Nothing stays the same and so it will be for the Clare footballers in the 2015 National Football League as a number of players who played in last year’s campaign have slipped into retirement or hibernation only to be offset by a raft of new players who have enlisted for duty. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh reports.
KILMURRY IBRICKANE tyro Keelan Sexton is set to join a select club of footballers in the county who have represented the county at senior level while still being a minor.
The great Sham Frankie Griffin did it over 30 years ago, while Kilfenora have had the monopoly on players playing minor, under 21 and senior in the same season over the past couple of generations — the O’Keeffe twins Aidan and Ger did it in the late ‘80s, while David Connole followed them 20 years later.
Now it’s set to be Kilmurry’s turn, with Sexton just one of a number of newcomers in line for National League debuts this term as manager Colm Collins and his backroom team of Ger Keane and Ephie Fitzgerald look set to blend the tried and trusted with some of the newcomers to the squad this year.
This was the case last year, with a host of newcomers to the panel ensuring that a much-changed side began to take shape as the league progressed. Kilmihil’s Martin O’Leary hit the ground running on the first day with a great goal against Waterford, while other league debutants that day were Corofin’s Jamie Malone, Cratloe duo Padraic Collins and Pierce de Loughrey and Stephen Collins of St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield. Kilfenora’s Jack O’Dea and Kildysart’s Keith O’Connor were others to make their league bow during 2014, while Éire Óg Ciaran Russell became a permanent fixture on the starting 15 by the end of the campaign.
That more change is in the offing can be measured by the number of retirements from last year — Michael O’Shea, Alan Clohessy, Laurence Healy and Shane McNelis all played in last year’s league, but at varying times over the past nine months they’ve retired.
Others not part of the squad this year are Rory Donnelly (Cooraclare) Barry Harnett (Meelick), Keith O’Connor (Kildysart), Paudge McMahon (Clondegad), John Keane (Corofin) and Francie Hayes (Lissycasey. With the departures come the arrivals — from the young guns like Sexton, Liscannor’s Darren Nagle, Corofin’s Manus Malone and St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield’s Alan O’Neill to the experienced Pat Burke of Kilmacud Crokes, while in between there’s the huge footballing talent of Cratloe’s Cathal McInerney.
Burke brings huge credentials — he’s played league football at the highest level, playing in the 2011 Division 1 final for Dublin against Cork and while he missed out on being part of the Dubs All-Ireland winning squad that year he has a Leinster championship medal from his time with the metropolitans and also captained Kilmacud Crokes to All-Ireland club final glory in 2009.
Meanwhile, Cathal McInerney’s decision to commit himself to the football cause is a huge boon to Clare’s league hopes — it’s almost happened under the radar in the sense that the all the attention regarding choosing football over hurling was diverted to the Sean and Podge Collins last autumn, even though McInerney took the plunge at the same time.
Of course, the greater plunge will be the impact that McInerney can make to Clare’s forward division, bringing his prodigious scoring that has been one of the biggest planks of Cratloe’s success to the inter-county stage. Replicating his club strike rate at county level would certainly help catapult Clare further up the rankings.