A new era for Clare senior hurling will begin on Sunday when Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney have their first day out in competitive action as joint-managers of the county. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh spoke to O’Connor ahead of the journey to Austin Stack Park to take on Kerry in the Munster League.
AND now for something completely different.
But how Clare’s joint-managers Gerry O’Connor and Dónal Moloney and the rest of their backroom team are looking forward to it.
The something completely different is the fact that before the main business of championship hurling swings around with the Munster semi-final date against Limerick on June 4 in Semple Stadium the new joint-managers will have at least nine competitive games under their belt.
It was so different when they brought unprecedented success to Clare at both minor and under 21 level — then the long preamble before championship was the round of challenge games, training, challenge games and more training.
Now the competitive games, between Munster League and National League are ready to come thick and fast, as O’Connor and co noted this week.
“We had a brief meeting after training yesterday,” O’Connor told The Clare People on Monday “and it’s something like five National League games and four Munster League games coming up in the space of eight or nine weeks.
“We have had five or six field sessions over the past six weeks and there’s four Munster League games coming up over the space of a very tight timeframe or something like 11 or 12 days.”
Something completely different, but as O’Connor quickly pointed out, “we’re really looking forward to this because we’re going to learn a huge amount about this panel over the next two months and ultimately we’re going to take it one game at a time and are really looking forward to getting the campaign off the ground on Sunday against Kerry and whatever team that we pick will be going out to give the best possible performance that they can”.
It’s never been any other way, but O’Connor points to the added incentive attached to the upcoming Munster League when Clare will be defending the title they won last year when beating Limerick in the decider.
All because, opportunity knocks for a host of new players drafted into the squad in the pre-season to prove that they’re good enough for this level — an opportunity brought about by the early season unavailability of high profile players such as Tony Kelly and the rest of the Ballyea crew as well as those out injured at present.
“If you take the Ballyea guys and the injured guys out of it you are left with a panel of 26 or 27 players,” revealed O’Connor, “and what we’re going to be doing is that it’s an opportunity for all of those panel members to showcase their talents.
“There’s going to be four matches and we will be trying to spread our panel evenly across the four games to give the players as fair an opportunity as possible to basically stake a claim.
“At the end of the actual Munster League we are going to be picking our panel for the National League and we stated that clearly to the guys that are in the panel so obviously we will be trying to give as much game time as possible to everybody in as fair a way as possible over the four games in the Munster League.
“It’s a huge chance. Yes the Ballyea guys aren’t there; yes there are some guys injured but the positives of that are that it has given us the chance to look at some guys who mightn’t actually have got a chance.
“We have a huge panel, so this is an opportunity now with several guys injured and the Ballyea guys obviously in training with their club, it gives that opportunity for others to come in and stake their claim to get a place on the panel for the National League,” he added.
On the injury front both Patrick O’Connor and Conor McGrath are recovering from operations, but all of those out short-term should be back in time for the start of the National League against Cork on Saturday, 11 February under the Páirc Uí Rinn lights.
“If you were to take Conor McGrath and Patrick O’Connor out of it,” revealed O’Connor, “the rest of the guys should be getting back into training very shortly and are well on their way to recovery at this stage.
“The National League games are also condensed into a very narrow timeframe, so what we will be doing is hoping to go out and give the best possible performance based on who we are playing.
“Our strategy has always been to play as best we can against whatever opposition we are playing against. We will be focusing on our performance, our individual performances based on who we are playing.
“We have been training in UL and while it’s a magnificent surface, it’s unrealistic in terms of what we’re going to find ourselves in over the next six weeks between the National League and the Munster League in terms of ground conditions. It will be great for us to get back out onto grass on Sunday.”