LAURIE Ryan came into the Clare side in the aftermath of Clare’s last All-Ireland intermediate win.
She was just 16 in 2010 and it was a dream season in many ways — in Munster she played against the team that would become the Invincibles, Cork, then a very good Dublin side in the All-Ireland quarter-final that would go on to greater things.
At the same time there was the promise that Clare would go on to greater things themselves, but for one reason or another, or many more for that matter, it never happened and All-Ireland final appearances seemed further away with every passing year.
Until this year that is, even if it’s something very new to the majority of the Clare players. “Since I came onto the team back in 2010 it’s the first time that we’ve made it past the quarter-final stage of the championship,” says Ryan, “so that’s an achievement in itself, so it’s great for Clare to be back in an All-Ireland final. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this stage,” she adds.
Worked geared up towards winning an another intermediate crown and stepping up to senior football and being able to hold their own in that company — like in that 2009/2010 era that Ryan references as the template for the current generation.
“It wasn’t easy coming into the senior team in 2010,” she recalls, “and I remember we played Cork in Munster and it was a big eye-opener for everyone involved with the team that year, but we went on to make the quarter-final and push Dublin fairly close in that game up in Offaly.
“It showed that we had made huge strides forward, but in the years after that it was hard to keep it going. We started to fade a few years after that, but in the last year we have really picked it up again and it’s great that we’re getting the rewards for the work we’ve put in.
“There are a lot of new faces on the team and that’s great for Clare football going forward — whether we go up this Sunday and win the All-Ireland or if it doesn’t happen for us we still have a team that’s going to be around for a while,” she adds.
As she speaks, however, Ryan knows well that it isn’t the future that’s important in an All-Ireland final, but instead it’s the here and now of winning the thing. “Kildare are obviously hurting from last year and their aim was always going to be to get straight back to the All-Ireland final and winning it. We know that we can’t take anything for granted — that they’re going to be a really good team and that we’re going to have our work cut out for us, but we’re hopeful.”
Ryan, as full-back and captain is one of the foundation stones of the team — 60 minutes away from emulating her club-mate Niamh Henchy who lifted the cup in 2009, but in the countdown to Sunday she quietly deflects all such personal thoughts and thinks of the collective.
“Being captain is something you dream about,” she says “and I never thought I would captain Clare in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. It’s a privilege, but at the end of the day I’m only there as a representative of the team. We’re all in it together, we need to work for each other and that’s the main thing we need to focus on.
“Growing up Niamh Henchy was the player I looked up to. She was with Banner like myself, she was captain of Clare at the time and it’s great that she’s still playing. She’s just an inspiration to all of us.
“Another big player for me was Lorraine Kelly. She was always someone on the Clare team that I looked up to and it was great to get to play alongside her for the county. I was very lucky in that sense when I came onto the team, that there were players there to look up to and helped me settle into playing for the county.”
Ryan is well established now and points to the management set-up as the key to the side’s success this year. “They’ve really been a breath of fresh air,” she says. “The manager has brought with him a professionalism that we all had to step up to the mark and that we were accountable for a lot of it. It has worked great for us so far.
“To get that one-point victory over Tipperary in the semi-final was a huge boost for us. It was great because it was said to us that we never really win close games — that we did in that game and got over the line was brilliant for the team.
“To win the next day I think we have to go out and play as well as we can and not get overawed by the occasion.
“They have the experience of having played in Croke Park before and because we’re so young we need to be able to focus on the game and not the occasion. It’s 60 minutes and it’s about producing our very best for that 60 minutes and letting the result look after itself after that.”
With Clare winning, no doubt.

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