Clare hurling captain Patrick Donnellan looking forward to Kilkenny test
Clare’s form in Division One A has made others sit up and take notice
Captain Patrick Donnellan is delighted Clare will be testing themselves against standard-setters Kilkenny this weekend. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
They aren’t lighting any bonfires yet in Clare, certainly not at this time of the year, but the evidence from the Allianz National Hurling League Division One A campaign – so far – would indicate some kindling is catching fire. Something is happening, that Davy Fitzgerald is building a team with flair to go with the heart he always marshals in his hurling charges.
The evidence of the heart was there last Sunday, when outscored a previously freewheeling Cork team by 12 points in the final 27 minutes. It gave Clare back-to-back wins – following the previous week’s win over Galway – that moved them to the top of the pile in a league that, in its truncated six-team format, is more of a sprint than a slog.
Clare’s captain Patrick Donnellan – who recently jettisoned a part-time career in lecturing to move to a full-time position in sales with an aviation company – won’t hear talk of the team high-flying it, but the centre half back, inspirational in his side’s comeback over Cork, is conscious their form has made others take notice.
On a coming weekend where off-field discussions will centre on black cards and what not at Congress, more than an eye or two will be cast to what happens in Cusack Park where Clare will play host to All-Ireland champions Kilkenny, who finally got a win under their belts when beating Waterford last Monday. It means just two points separates first from sixth in the league.
“Kilkenny are the team who’ve been setting the standards for the last number of years and it is great we get a chance to play them and see where we’re at. It’s nice to get a home game too. We’re looking forward to it, like we’re looking forward to all the games.”
As far as Donnellan is concerned, it’s all about this team developing and, importantly, winning matches along the way. An opening defeat to Waterford left the team “a bit disappointed”, and provided a little wake-up call. “We’d two weeks off after the Waterford game to address a few things. Against Galway, we played a bit better, and we were lucky enough last week (against Cork). I wouldn’t say by any means we’re after turning anything around, we’re not exactly where we want to be for the championship.”
He added: “But we’re winning, which is important. We played in Division One B for the last couple of years and we knew this was going to be different. Every game was going to be a step up and maybe we’re more geared up for it than some of the other teams in that we’re approaching the games with a bit more effort and determination. They’ve an eye on the championship later in the year and won’t be too worried about it. We’re keen to be progressing and getting better every day that we’re going out.”
Happy the team is evolving in Divison One A, Donnellan claimed: “There’s only so many strong (hurling) teams in general and you want to be playing the strong teams week-in and week-out.
“It is not as competitive as the football where you’ve 20 or 30 competitive teams who on their day can beat anyone. You want to be playing the top teams and seeing where you’re at. If you’re going to be meeting the likes of Cork, or Tipp or Kilkenny in the championship, you want to be meeting them in the league to be gauging yourself off it and seeing where you are year-in and year-out.”
With two All-Ireland Under-21 titles inside the past four years – in 2009 and last year – the production line has served Clare well, and Fitzgerald’s ability to marry the old with the mostly young has made for an emerging team. “The lads are young in terms of their age but they’re very mature and able to mind themselves. They’re very well motivated, very well prepared. Maybe in years gone by, when players would come onto senior teams, they might have been behind in terms of their physical preparation or their diet but I think the way things are going, players coming through from minor and under-21s are already at a high stage of preparation, that the transition on to senior is less of a step than it was.
“Davy’s influence is terrific. He’s great rapport, finds it easy to deal with people. If you’re coming into a panel and you feel part of it, it makes you bed in a bit easier and gives you more comfort from the start. That bodes well for when you’re playing for the rest of the year.”