year for us because I think the Clare public were very accommodating and lenient on us last year because they felt we were learning how this whole process works.
"I wouldn’t expect them to be as generous this year so that puts added pressure and added focus on us. If you can’t thrive in that environment, there is no point being in this job."
O'Connor and Donal Moloney forged a successful combination in the minor and Under 21 grades. Many lessons were learned in 2017. "Tactically, you can’t completely decide if you are going to go short and long," O'Connor comments.
"We design training over a six month period to allow them to play the game as they see it developing in front of them. They’ve got to make the right decision on and off the ball every time.
"That is the only thing they are charged with. In terms of tactics, there is a lot going on, in terms of how you create a puckout strategy, how you defend against a puckout strategy.
"There are sweeper systems in operation. You have got to work your way around that. Ultimately, when a player has the ball in his hand, he has got to make the right decision for himself and the team.
"That’s what you are trying to replicate in training. Last year, we may have focused more on Cork than we did on ourselves." Clare's first provincial challenge this year is Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.