Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald turned to 2009 county champions Cratloe for one of his selectors, picked their winning manager that year Mike Deegan, who spoke to Eoin Brennan ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland.
‘Whether it is with baby steps or giant leaps, the most important thing is that you keep moving forward.’
Clare can claim to have used both methods since Davy Fitzgerald and selectors Mike Deegan and Louis Mulqueen took up the reins last year, essential taking a step-by-step approach to each game in order to eventually make the giant leap into an All-Ireland final ahead of even their own meticulous schedule.
The final itself may bring an unprecedented level of attention on their young charges but according to Deegan, who was one of the main protagonists behind Cratloe’s rise to senior success in recent years, their methodology and preparation won’t be affected or indeed altered.
“To tell you the truth, we hadn’t really thought about an All-Ireland final until we actually reached it. Even for the last day, we didn’t even look at it as an All-Ireland semi-final, we looked at it as another championship match. I mean ourselves and Limerick could have been a first round of the Munster Championship just as easily. And it will be the same for the final, the way that we will be looking at it is that we are playing Cork, that’s all it is. It’s not about the occasion, it’s about playing the match.
“The All-Ireland final thing won’t really sink in until after it, I mean the win against Limerick is only sinking in now. Instead, you have to concentrate on preparing what you have to do in the game and stuff like that.
“So maybe in October, we can look back at it and realise what we have done.”
“Look, there’s no way that we sat down at the start of the year and said we would aim for an All-Ireland final. Our big aim was to concentrate on the league and survive in the top division and get over the Waterford match in the championship.
“Obviously when we got over the Waterford match, our next objective was to get to the Munster final but we didn’t do that so we then had to refocus on the qualifiers. In fairness, we got a draw with Laois and Wexford which was positive for us and then we had the Galway match which was a big challenge for us. In saying that, all the pressure was on Galway but once we got over that game, we looked around at who was left and like the rest, we said that we had as much chance as anybody else so it has always been a step-by-step approach.”
Momentum through the qualifiers has also undoubtedly been a key factor in both Clare and Cork’s advancement to the decider but for Deegan, the quarter-final victory over Galway was perhaps the Banner’s most decisive moment of the season.
“That was the game that players got most confidence from. We had a gameplan, we sat down, all the players bought into it and we worked on it very hard for the two weeks beforehand. The thing about it is though, you can have a gameplan as much as you want but if the players don’t buy into it, it’s no good. Our players did buy into it and it worked on the day and that was the big thing and everyone came out of that game with a lot of confidence. And to get over that match was a big, big bonus for us.
Another considerable bonus was the addition of silverware only three days later in the Munster Under 21 final, and with such a huge contingent of that panel in the senior set-up as well, the Cratloe man is thrilled by both the application of the players as well as the way both management teams have handled the large crossover.
“I think it has been well managed. Obviously Joe O’Connor takes care of most of that and he’s absolutely fantastic because he covers everything from their food to their gym work and he keeps track of everything. So I think it is well managed and the proof is in the pudding because the guys are getting better every day. They lasted well in the match against Limerick and probably could have kept going for another while.
“There’s no doubt about it, it has become more and more of a young man’s game. I mean everybody talks about the fact that we have a young team but Cork are just as young and it has just become that way.
“Fitness is a big thing and you can see in some of the big, strong physical teams that some aren’t able to move and if you move them around, especially when it gets to the big pitches like Croke Park, it suits the faster, lighter teams. So the way the game is being played, it’s definitely a young man’s game and even the amount of effort that they have to put in, you nearly have to be a student to give that time and effort. And even the guys who are working, how some of them do it is beyond me because it is semi-professional but without the money.
And if you have a family nowadays and you are playing inter-county hurling, you don’t get to see too much of your family as far as I’m concerned.”
“And while Deegan is the first to admit that Clare are well ahead of schedule, the importance of seizing this unique opportunity on Sunday takes total precedence.
“There’s no doubt about it. People can say that we are a young team with a bright future and the whole works but you might never get another opportunity like this. The last time Clare reached the final was in 2002 and I’m sure there were fellas on that team talking about being back there the next year or the year after that and here we are now eleven years later.
“So you have got to take the opportunity when you get it because as I say they don’t come around too often.”