It’s 30 years since Louis Mulqueen got involved with training Clare teams, 30 years in which much has changed, but at the same time the ingreidents that make champioinship hurling have stayed the same, the Clare selector tells Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
LOUIS Mulqueen was in The Gaelic Grounds to see the Munster semi-final between Limerick and Tipperary, a week after being in Thurles for Clare’s victory over Waterford.
In many ways the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. Apart from the obvious of him being a selector and part of Clare’s win and being a neutral bystander the following week there was the reaction to the two games.
Limerick’s victory in a Munster championship game for the first time in six years was greeted raucously; Clare’s first win in five years elicited a much more muted response from the crowd.
“Clare’s win was a big achievement,” says Mulqueen, “and the euphoria of that and winning was great, because some Clare players hadn’t won a Munster championship match before, but it meant we’re no further than we were last year – we’re in a Munster semi-final.
“And there were things in the game. After a great start we went absent for 25/30 minutes. We were seriously punished for the mistakes that we made. We had a bad clearance, we had a short puck-out, we were taking line balls and we were being hammered for them – they could have and should have gone much further ahead of us,” he adds.
It’s Mulqueen’s way of accentuating the positives that come with any championship victory, while also honing in on the negatives at the same time as the team prepares to take the next step.
“I went to the game and it was a great game of hurling and it showed that the team that wants it the most can win it,” says Mulqueen. “If we want it more than Cork we have a chance of making it to a Munster final – but it’s no more or no less. You can’t look beyond Cork and if you do, you shouldn’t be in the game you’re in and management shouldn’t be involved in what they’re doing.
“You have to keep level headed. Cork won’t look beyond us. If two teams go head to head it’s back to the focus that there’s no Munster final unless you win. Limerick want Cork to win because they’ll have the game in the Gaelic Grounds – that’s all rubbish talk.
“We have be beat Cork and bring the final to Thurles. Limerick doesn’t even come into our thinking. It’s the team that wants it the most – I know that over my years in hurling and I’m involved a long time at this stage.”
Thirty years in fact, since the former Harty and All-Ireland colleges winner with St Flannan’s first turned to coaching, years that has seen team preparation and the game itself change beyond recognition.
“I think my first Clare team was 1983,” says, “and I’ve worked with Len Gaynor, with Ger Loughnane, with Cyril Lyons. Now, using phrases that it’s semi-professional – it’s professional.
“Players are watching their diet, players are keeping food logs, the social scene doesn’t exist for players at this competitive level, The speed of the game, the intensity, the body hits – you’ve got to be ready for that. In the past you probably got away with coming in and out of games. You got away with training sessions not being as professional or as intense as they are now.
“It has got to a stage where you have to give yourself every opportunity. It’s eating properly, it’s sleeping properly, it’s everything. Clare brought that physical training to a new level in ’95 and ’97 – now every team is doing it.
“It’s stats, you take every advantage you can, but when the ball is thrown in all that goes as well and it’s still a traditional game of hurling, but you try and give yourself every advantage. That means using statistics, that means eating properly, that means hydrating properly – if you don’t you won’t reach your potential.”
With all those things as a given in Clare – and in Cork too – Mulqueen strips this Munster semi-final which team will respond best “in the white heat of battle” in what will be the fourth meeting of the sides this year.
“The past three matches don’t count,” he says. “We did well in those games, but once the ball is thrown in it’s championship. Cork know that and Cork won’t put out 15 bad hurlers – they’ll put out 15 fellas who will test us to the limit and we have to be up for that challenge.
“The Waterford Crystal came after they spent an hour and a half caught in an oil slick. You couldn’t just judge anything by that. The second game they blew us off the field in the first half, but we took over in the second half. We looked good in the second half but they should have had the game buried in the first half. The relegation battle was 50/50 – after 70 minutes they were two points up on us before we did well in injury time and extra time.
“We’re in a serious battle against a strong Munster county in a semi-final – a county was in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Our job is to put two back-to-back wins for Clare, which hasn’t been done for a long, long time,” he adds.
Clare’s ability to keep a cool head could be key contends Mulqueen, while the traditional elements of any contest such has hunger and spirit are also part of the match-day arsenal.
“One thing about this present Clare team is that there’s great spirit and there’s great heart,” says Mulqueen. “They kept plugging away against Waterford and 20 minutes from the end took over the game – the ball went into the inside line much better and we took our chances.
“When the game was put up to us and we started to get into our own stride – we started to win the half-back line which we lost in the first half, we started to win the half-forward line and the ball was going into the full-forward line quicker, we got onto the breaks much better and the supply of the ball to the forwards was better.
“There was no panic. We knew at half-time we weren’t playing to our level, but we have to do that from the start against Cork. It’s down to someone getting a break, the team taking the break or the team that doesn’t make a mistake. It could be anything in a 50/50 game. I think you are talking about two skilful hurling teams competing for a big prize – whatever team gets a grip on the day.
“We weren’t on the bouncing ball for some of the Waterford match, we weren’t taking the sharpness of the breaks – it’s the team that’s hungry that day and wants it that gets those breaks. It’s the team that’s on the losing that doesn’t get them.
“It’s hunger to be in people’s faces, it’s tactics and intensity of everything. It’s the team that will want it the most. If Cork have that more than us we are in trouble; if we have it more than Cork it’s a 50/50 game that we have a serious chance of winning.”