Clare’s changing nature stalled as coronavirus changes everything

Brian Lohan’s team building will have to wait after fine showing in the Leagues

Clare manager Brian Lohan on the sideline at Cusack Park in Ennis for the Allianz Hurling League Division 1B game against Dublin at Cusack Park in Ennis. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Clare manager Brian Lohan on the sideline at Cusack Park in Ennis for the Allianz Hurling League Division 1B game against Dublin at Cusack Park in Ennis. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

The best-laid plans. Clare hurlers were rolling along nicely, having won their division and qualified straight into the Allianz League semi-finals. It was a pleasing start for Brian Lohan after a winter of intrigue had finally given way to the will of the clubs and he got his shot at managing the county.

As a team they had a purposeful look. Established players were tried out in different positions and others given their first crack at it.

Then it all ended, as the country shut down with more fundamental concerns replacing the mechanics of team building.

Lohan was also dealing with one of his players getting contact-traced on the threat of a positive coronavirus test, which happily turned out to be negative.

Then, John Conlon – All Star full forward from two years ago – sustained a serious injury in one of the last training sessions before the cessation of all activities and the dread cruciate diagnosis came back from the scan.

Conlon has been unfortunate since his barnstorming year in 2018, according to his manager, who was on the spot when the latest damage was done.

“I was doing the drills with him and he went down straightaway and there was definitely something seriously wrong. He does look after himself really well and is an impressive athlete. There were reasons he wasn’t as good last year as in 2018.

“He has had serious issues with his back. Before the Tipp match last year, he suffered a spasm when tying his laces. He played on for the full game but he was struggling to walk, never mind run or get possession and put it over the bar. He’s been unlucky.

John Conlon suffered a cruciate knee injury in one of Clare’s final training sessions before the cessation of activity. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
John Conlon suffered a cruciate knee injury in one of Clare’s final training sessions before the cessation of activity. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“John is our captain so it’s a big loss for us.”

David McInerney takes over the captaincy after a league in which he featured as one of the players relocated – in his case from defence to centrefield where he has enjoyed playing beside Tony Kelly.

Among other switches, former wing back David Fitzgerald has made a success of playing at centre forward. It might have started as extemporising but the repurposed team ended the regulation season unbeaten and with the best defensive record in the top divisions.

“Initially,” said Lohan, “we were just experimenting but as things developed it has gone reasonably well so we persevered with it.”

His highest-level managerial experience to date had been taking UL – with whom he also won as a player – to the Fitzgibbon Cup in 2015 and in his view, modern players require a large degree of involvement if they are to commit to the rigours of intercounty engagement.

“We introduced a lot of players in the league but I think we had to. Particularly now, with the level of training they’re doing all players want to play. There are 35 guys on a panel and if they’re not getting a chance it’s just not worth it for them.

“They need to see some return on the effort and it’s not enough just to play in challenge matches. We have 35 on the panel and one or two injuries but we used 31 players in the league, which has been a good opportunity to see everyone.”

Lohan walked into the job with Clare still something of a puzzle. All-Ireland champions seven years ago, they have spent the interim partly under that winning management of Davy Fitzgerald, followed by the partnership of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor, who had enjoyed sweeping success at under-21 level with the same players.

Little tangible has been added though apart from the 2016 league title. Munster campaigns have come up short, twice in finals. Now, a promising start has given way to the possibility that there is unlikely to be an extensive 2020 championship.

David Fitzgerald has made a successful switch to centre forward. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
David Fitzgerald has made a successful switch to centre forward. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

It’s a strange, twilight world for a team manager, waiting for something that mightn’t happen and hoping for the best while team preparation has ground to a halt.

“Effectively it has because there is no contact now. The initial thing was to see how we could get some training done but we’ve had to leave it completely to the players themselves. We sent them out their schedule and what we expected them to do. We’re able to do a certain amount of monitoring but there’s no group sessions and no gym sessions; it’s left to them individually.

“Gyms aren’t available anyway. Initially we thought it might be possible to get guys together in small groups of three or four but we didn’t go with that and that was subsequently ruled out anyway by a ruling from the GAA on Wednesday morning.

“We have had no meetings since last Thursday week. All communications have been by WhatsApp.”

The league is certainly gone and no firm scheduling of the summer is possible. There are vague hopes that once there is the much-hoped for certainty about the public health environment, some truncated version of the championship may take place as part of the migration back to normality.

“I suppose,” said Lohan, “but the way it is, it would be great to get some hurling in this year. Most people are thinking with what has happened and the threat to life in general but if the situation comes under control and there is an opportunity to resume I suppose the only way would be knockout.”

In the meantime there is little to do but wait amid the wider anxieties of what is for many, unprecedented crisis.

“I suppose we just reset now and hope that we get the opportunity in the next two or three months when this is sorted out.”

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