Limerick footballer Paul Kinnerk is a Clareman when it comes to hurling – he’s addicted to the game here as he tells Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
IT was late 2009 and Gerry O’Connor thought it was all over. Even before it had started.
Earlier that summer Clare were in O’Connor’s own words “a very badly beaten docket” by 3-9 to 0-12 against Waterford in the Munster semi-final in Cusack Park.
“We didn’t believe we had any futures in inter-county management after that,” said O’Connor. “We went away and licked our wounds and said that if we got another chance two years ago we’d see what we could do with a view to improving the way we were training the team.”
That’s how they found Paul Kinnerk.
Thing is, they didn’t know who Paul Kinnerk was. Alan Cunningham was the conduit. O’Connor had called the Shannon man and asked him to come on board as trainer, but after giving three years to the Clare seniors under Anthony Daly and then two more during Mike McNamara’s watch as manager, Cunningham wanted a break.
“Well I’m not getting off the phone until you give me another name,” O’Connor told Cunningham that night. At the end of their conversation, Cunningham came away with Paul Kinnerk’s name.
Kinnerk was only 24 and had no experience training inter-county teams, but he had trained the Sixmilebridge under 21s under Sean Stack and was involved with Alan Cunningham with the St Caimin’s side that reached the 2009 Harty final.
And, the PE teacher was available, sidelined from club and county football because of injury, the Monaleen man jumped at the chance.
It was November 2009 and the intervening four years is history. With O’Connor and Donal Moloney as joint-managers, Kinnerk as trainer and Jimmy Browne as the fourth selector Clare have mopped up six championships in four seasons – two Munster minor titles, two Munster Under 21s and two All-Ireland Under 21s.
Kinnerk’s influence has been huge and it’s why Davy Fitzgerald made the smart move and brought aboard the senior ship he started to steer in 2012 – the Limerickman being the bridge between the Under 21 and senior squad loaded with Under 21 players.
“It was my shoulder injury that brought me into it. I wasn’t going to playing the following year and I got the chance to get involved,” he recalls. “This was the first big test for me. That’s what set it all going for me.”
Now, he’s part of and in the frontline of the biggest push of all. He may be a county footballer with Limerick, but the son of Doonbegman Martin Kinnerk is consumed by Clare hurling.
LIKE his Under 21 bosses Kinnerk traces it all back to the first week of summer three years ago. Wednesday, May 5 in Cusack Park. It’s his reference point for Clare’s hurling revolution.
“As a group the lads hadn’t won that much coming up, but I got back to the day in Cusack Park against Tipperary when we beat them by a point when Tony Kelly scored at the end,” he recalls.
“I don’t think that anything has come near that – even in all the games we’ve won after it at minor, Under 21 and senior, to beat Tipperary that night was something else. They were hot favourites, massive favourites going into it.
“We had worked so hard and to win that night was just as massive relief – when that final whistle went that day, I don’t think anything has matches that since. You don’t foresee down the line, but you knew they were going to go on, that they had the main characteristics to succeed,” he adds.
How they have succeeded, with Kinnerk pointing to the range of qualities within the group that has brought hurling’s greatest prize within touching distance. “What those lads have is workrate, never say die attitude and that’s the foundation for any great player as far as I’m concerned but in order for that to come through, you need a small bit of success,” he says.
“You’re always hoping that if the team had success that the players would flourish with it. That’s what has happened and you always knew that they were hard workers and above everything that they have – the speed, the skill and touch, they’re really hard workers and that’s all couple with their intensity. They eat it up.
“We’re just focusing on our performance. We’re looking on meeting Cork – it’s a game against Cork, it’s a performance against Cork and we’re looking to get that on the day.
“You’re always able to tell how we’re going to do coming into the week of a game – the lads expect standards from everyone on the senior panel. We have 36 on the panel and lads that aren’t even able to tog out on the days of games – the likes of Mark Flaherty, Patrick Kelly, they’re the ones that are pushing the likes of Darach Honan inside in training, pushing David McInerney and all the others.
“It’s not a one to 20 game or a one to 26 – we’ve got a great understanding and respect from everyone inside in the group and a responsibility for Clare.”
Responsibility that rests lightly on their shoulders.
It’s why Liam McCarthy can come to Clare.