Donal Moloney: 'We definitely got a lot from it'
By Cian O'Connell
On the eve of another inter-county season teams are beginning to plan and plot so Clare joint manager Donal Moloney is delighted to be heading to Boston this weekend.
Clare won the Fenway Hurling Classic last year and Moloney acknowledges the benefits that were taken from the stint in the United States of America.
“It is a great opportunity for a county team to get a trip like that for a few days with a competitive element to it,” Moloney admits. “Last year we treated it very, very seriously, and we took a lot from it. Primarily the building of a better team bond, if you like, and the fact that they won it then enhanced that. We definitely got a lot from it.”
That bonding element matters deeply according to Moloney, who was enthused by the response of the Clare players. “It does because I think the GAA schedule is so hectic and the training is so hectic that sometime you gloss over the fact that players don't have enough time to connect,” Moloney says.
“There is nothing better than a four or five day trip with a competitive element to it and it will enable and enhance that. It is really positive and I would give full marks to the GPA because they facilitate this, it is well appointed and well organised trip and competition. Everything runs like clockwork. That really assists by virtue of the professional way players are being treated.”
Moloney accepts that it offers an ideal way to prepare for the upcoming Allianz Hurling League. “Given the length of the season we have just gone through between club and county you don't want to push players too hard or too far at this juncture because they do need some time to recuperate,” Moloney states. “Having said that it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of being ready for 2019.”
Clare contributed massively during an epic Munster and All Ireland Championship packed with matches, draws, and drama. Ultimately, though, a semi-final replay defeat to Galway on a sultry afternoon at Semple Stadium hurt deeply.
“We were disappointed,” Moloney reflects. “I suppose every team bar Limerick was disappointed with the season. At the same time it was a novel Championship. We played eight hard Championship matches, we got an awful lot from it so we got an awful lot of plusses from the season. They far outweighed any of the negatives we experienced.”
With a new summer format in operation lessons were learned by managers and selectors throughout the country. “Definitely, this is a significant departure from the old Championship,” Moloney adds.
“It is actually a very professional set-up. The preparation required is enormous from everybody involved, all staff, all players. It was definitely very much a jump into the unknown from a hurling calendar point of view.
“The public loved it because they got great games, great entertainment with good quality. I'm not sure it is the finished article, it was greeted with great enthusiasm, but it is a pretty severe schedule.”
So many outfits can now class themselves as serious Liam MacCarthy Cup contenders with Moloney highlighting the sheer hard graft being undertaken by counties at underage level. “I think so and if you look at how that has arisen it wasn't the Championship structure that didn't deliver that,” Moloney remarks about the fact that several counties believe the ultimate honour can be attained.
“If you look at the underage work that is being done across those eight or nine counties over the last 10 years, over the last decade everyone has been prominent really.
“Whether it was Clare, Wexford, Waterford, Dublin, Limerick all counties that possibly would have been seen as in the second tier at some stage or other over the past decade they have all invested heavily at underage. They had a lot of talent coming through, that is what has created a much more uniform playing field if you like.”
Clare will be without Shane O’Donnell, who is currently studying at Harvard, for the Allianz League, but the talented attacker will be involved this weekend. “I don't think Shane has done much scouting now to be honest, he is very much knee deep in his new project out there and the experiments he is doing as part of his work with Harvard,” Moloney laughs.
“From speaking with him I think hurling has been far from his mind to be quite honest in the last four or five weeks since he has gone there, but Shane will hook up with us this weekend definitely.”
Clare will also try to integrate some emerging talent into the set-up in the coming months. “Some players that have done well through the Club Championship and who were unlucky to lose out during the summer or maybe were part of our development group during the summer, some of those guys will get an opportunity - definitely in Boston,” Moloney reveals.
“It will be very much a mix, it is a very competitive competition as well. Last year was terrific from that point of view in terms of the competitiveness. It is a very fast game, it is a novel game because of the short pitch and tighter surroundings. So it will give us an opportunity to give some new lads a run as well. Playing in Fenway Park there is a great honour associated with that because of its history in American sport.”