Let’s be frank, last year’s All-Ireland Championship campaign was a write-off, with the early loss of former All-Stars Chloe Morey and Maire McGrath leaving a relatively inexperienced squad exposed to an arduous campaign that ultimately ended without a win.
Twelve months on however and the outlook is noticeably one of optimism and confidence that with last year’s newcomers now fully assimilated, Clare are ready to begin climbing back up the ladder of camogie believes manager Trish O’Grady.
“A lot of the hard work is done now. You’re a long time waiting and now it comes so quickly but we’re very much focused now on delivering a performance over the next few weeks.
Amy Barrett (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Deanna Considine (Sixmilebridge), Regan Conway (Feakle), Chloe Devitt (Ballyea), Orla Devitt (Éire Óg), Ciara Doyle (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Aoibheann Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Orlaith Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Saoirse Glynn (Kilmaley), Ciara Grogan (Clooney-Quin), Clare Hehir (Inagh-Kilnamona), Aoife Keane (Inagh-Kilnamona), Amy Keating (Inagh-Kilnamona), Rachel Kelly (Sixmilebridge), Sarah Loughnane (Sixmilebridge), Vera Loughnane (Feakle), Aoibheann Malone (Corofin), Chloe Morey (Sixmilebridge), Ciara McCarthy (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Maire McGrath (Sixmilebridge), Zoe McInerney (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Laura McMahon (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Roisin McMahon (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Emma O’Connell (Ballyea), Niamh O’Dea (Kilmaley), Andrea O’Keeffe (Inagh-Kilnamona), Carol O’Leary (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Aine O’Loughlin (Truagh/Clonlara), Lauran Solon (Whitegate)
Management: Trish O’Grady (Manager), Brian Enright (Coach), Flan McInerney (Selector), Denise Lynch (Selector), Martin Conway (Strength & Conditioning), Brid MacNamara (Logistics), Emma Sheehy (Physio)
“Last year I was very much focused on bringing in young players earlier and again this year we have brought in another crop of minors. And I think it’s coming to fruition now in terms of that you can actually see the benefits of it from last year.
“A lot of players were introduced earlier than expected last year as with injuries etc our hand was forced in that situation but I feel that that year’s experience is going to pay dividends.
“And if we do continue that conveyor belt of players, bringing four or five players from minor in a year earlier, I do think it’s going to be beneficial in the long run and I’d be confident that we’ll see progress this year.”
The tangible signs of that blossoming?
“It’s about maturity and responsibility and it has probably taken us 12 months to get that responsibility from the older players but they’re sharing the responsibility and the younger players are stepping up.
“It’s now shared responsibility and it’s confidence and belief and I think it’s permeating throughout the team now. Bringing in those younger players last year, they’re now a year in the squad and whereas last year they were observing, this year they are doing. “So it’s incremental but I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction and I am very confident that it will be beneficial.”
With Clare not having beaten a senior opponent in any competitive game in 15 months however, the fixture list certainly seems favourable for O’Grady’s young side who start with matches against Dublin and Waterford before facing the group favourites.
“We can’t really look beyond Dublin but at first glance, everybody sees Clare, Dublin and Waterford fighting it out and then Kilkenny and Galway at the top and that’s doing the maths before any game has been played.
“No more than Dublin and Waterford will be targeting us, we will be targeting them but if you take a long term view of it, get over two matches and you’ve got a heightened confidence going into two big games with the top tier teams and anything can happen.
“The quarter-final is the target and it’s about progress really. And I’ve always said it that once you get into the business end, you just never know. Many big teams have fallen and many up-and-coming teams have made the breakthrough so it’s just about making that breakthrough whether that will be this year or next. But we can only talk about this year and this is what we are targeting and in that, every game is a bonus and every win is a bonus.”
Clare are not without their injury problems either, with the captain the biggest worry heading into this Saturday’s crucial opener away to Dublin.
“Orlaith Duggan is a concern, Roisin [McMahon] has a glut injury and Ciara [Doyle] unfortunately broke her arm last week. Orlaith’s is a long term achilles injury that has flared up again and we’ll give her every opportunity to be available. She is a huge player for us and we’ll be needing her but listen, I’m not dismissing the contribution that Orlaith would make or can make to the team and hopefully she will be lining out against Dublin in the first 15 but I do see that we do have players now that can fill the role. And it’s not just Orlaith, it’s everywhere on the field, we do have a bench now.
“Dublin ran Kilkenny very close in the Leinster Championship and they are a highly organised team. And okay, they are very much on the same tier as ourselves but going up to Parnell Park will be quite difficult to come out of there with a win. But that’s the challenge that is ahead of us and thats what we are geared for.
“I would be telling you the same story if we were going down to Nowlan Park to play Kilkenny but that’s the challenge that faces us this Saturday.
“And listen, that’s where we want to be.”