His injury problems hopefully in the past, Darach Honan poses a major threat for Clare

The Clonlara full-forward has always had huge promise and now is the time to deliver

Come the leaf-turn end of summer in 1994, PJ Fitzpatrick ran his finger down the list of boys who were about to start junior infants in Clonlara NS where he'd been principal for 11 years. Though sited just eight miles outside Limerick city, Clonlara was – is – Clare to its toe-tips. The school was starting to grow and this was the first September they would enrol 20 boys, a number that had never been approached before.

One of the names held a special resonance for Fitzpatrick. When he became principal in 1983, he took over the reins from one Paddy Honan. Paddy Honan's son Colm won back-to-back National Leagues with Clare in the 1970s and an All Star at wing-forward in 1978. And now, another generation along, one of the 20 boys coming into Clonlara NS was Darach Honan, grandson of the man who had preceded Fitzpatrick into the job.

Reading through the list, he was able to pick out 14 boys who came from families who were or had been involved in hurling in one way or another.

“I just looked at it and thought that we would never have a better chance of producing a team. I remember thinking that if we don’t do something with these, we’ll never do it with anyone.”


Sure enough, six years later Clonlara NS won a Clare Division One title. Fifth class boys Nicky O'Connell and John Conlon were in the team, as well as the usual scattering of sixth classers. But Fitzpatrick was right about the class coming up behind them. Despite being two years out of their age group, fourth class contributed a third of the team. Including, pedigree guaranteed, Darach Honan.

“He wasn’t the tallest in the class then but as he got taller, you could see his ability really starting to shine,” says Fitzpatrick. “Above all, as a tall lad, he had exceptional agility and balance. He had an ability right from the start to get out of tight spaces with one move. He did in football as well as in hurling.

“His father in later years did a lot of basketball work with him as well. He had a swerve of the body and an ability to shift from one foot to the other and get free.”

When Honan's growth spurt came, it didn't mess about. All- Ireland-winning Clare under-21 coach John Minogue remembers watching him play for Ardscoil Rís in the Harty Cup early in 2007 and even at just 16, Honan stood 6ft 4in. Although he was on the losing side that day in the Gaelic Grounds – against, as it happens, a St Flannan's team for whom his erstwhile Clonlara NS team-mate Conlon was the star turn – Honan was about to enter the busiest period of his hurling life. Too busy, indeed.

Great burst
"The one thing he had that you might not have expected of him because he was so tall was a great burst of pace," says Minogue. "He went from zero to a hundred in no time at all. And I actually think that went against him because it meant he played an awful lot of hurling at a very young age. Clonlara went from intermediate to senior when he was still a minor.

“They won a senior county championship then as well and he was involved with underage teams and soon enough the senior county panel.

“By the time Darach was 21, which is only two years ago, he had a huge amount of adult hurling done. That would have included a massive amount of colleges and university hurling as well down in UCC. I genuinely think he packed about seven years’ hurling into not much more than three seasons. And I think that really, the body just wasn’t able to hold up to it.”

Injuries have been the kink in the hose, interrupting the flow of Honan’s career just when it was beginning to gush.

Having been the focal point of the Clare attack that won Munster and All-Ireland under-21 titles in 2009 – he was chosen as the sponsor’s Player Of The Future that year – he blossomed in the senior panel the following spring. But despite featuring in both of Clare’s games that summer, his turn at full-forward against Dublin was the last time he’d play 70 minutes in the championship for a full three years.

The list is grim, no less so for the fact that it’s in the past tense. Groin, hips, knee, hamstrings, lower back. The greatest hits of a body that had to take too much too young and that still hadn’t stopped growing while it was all going on.

Even this year, after he thought the worst of it was behind him, he tore cartilage in his knee and had to have it removed. He only turned 23 in March but already he has three different bouts of surgery to pepper his war stories.

Injury free
"When we had him in 2009, he was 19-years-old and injury free," says Minogue. "But when we had him in 2010 and 2011, he had become very prone to injury. He was a wreck at that stage really. It meant that right when he should have been a senior member of the under-21s, he was gone and just unable to offer anything because of the injuries.

“In the end, he missed about two years’ hurling as a result of it all. Maybe he lost his appetite as well because he had quite a lot of success at colleges level and with the club and then with the Clare under-21s. I think all of that caught up with him.”

Honan’s appetite is the one shadow on his x-ray when Clare folk hold him up to the light.

There is sympathy for his injuries yet at the same time a degree of impatience there too. Even those who know him well – like Fitzpatrick, a friend of the family – concede that he can take a little rousing into life at times.

“Things came very easy to him,” says Fitzpatrick. “He was a superb athlete, he was also superbly intelligent as well. So he never really had to work that hard at school and he never really had to work that hard as a player. He’s a very laid-back young fella.

“I was always onto the players about having two sides and being able to play off the left and the right. Because of Darach’s pace and his foot movement, he had a ferocious shot from his left.

“I was always trying to get him to hit off his right as well but he was the kind of lad that would just do his own thing.

“So I used to watch him hit a rocket of a shot off his left and I’d say, ‘Wait now till I tell the ’Bridge lads that all they have to do with Honan is stay on his left’. I would be slagging him away because I’m a Sixmilebridge man and Clonlara would be coming up against us.

“I remember I said it one time and straight afterwards he scored 1-1 inside a couple of minutes off his right just to shut me up. That’s the kind of lad he is. If you told him to practice off his right, he might not do it. But if you got under his skin a little bit, you’d get the best out of him.”

Minogue found himself having to press similarly deft buttons on occasion. It wasn’t that Honan was unwilling or bad-mannered, more that he could be a little contrary if the mood took him.

"He would have made a great case study for someone who was into sports psychology. It was difficult to figure out what was going on in Darach's head sometimes. He's a unique character and very much his own man, quite different to what the normal GAA inter-county player is. Darach has his own mind, he thinks his own way and he's very individualistic. He does things off the cuff. He did things that we wouldn't even have thought of trying to get out of him.

Getting there
"I think the injuries have taken away a small bit of his danger because I don't think he plays quite as much off instinct now as he did before. He's not able to turn as fast as he used to and he doesn't run just as fast either. But he's getting there.

“You saw it this year against Cork where he took possession twice inside the first 20 minutes and couldn’t just get away from his man. He was very impressive in that opening period but on both occasions he flashed the ball over the bar.

“I think if he’d had another couple of games under his belt at that stage, both of those would have been in the back of the net. I think if he could score one rip-roaring goal, Darach Honan could be back on song again.”

The music metaphor is well chosen. Honan’s mother is Máire Ní Ghráda, one of the pre-eminent female uileann pipers of her generation. And on his father’s side, his grandmother was a cousin of Seán Ó Riada. That said, Honan himself proclaims a liking for “rock music from the 1970s and ’80s”.

Well, they do say he’s his own man after all.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times