A history and achievement stretches back well over 80 years will be bridged if Miltown Malbay’s Conor Cleary lifts the Corn na Cásca trophy in Cusack Park this Thursday night, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

 

“I wouldn’t be great on the history, but my father would be a very good man,” reflects Clare Under 21 captain Conor Cleary a few days removed from his biggest day out in saffron an blue.

So it is that he defers to his father Gerry for a nugget of history that reels in the years to some of Miltown Malbay’s greatest hours at Munster and All-Ireland level.

The link between Miltown’s first Munster final winning captain — and hopefully the next.

Georgie Comerford and Conor Cleary. The link between the two that will come full circle with this Thursday’s Munster final.

Comerford was minor football captain when Clare won the first ever Munster title in the grade in 1929, while in the All-Ireland final that carried over into 1930 he led the Banner County to victory over Longford and scored 3-2 in the final.

Eighty five years on comes and another Miltown man goes go for the glory of being a Munster final winning captain.

“It was a great honour to be named captain, but at the end of the day once you go up for the toss you have to play your own game as well,” says about emulating Miltown’s most famous GAA son.

“He (Georgie Comerford) is a great man to be connected to, you always hear about him around Miltown — he was very successful and did a lot that time when lads weren’t successful. He played in big games and was obviously a great player in his time and captained Clare to win.

“But you can’t be thinking about when the 60 minutes is over — you have to play every minute as it comes. That’s all I’m going to be thinking about and that’s what all the other lads are going to be concentrating on — the next minute, the next ball and hopefully we’ll get over the line in the end.”

If it happens for Cleary it would be his second provincial medal on the field of play from a stellar underage career that started out with those journeys of faith and hope from Miltown to Kilmaley with his hurley in hand.

“You always dream and you always hope yourself that it might happen and you play county,” recalls Cleary from those formative days. “That’s what drives you on — the dream of achieving more.

“What happened last year with the 21s was beyond your dreams. To win an All-Ireland with Clare is great and when you achieve that you want more of it. It’s all about resetting your goals from there. Once you achieve something you’re resetting goals the whole time,” he adds.

For this 2015 crop of Under 21s the recalibration began when they first convened as a group last November and more recently in the days leading up to the semi-final joust with Waterford in Cusack Park.

“Motivation would be the word,” says Cleary. “After losing against Cork (in the senior) on the Saturday confidence was low and you were thinking that was it for the year — you’d be thinking all through the winter months ‘when is our next chance of playing for Clare’.

“He (Georgie Comerford) is a great man to be connected to, you always hear about him around Miltown — he was very successful and did a lot that time when lads weren’t successful. He played in big games and was obviously a great player in his time and captained Clare to win.

“It was great to get another chance to play for the county the following Wednesday — coming in on the Sunday and Monday and having a chat with Dónal the confidence was low, but he really just filled us up with confidence again and we were ready for the Wednesday.”

And so they’ll be ready for this Thursday and the latest challenge the county has faced in an Under 21 final — since 2009 Clare have beaten, Waterford, Tipperary and Cork in finals, so all that remains in Munster is Limerick.

“There is massive hunger there for this group to achieve something,” says Cleary. “A lot of people are saying four-in-a-row and stuff like that, but with teams like 21s there is no thing as consecutive titles in a row because it’s a new team every year. Really this team has won nothing. At under 14, 16 and 17 we were well beaten in Munster competitions. At minor we were lucky to reach a Munster final and an All-Ireland semi-final but we finished short on both days. We want to put that right,” he adds.

And Cleary is clear on what it’s going to take.

“Massive workrate,” he says. “I know it’s a simple thing to say, but it’s going to take being better than Limerick on the night and wanting it more. We know how much of a task it’s going to be. They’re a very strong team; they’re very physical and they work very hard, but if we can match that — that’s what it’s going to take, because we have to have the same hunger, the same workrate. We have the same level of hurling, so hopefully all the work we have put together in the winter months will come together on the night.

“We know that there’s a big battle ahead of us, but at the same time we are looking forward to it. These are the days you want to be involved with — playing a Munster final in Ennis before a packed crowd, where else would you want to be.”

Climbing the steps of Cusack Park on its final day before the bulldozers move in and lifting the Corn na Cásca Cup.

It’s where Conor Cleary wants to be.

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