Galway to prove the acid test for Clare’s young guns
‘Sunday is a major one for us. I think Galway have the greatest talent,’ says Clare secretary Pat Fitzgerald
Clare’s Darach Honan will pose a serious threat to Galway’s defence on Sunday in Thurles. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The Clare hurlers sat in silence as their greatest ever captain spoke quietly to them.
These events unfolded late Saturday night, in July of last year, down in Cusack Park. A Clare team largely populated by kids had just beaten Dublin.
“Just been in the dressing room there,” said Daly, immersed in his Béal na Bláth moment. “They are young, very young. Maybe I’m too old but they are a young team. There is a great future for them there.”
That future may well become the present by Sunday evening. All they have to do is beat Galway in Thurles. Unpredictable, out-of-sync Galway.
“We’re playing a team that should’ve won the All-Ireland last year,” said an understandably cautious Clare County Board secretary Pat Fitzgerald yesterday.
But the future really does promise so much. Eight of the players who recently drove the Clare under-21s back into the Munster final featured for Fitzgerald’s seniors against Wexford six days beforehand.
They should all play some part at Semple stadium this weekend. The main concern is Tony Kelly, the stylish teenager whose penalty floored Dublin last year, damaged his eye in the under-21s defeat of Waterford.
Kelly’s was hospitalised, his sight hindered for several days.
Darach Honan, the rangy full forward, so unmarkable in patches this summer and so penetrative when Clare won their first under-21 All-Ireland in 2009 pulled his quad in the drubbing of Laois on July 6th.
Honan might return. Getting a Clare team from Davy Fitzgerald is not so easy this weather.
We turned to the county secretary for some guidance. Pat Fitzgerald is Davy’s father. Really we wanted to delve into the genesis of their underage success and how it can be transferred to the main stage.
Fitzgerald was having none of it. Clare beat Waterford in June only to falter against Jimmy Barry Murphy’s Cork in the Munster semi-final.
“They have been burdened by the favourites’ tag this year,” said Fitzgerald. “Like, before the Cork game. I think it is most unfair on young players. They are only 20 years of age and psychologically they are vulnerable.
“I think if we had gone into the Cork game in a different frame of mind, instead of the focus that was on them, they would’ve played with more freedom.
“Older players should be able to deal with things like that but the younger players, I think that has been our major problem this year.”
We protest. Are we not witnessing the most consistent flow of talent out of Clare since the time of Daly, Davy Fitz and the princes of 1995?
“Ah sure, look, they will always come through. In 2009 we had a very talented bunch of players but the reality is in 2011 Laois beat us and Galway beat us by 18 points.
“That first Clare team to win an under-21 All-Ireland in ‘09 was as talented a bunch as you could get.
“Again, a lot of that is psychological pressure. Now, okay, the ones this year have probably been nurtured and managed in a different way.”
The Limerick under-21s provide the obvious cautionary tale having failed to transfer three All-Ireland titles (2000-02) into senior success. Fitzgerald also noted the lack of young players breaking into the Kilkenny team.
“There are reasons for that. Young players need to mature psychologically as well as physically and skilfully. It is a very difficult mix to achieve.
“An older bunch can deal with it better. Young players can just get caught up in themselves and not play with the freedom they have the ability to play with.”
In 1995 Clare had just four under-21s in their All-Ireland -winning team. Granted, Frank Lohan and Ollie Baker were two of them.
“The difference with 1995 (and now) was Clare came in as underdogs in a lot of games and overachieved.
He speaks about fate. “If your name is on it, it’s on it . . . .
“Sunday is a major one for us. I think Galway have the greatest talent. Dublin have a lot of talent but in terms of maturity, just look at last year . . . t they should have beaten Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
“They have a tremendous amount of talent. And experience. That’s why I would be very concerned.”