My Club: Colm Galvin - Clonlara
In this week’s ‘My Club’ feature, Clare senior hurler Colm Galvin tells us all about the Clonlara GAA club.
By John Harrington
Clonlara GAA club was founded in 1897, making it one of the oldest clubs in County Clare. They won their first Clare County Senior title in 1919, but didn’t win another until 2008.
In between they rarely threatened the traditionally successful clubs in the county, but did produce some stand-out individual talents in the 1970s and ‘80s like Colm Honan and the late Tom Crowe who scored a famous goal in Clare’s ’77 League Final win over Kilkenny.
Once the poor relation, hurling in East-Clare has undergone a resurgence in recent years, and Clonlara have been at the forefront of it.
They won the Intermediate County title in 2007 and then shocked everyone by winning their Senior title in their first year back up in the grade.
In recent years they’ve backboned Clare county teams with players like Colm Galvin, John Conlon, Darach Honan, Nicky O’Connell, Cathal O’Connell, Oisin O’Brien, and Domhnall O’Donovan.
Just one county title in the current era is a poor return considering the playing talent they possess, but they have been competitive every year and will be Championship contenders again in 2016.
Q: Is Clonlara right on the border with Limerick?
A: It is yeah. Ahane would be across the river. My mother is from there and my Grandparents are from Borrisokane in Tipperary so they're all able to tell me what I'm doing right or wrong! Look, Clonlara has been a magnificent club to me and my family. There's a great tradition there and some great players have come out of there
Q: Is your father Kevin a Clonlara man?
Q: Would he have hurled with the club?
A: He would. He would have done a stint with Clare as well in 1989. Yeah, he's born and bred there, so that's why I've picked up my hurling in Clonlara.
Q: Any other family members involved in the game?
*A: *I have. My brother Ian plays for Clonlara as well and played for Clare U-21s last year as well. But he did his cruciate in January so he's out for the nine months and has a bit of a road ahead of him because he only got the operation done relatively recently.
Q: Clonlara has had a real renaissance as a club in the last ten years, hasn't it? You came back up from Intermediate and it seems as though a generation of young hurlers came through together?
*A: *Yeah, look, in 2007 they won the Intermediate County title. And then in 2008 they won the senior straight after, and that doesn't really ever happen, especially in Clare. It was a great time for Clonlara hurling and there was a great bunch of players there at the time. They had a great belief, they were young, fit, and strong. They mingled with a couple of older, more experienced heads and that mixture was a great recipe.
In the last few years we've always had the ability, it's just we've never had that killer instinct to drive on in certain times of the match. We've let other teams come back in, and that's been our downfall.
Q: The likes of John Conlon, Nicky O'Connell, and Darach Honan came through together on an U-12 team that won the 'A' County title in 2000 and were then on the senior team in 2007. A lot of talented players emerged at the same time...
A: Yeah, they did. You would have also had the two O'Donovans, Domhnall and Cormac. Nicky, John, and Darach alone, the amount of medals those three lads have is ridiculous. They won everything at underage coming up along. They won 'A' titles all the way up to U-21.
Whereas my tier of lads, the likes of Oisin O'Brien, Cathal 'Tots' O'Connell, Shane O'Brien, we were probably mainly in the 'B' on the way up. But at the end of the day we were lucky enough to get on the Clare underage teams and that's thanks to all the work that's been done at underage in Clonlara, it's been magnificent.
Q: Who would be the main people in the club pushing that development at underage level?
A: I suppose my own father would have done a lot at underage. You'd have Pa Mason who, in fairness to him, did a lot at U-10 and U-12 level. You'd have Donal Madden, Pat Conlon, and Colm Honan there too who have all done great work. To be honest, every team I was involved with at underage level, the people in charge really gave back to the club in a big way.
All the lads who would have played Conlara in the past came back and gave a hand out. That's a great thing to have in a club, and hopefully when we get older we'll be able to turn back and give the younger lads a help out as well.
Q: So what exactly have you won yourself with Clonlara?
A: We won an U-8 tournament back in the day! We won the U-16 'B' and we won the Minor 'B'. For the team we had, it was a great achievement. My father, PJ Gully and Matt Morris were over the team at the time and I suppose Tots, Oisin O'Brien, and Shane O'Brien were the key lads on the team at the time. It was great. Those two medals are really the only two medals I have with the club at this stage of my life. Hopefully we'll try to win a senior in the coming years.
Q: What club would you have the hottest rivalry with?
*A: *Broadford would be our neighbouring club but the rivalry would have been a lot worse a few years ago than it is now. Now most lads would be friends.
Q: It's fair to say that either side of the stretch of the River Shannon your club is located on is a real hurling heartland now. There's quality on the Limerick side of it as well.
A: Yeah, it is, and I think that's got a lot to do with the Universities as well. UL is in Clare and Limerick and Mary I where I go to is only ten minutes away. You've LIT which is drawing huge numbers too. And at secondary school level you've a real hurling nursery in Ard Scoil Rís which is only out the road as well. There are Clare and Limerick lads going to school there and they all want to play Harty Cup hurling and win medals.
Q: What school did you go to?
A: I went to St. Munchin's.
Q: Did you play any rugby
*A: *Yeah, I would have played a bit of rugby in my day alright. I had to give it up though because I didn't have the time for it. We would have played a bit of hurling in St. Munchin's too. Donal Madden from my club was over us and a good figure to have.
Q: A big part of the renaissance of Clare hurling in recent years seems be down to the fact that the traditionally less successful clubs have produced so many county hurlers. Is that fair enough to say?
A: Yeah, because going back even 15 years ago the main clubs in Clare were from the middle of Clare. You had the likes of Tulla, Eire Og, and Doora-Barefield. But now it's the East-Clare clubs like Cratloe who have an unbelievable team, Sixmilebridge have a savage team too, and then there's Clonlara. You're talking about around three eights of the Clare team coming from the east of Clare which was never seen before. You might get one or two to be lucky to get on a panel of 30, but the times have changed.
It's great for our own club because it gives the younger generation the belief that they can play for Clare and if they keep training hard with Clonlara then they can get to where myself and a few others are.
Q: Is it extra-special hurling for Clare because so many of your club-mates are part of the panel?
*A: *It definitely is. I remember in 2013 to have five or six lads going up and down to training four or five times a week and spending hours upon hours together so it's a very special thing. That means it's hard for a club to train though because they're missing six or seven senior lads and then with county minor and U-21s they're probably missing the bones of 12 lads from training.
So because we wouldn't have a massive panel, you'd only have nine or ten of the same lads training with Clonlara on an average night and it's hard on them as well. It must be disheartening to be doing that from the month of January to two weeks before the Championship.
This year though we have played a few rounds of the Clare Cup already which wouldn't have happened in the past so I'm hoping that will help the club this year in the Club Championship. (Subsequent to this interview, Clonlara defeated Kilmaley by a point in the first round of the Clare SHC)
Q: How many County Finals has the club has lost since 2008?
A: It's two finals and five semi-finals. It's very disheartening when you look at those figures. But, look, it doesn't stop us coming back ever year and giving it another go. This year so far has been very positive. We'll do our best anyway to try to turn around our fortunes because so far it's been pretty bad.
Q: Sixmilebridge defeated ye in last year's County Final. Ye had more County hurlers, but they were more of a team. Do you think that is because they have more opportunity to train together as a team?
A: Exactly. They had two missing from training all year whereas we had around 12. And they have a massive pick, they have a successful intermediate team as well as a senior team. But they're putting massive work in up there as well so you can't take anything away from them. But, as I said, they played way more as a team than we did in the County Final and I think that's because they had weeks and weeks of training together as a collective whereas we didn't. They knew what type of hurling they wanted to play and what their game-plan was and they were able to practice that a lot more which helps on a match-day.
Q: Winning a Senior County Championship with Clonlara must be very high on your priority list because you were only a young lad watching on in 2008?
*A: *To be honest I thought back then we'd be definitely back and winning a few more with the team that was there, but things just haven't worked out. Winning a County title, a Munster Championship, and another All-Ireland are the three things now that I want to win. A Munster medal and a County medal that I have left to win. So if I can get them and another All-Ireland it would be some hell of a year this year.