Cratloe have ambitious goals that were famously aired by their senior football manager Colm Collins in the aftermath of their barnstorming Munster final performance against the venerated Dr Crokes of Killarney last year. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh reports.
THAT this is where they expected to be over a couple of weeks in October could be called one of Cratloe’s commandments.
“The dream for Cratloe would be to try and win the two of them in the same year like Loughmore-Castleiney did this year (2013) and we’ll be having a go at it,” said Colm Collins on the first Sunday in December last year as he cast his eye forward to 2014 and what it might bring.
Just over 12 months on those words hold firm – they’ve had such a go that sports psychologists everywhere could do well to pick them up and run with them.
And, it’s the context and backdrop in which they were uttered as much as the words themselves that give a real insight to what Cratloe have – as a hurling club, as a football club, as a GAA community.
This was in one of their darkest hours; they’d just lost a Munster final that minutes earlier looked won after a breathtaking second half display that left Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper up in the stand and the rest of the Crokes on the ropes and reeling…….
Only for it to slip away agonizingly.
Still, rather than despair or dwell on what should have been, Collins just looked ahead. Set new targets. Ambitious targets. Something that hadn’t been achieved since 1914. The power of positivity taken to its nth degree.
But isn’t that just Cratloe. Others gripe at fixtures congestion, other clubs wrangle and revolt over players playing both codes. But Cratloe, they just get on with it.
“There is complete agreement and harmony between the two sets of managements,” says Collins. “There’s no arguments or rows, players are not being pulled in opposite directions. It’s all agreed beforehand and it works.
“The players love it, because the one thing they hate is when they have decisions to make and the managements are not making those decisions. That’s not happening. They know where they’re supposed to be on Tuesday night and Thursday nights – there’s no ambiguity and they just get on with it,” he adds.
So it is that last week was given over exclusively to the hurling and the grand plan of winning the Canon Hamilton for the second time.
So it is that this week that it’s moved to grand plan of winning the Jack Daly for the second time.
“It was a fantastic thing for the lads to win last year,” says Collins. “It’s players that win championships and they had worked very hard, made a lot of the right choices and it was just reward for them. It was a brilliant feeling. To win your first county title is a special thing. It was a very special time in Cratloe.”
That special time has come to the boil for the footballers after many years. For Éire Óg’s template of using underage successes as a springboard for senior level, just read Cratloe under Colm Collins’ watch.
“The first indication that we were going places was when winning an Under 21 A in 2009,” says Collins “Everyone was underage the following year and though we didn’t win it we knew that we had two or three very good Under 21 A teams coming through after that.
“Playing A football underage was so important,” continues Collins. “On a couple of occasions we were grade B but opted to play A. You are way better off, if you can compete at all you should go at the higher grade. Lads’ football comes on, it’s much better for them and you’re playing against the better players, but it was with that win in 2009 that we felt we could have the stuff to win a senior,” he adds.
That Under 21 win in ’09 – the catalyst for which was minor A win of 2007 – was followed by another in 2011, by which time the newest force in Clare football was really shaking it up at senior level.
They’d rattled Kilmurry in the quarter-final in 2010, before going closer again in the following year. “It was a fierce experience for us to be drawn against them,” admits Collins, “because they were the standard and we were just trying to reach it. We got a stark reminder every year of where we had to get to.
“These (Kilmurry) fellas could dig a victory out of the jaws of defeat. They never said die, they had brilliant ball players and didn’t give the ball away. These are all things we looked at and tried to improve ourselves, so we were getting better every time. It showed us what we needed to do,” he adds.
And when it finally happened with their 0-11 to 0-4 defeat of the three-in-a-row chasing champions last season it was something of a changing of the guard. Éire Óg may have subsequently knocked the ‘Bricks out of the championship, but it was Cratloe that kicked on to land the big prize.
They won the championship while playing within themselves, before really cranking it up 24 hours after their final win over Doonbeg to beat Ballinacourty in the provincial semi-final. Then performance against Dr Crokes was one of the greatest produced by a Clare side at that level.
“You realise that if a couple of little things had gone right on the day we could have won it (the Munster Club),” reflects Collins. “We’d love to get back there, but that’s a long way away. We have an excellent Éire Óg team to play in the final and we’re not looking further than that.
“Normally you’d be playing up the opposition, but from the very start I laid my cards on the table. I felt after the first round in Cusack Park that whoever was going to beat them was going to win the title.
“They have a fine team and I fully expected to come across them again. If we can manage to beat them it will be a great title to win. I would say that there’ll be nothing between the two teams and expect a great game of football – even though sometimes when you expect that it doesn’t happen. I think both teams play one way and expect nothing to be in it in the end and may be best team win.”
They’ve come along way from Collins’ very own ‘I have a dream speech’ last December.