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Ciarán Murphy: John Conlon matches All Star intercounty efforts with drive for club development

Clare multi-winning All Star striving for his club to build on Senior B success at the highest level

Last month, John Conlon became only the seventh man to win an All Star as both a defender and an attacker. You might as well try naming the other six; I got five.

But the Clare man wasn’t really in any frame of mind to celebrate entering such exalted company in the RDS that night, because he had the small matter of a Munster club semi-final to contend with two days’ later.

He won the All Star for his efforts with Clare, but his year was not finished by any means when Clare fell short against Kilkenny at the start of July. In fact, his heroics had only just begun.

In 2008, when Conlon was only 19, Clonlara won just their second Clare county title and their first in 90 years. This October, he was the only survivor from that team still playing when they won their third.


For Clonlara, though, he has been more than their best player. In the aftermath of that county final win, Clonlara people returned time and time again to a key turning point. They had won three Senior B county finals in a row, when in 2022, Conlon stood up in the victorious dressing room and said this wasn’t where the club wanted to be or had to be. It was time to step out of the repechage and into the real deal.

A lot of clubs have county players, but not many have people like John Conlon. I hosted a fundraising event for a club in south Galway a number of years ago, and he was one of the guests of honour, alongside a few other intercounty players.

It was all proceeding along expected lines – I would ask a question of a star hurler, they would politely answer, and the conversation would be mercifully moved on to some other poor sucker. But when we got to Conlon, the temperature changed entirely. Whatever softball I’d offered him, he picked it up and ran with it.

He started talking first about the efforts that the host club had gone to thus far, and how it reflected their ambition. And then he moved onto what his own club had to do to become a winning team in Clare, what it took to move from their run-down old home, build a new pitch in the village, make it central to the community, and become a team that reached the last four consistently in a relentlessly competitive county championship. His own role in all of this he tried to understate, but without much success. He cared too much to be able to hide it.

He electrified the room. And it wasn’t just the force of his oratory, obviously. What people saw that afternoon was what they all hope to see one day in their own club – an exceptional county player who was single-minded enough to also take on the responsibility of revolutionising his own club.

When Brian Fenton spoke to this paper before Raheny’s Dublin senior football semi-final against Kilmacud Crokes, he outlined in fairly stark detail where he felt the club had to improve to get up to the level of the big clubs in Dublin.

As it happened, they were a last-minute goal away from beating Crokes on the very day that interview appeared, but there was never any chance of anyone in Raheny being upset at their limitations being set out in a national newspaper, regardless of how the game went.

After all, the message was being delivered by Brian Fenton, and quite apart from his standing as a footballer, there is that innate decency and straightforward nature that is obvious even to those on the outside of whatever dressing room he’s in.

Fellas like Conlon and Fenton are not 10 a penny. Take for example the other main reason it has been a great autumn for Clonlara – their sister camogie club Truagh-Clonlara won their first senior title this autumn, and Conlon’s wife, Michele Caulfield, was the joint captain. Conlon even helped prepare the team.

He was man of the match as Clare beat Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds in the Munster round-robin, a game that none of us will forget in a hurry. We won’t forget either his post-match interview on GAAGO, where he informed the guests at his brother’s wedding, where he had been best man just a couple of hours beforehand, that he would be returning to the party in short order.

Hurling getting in the way of a party has nearly been the theme of his 2023. Keeping the powder dry at the All Stars paid off handsomely when Clonlara managed to pip the Tipperary champions Kiladangan in that provincial club semi-final last month.

They were fairly and squarely outclassed in the Munster final against Ballygunner last Sunday, but I hope that at some stage in the next couple of weeks Conlon gets to look back on a year of huge achievement. Clonlara might even organise something for him themselves – quite frankly, it’s the least they could do.

  • By the way – Brian Whelehan, Brian Corcoran, Ken McGrath, Tommy Walsh, and Kyle Hayes are the other five who’ve won All Stars as defenders and as forwards. Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh was the name that caught me out. You have permission to torture someone at your Christmas party with that, at your own discretion.

Ciarán Murphy’s first book “This Is The Life”, published by Penguin Sandycove is out now, and available in all good bookshops.

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