Successful production line leaving Clare in an enviable position
Players from the successful back-to-back U-21 squad ready to play a key role in Saturday evening’s senior showdown with Cork
Clare joint managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor during the comprehensive All-Ireland Under-21 final victory over Antrim at Thurles. “We may never see this again in county Clare,” says Maloney. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The work of Gerry O’Connor and Donal Maloney is done. Clare’s joint under-21 managers have had a massive influence on at least four starters and a raft of panellists involved in Saturday evening’s All-Ireland hurling final replay against Cork.
“We call this the class of 2010 and we lost that minor final in pretty harrowing circumstances against Kilkenny and we felt on the day we probably left it behind us,” said O’Connor.
“And we made a pact in that dressingroom, and through tears, we don’t remember a whole pile of the words that we uttered that night but we remember the hurt and anguish for months after that.
“We made a pact that if we ever got the opportunity to win an All-Ireland together we would. It probably came a year sooner than we expected last year but ultimately you’ve got to realise that these guys have been preparing and training for the past four years . . . ”
There are 14 hurlers crossing between the senior and under-21 Clare panel this summer. David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly and Podge Collins are almost certain to start this weekend with Séadna Morey, Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan and Paul Flanagan all viable options to come off the bench.
The fear of a flat performance from these two-time under-21 All-Ireland winners doesn’t register with O’Connor.
“We’ve put ourselves in a situation that we will perform every day that we go out. It’s important to understand that these guys have performed every day for the past four years.
“People were surprised how a young team like Clare performed in Croke Park in the All-Ireland final against Cork but these guys have a winning mentality. They know no other method other than winning.
“That’s a huge advantage to have going into any game. They expect to win and they fear nobody but we respect everybody.”
This is reinforced by their attitude. O’Connor remembers Podge “having a puss on him” because he wasn’t allowed to train the Tuesday after the drawn final with Cork.
“That’s the way they are. They love playing hurling. They love the way Paul Kinnerk has them playing. It’s a huge opportunity to express themselves.”
The aforementioned foursome disappeared from the field early in the second half of the dismissal of Antrim two weekends back as had been agreed with Davy Fitzgerald.
“We had a loose plan if things went according to plan. An under-21 squad is a developmental squad. Our job is to put fellas in a position to play senior hurling.”
Maloney agrees that 2010 was base camp for these wonderful young hurlers’ climb to Saturday’s date with destiny.
“That was the start of the journey rather than an end in itself. There has been a huge focus on the development of these players ever since.
“Davy Fitzgerald coming in 2012 copperfastened that development as he brought in technical expertise like Joe O’Connor.
“Coaching is all about trying to develop skills and develop people. Way back in 2007, 2008, 2009 we didn’t know we were on the right track but we are delighted so many of them are starting to come through. We may never see this again in county Clare,” Maloney added. “Everything possible has to be done to finish the year.”