Conor Cleary enjoying Clare's Munster journey
By Cian O'Connell
Conor Cleary is adamant that something is stirring in Clare with the supporters beginning to reconnect with a promising team.
A three match Munster Champpionship winning sequence has been stitched together so hopes are high ahead of Sunday's provincial decider against Cork.
The victories over Tipperary and Limerick were significant according to Cleary. "Yeah they were and a lot of the reason why we won those games too is because of the support we had behind us," Cleary says.
"I remember in Semple Stadium with about 10 minutes to go, the Clare crowd really got behind us and even on the last day in the parade going around, you could really sense the positivity from the crowd, it felt like there were hundreds of Clare lads togged out to play for Clare.
"We kind of used that then with the intensity we brought then, we really fed off the confidence that they had in us."
Cleary, though, doesn't feel that Clare left the 2017 Munster Final behind them. "No I think Cork were just better on the day," Cleary admits.
"They've beaten us twice now in Championship and I think they've just been worthy winners, they've been better than us on the two days and there's no point in papering over it and saying they weren't."
Now an established figure Cleary is in his fifth year on the Clare panel, but didn't feature until 2016. "I was trying my best to get on it, but it was just down to the strength of the panel," Cleary states.
"But I had some developing to do, too, from that 2014 year, I wasn't ready to play senior maybe the year after.
"I was two or three years on the panel before I was able to play, to be honest with you, to be up to the physicality and speed of it, really."
A brother of the accomplished Clare footballer Eoin, Conor Cleary is from Milltown-Malbay, an area not normally associated with hurling. "Yeah I suppose I started off with Kilmaley when I was nine or 10 and I went to Flannan's then when I was 12," Cleary adds.
"I was playing as playing as much hurling as Tony Kelly and Jack Browne and those lads in school, I would have been pally with them.
"So in that regard it wasn't as if I was isolated in the west for a couple of years, I was basically living in Ennis for six years, and got great scope with the standard that the boys were playing at, and that brought me on too."
Since 2013 Clare haven't hurled in a Championship match at Croke Park and they haven't always delivered when it truly counted.
Encouraging signs, though, have been available in 2017. How crucial was it for Clare to re-establish themselves as a real force one more?
"Yeah I suppose I'm not just saying it, but that never has been mentioned in the last two years that I've been involved," Cleary replies.
"2013 hasn't been mentioned at all, it's just been kind of focusing on this year as a year on it's own because if you focus on that past too much then I think you lose track of what you're doing in the present.
"We were just focusing on the games we have ahead. The lads in 2013 did what they did, but this is a different group now and you just have to focus on the now.
"If you start thinking about what you did in different years you're just wasting your time."
Instead Clare's thoughts are rooted on the present. With momentum generated and confidence increasing these are interesting times for Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor's charges.