Munster title a massive goal for Clare and Aron Shanagher
Skilful forward expecting a fierce battle with Limerick as rivals vie for coveted final place
Clare’s Aron Shanagher in action against Waterford’s Stephen Daniels and Conor Gleeson during the teams’ league clash at Cusack Park in March. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho e
If Aron Shanagher’s full-time promotion to the Clare senior hurling team this spring taught us one thing then it’s how to spell his name. Or that’s he making quite a name for himself as one of Clare’s chief goalscorers.
Last year, when making a few appearances for Clare as one of their rising under-21 stars, most people still spelled his name ‘Aaron’, when in fact there’s only one ‘a’; his father, somewhat inadvertently, opting for the Jewish version.
This year, Shanagher will be playing under-21 and senior for as long as Clare remain in the championship, that latter campaign starting with Sunday’s Munster semi-final against Limerick in Thurles.
It’s a game Clare are fancied to win, although the last five meetings between the counties have swung back and forth like a pendulum: Clare (2016), Limerick (2015), Clare (2013), Limerick (2012), Clare (2008).
“There’s a rivalry there between us, and no matter what team is in form, Clare-Limerick is different to what you usually play,” says Shanagher, also an ambassador to the Bord Gáis energy under-21 championship.
“Starting off, we want to be in the Munster final, want to win the Munster final. After that, I think we can look to contest in the All-Ireland. When it comes to the summer and the national stage, I think anyone is in with a shout.”
Incredible as it seems, Clare have reached only one Munster final since the start of the new Millennium, in 2008, when they lost to Tipperary.They’re also seeking their first win in the Munster championship since beating Waterford in the 2013 quarter-final (losing to Cork in 2014, to Limerick in 2015 and to Waterford last year).
This year’s Munster championship has already been shaken up by Cork’s win over Tipperary in the quarter-final, and that, he admits, has probably raised the incentive for everyone else left involved.
“Yeah, I think it’s made everyone else excited. Before that, you’d look to Tipp, and you’d have said ‘Munster final’, obviously. But Cork came out, put up a battle, performed very well. And I think everyone was happy to see that, in a sense, because it’s good to see a Cork team going well.
“And I was a bit surprised, yeah, to be honest. But if you look back to the league, even when Cork played us in the first game, I thought they were very strong, did well against us. Maybe they knew it was there, but just weren’t able to bring it to the fore, in championship.”
Both Clare and Limerick are under new management, the duo of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor taking over in at the Banner helm from Davy Fitzgerald. That has prompted talk of a new ‘style’ of Clare hurling, only Shanagher isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think our style of play has changed too much. I definitely think there are a few sides that we focus more on, like I think we just bought it back to playing simple hurling, focusing on high ball, striking, plain and simple things like that. But I don’t think the focus has gone off a system, it’s just more a simple style. We still have Donal Óg Cusack there from last year, so the style hasn’t really changed.”
Shanagher’s own game has certainly improved; he hit 1-2 in the relegation play-off win over Dublin, now two months ago, on a day when Clare scored 3-18 to Dublin’s 0-19.
The long break isn’t ideal, but there is a sense both Clare and Limerick have been eying up Sunday’s game ever since the championship draw was made, realising its potential path to the Munster final.
“I had a good few learning points in the league, and it definitely stood to me. It was enjoyable in that I got to play in most games, so I think it went well yeah. And I think having a manager that trusts and believes in you is half the battle. Getting so much game time and getting to build my confidence up has helped.”
Clare’s under-21 campaign, meanwhile, doesn’t begin until July 12th, three days after the Munster senior final. By then Shanagher may well have made an even bigger name for himself.