Generation of young Clare hurlers standout performers in the country

Banner county’s high achievers have reached the top on hard work and dedication

Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin of Clare celebrate victory at the end of the All-Ireland Hurling Under-21 Championship Final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin of Clare celebrate victory at the end of the All-Ireland Hurling Under-21 Championship Final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Every so often a special group of players comes along and lights up the sporting world with their achievements. What special ability, expertise, capacity, (call it what you will) do these great players have?

Is it natural talent allied to constant striving to be the best? Is it genetic or sheer hard work and determination?

The nature versus nurture debate is ongoing where brilliance or excellence is present. There are many books on the subject. Among the best of them in my estimation are The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk, Bounce by Matthew Syed,The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Needless to say there isn’t agreement on the subject matter.

The Clare hurling world is presently populated by a generation of young hurlers that are standing apart as the best in the country. They first came to my attention in the 2010 All-Ireland minor final.

Some of the game’s best performers in that loss to Kilkenny wore saffron and blue jerseys. Paul Flanagan and Séadna Morey were immense in the full-back line, Clare destroyed Kilkenny at midfield courtesy of Colm Galvin and the excellent Tony Kelly, while Podge Collins and Jamie Shanahan were magnificent in the half-forward line.

Last Saturday night many of those names lit up the evening and twilight in Semple Stadium. Kelly and Galvin gave an exhibition of dexterity, work rate, ball control, accuracy and leadership that mark them out as the best in the game. They had a supporting cast of many also.

Eoin Enright at midfield put in a commendable hour while Morey never fails to impress. Gearòid O Connell, weighed down by the death of his father 10 days earlier, showed what strength of character he possesses. Aaron Cunningham didn’t see enough of the ball to be as impressive as he was in the semi-final but he has the ability to be a top-class player.

Shane O’Donnell has performed on the biggest stage and we know how good he can be. His periods of injury this year lessened his readiness for Saturday. Nearly all of the others have seen senior action. Last year’s senior success will have whetted their appetite for all that goes with winning in September.

I was surprised to read a quote from joint manager Dónal Moloney after Saturday night’ victory. “Coaching systems, diet plans and gym programs – integral components of an inter-county set-up, sure, but they’re not worth a damn unless the raw talent is there.”

Then he followed by saying that these players have fantastic athleticism and sterling leadership qualities and that they had been willing to work ferociously hard and live the lifestyle of an athlete.

I’m not too sure about the “raw talent” bit. Are these players born with this talent? I don’t think so. I don’t know the genesis of the creation of this generation of top-class hurlers. But I would imagine someone had an idea re proper coaching structures and convinced a few more of the merits of the idea.

Then they sold it to the county board who started to set the building blocks in place to progress Clare hurlers to the top. It doesn’t matter whether my conjecture is fact or fiction because the facts are the coaching systems, diet plans and gym programmes were put in place and many, many people bought into the idea of best practice in relation to child and youth coaching. The ground work was done by the clubs and then by the coaches involved with the development squads and, hey presto, a generation of top-class hurlers.

Of course that’s only some of the story because other counties are trying to follow best practice as well but haven’t had similar results.

No, the facts as I interpret them are that people like Moloney and Gerry O’Connor treated these young people as people and not commodities. They preached the gospel of enjoyment, skill, respect and dedication as prerequisites for life, not alone sport.

The players who made the decision to accept this blueprint were willing to make the sacrifices to make it to the top. These players have made a choice.

They knew the sacrifices and made a decision somewhere in their subconscious that the price they are paying is worth it. Their parents, club coaches and people like

Moloney and O’Connor helped to guide that development. Now they are winning All-Irelands and doing it with a swagger playing really skilful intelligent hurling. They play with a confidence that comes with winning. That belief is to be applauded and nurtured.

It amazes me when a player or a team achieves something great that there sometimes comes a barrage of unsolicited advice from “great” ones in the community or press on not getting carried away with success. It’s a bit of an Irish thing I presume. We don’t really like seeing people achieve too much.

These are hard-working high achievers who have got to the top not on raw talent, but on hard work and dedication. They must be allowed to enjoy the success and be encouraged to climb even higher.

Focal Scor: Kildare forward Gerry Keegan and Roscommon goalkeeper Noel Fallon also showed last weekend that hurling excellence isn’t only confined to the Banner county. They gave very competent displays in the Under-21 final undercard, displaying all the signs of a lifetime spent perfecting hurling skills almost as good as some of the magic seen in the second game.

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