Clare’s golden generation can make history this Wednesday by putting three Munster titles back-to-back, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
FORMER Clare Under 21 manager John Minogue made a very important point this week when speaking to The Clare People about the rise of hurling in the county and the ground up approach to development.
It didn’t just come together for Minogue and Cyril Lyons by dint of their messianic powers when they came into the Under 21 set-up in 2007 and set about their job of journeywork that would see them reach three successive Munster finals as they brought provincial and All-Ireland honours to the county for the first time in the grade.
“It was the clubs,” said Minogue, “the great young players being produced by the clubs, new clubs that were coming to the fore at senior level.
“Clonlara came with a great young team, so were Cratloe and Crusheen coming, while Newmarket-on-Fergus, who were out of the limelight for so long, were producing players again,” he added.
Recognition of this grassroots was certainly lost in the past six week – you could say the grass was scorched and burned.
Instead, the clubs were placed in the dock – they were the enfants terrible who ambushed Clare’s hopes of All-Ireland glory, worse still there were agents provocateurs within those clubs who had cajoled others into the crossing the line and as a result the All-Ireland was lost.
This is not why the All-Ireland was lost, but it’s against the backdrop of this conspiracy theory that John Minogue’s words are sobering as this Wednesday’s Munster final allows Clare get back to reality.
A place where peace breaks out and the blame game that was thrown about fades away and is just a bad memory.
And, it’s why this Munster Under 21 final is so important on a number of different levels. It’s re-affirmation for the clubs, whose work it was, more than development squads, that has brought the county to the cusp of another major trophy.
The work of a club like Kilmaley – in taking in Conor Cleary from football country of Miltown, making a hurler out of him and sending him onto the county teams.
And what about Kilmihil, where the passion for hurling was stoked by Fr Peter O’Loghlen and Anthony Daly that has since found expression over in Ballyea where Jack Browne travelled for his hurling and people like Dónal Kelly and Fergie O’Loughlin have brought a clutch of great players through to represent the county.
All this work, and much more in other clubs was lost in the stand-off back at that infamous county board meeting in Clareabbey at the end of June.
Maybe it’s only when a Clare underage team is shooting for the stars that this umbilical chord between clubs and county is more apparent and gets the recognition it deserves.
It’s why it will be a case of ‘Club Clare’ this Wednesday when this Under 21 team takes its shot at history and deservedly hogs all the hurling limelight.
This group, be it management or the players who have lined out at Under 21 in 2012, ’13 and ’14, have given so much. The first Munster title in ’12 when the never-say-die that characterized the senior team’s exploits last September was really born with Niall Arthur’s late, late goal to beat Tipperary in Cusack Park; the swagger and champagne hurling that was served up in the second half of the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny in Thurles. Who can ever forget the sight of Seadna Morey, who’ll be back for more Under 21 glory this Wednesday, in full flight that electric evening under the Semple Stadium light.
These were huge injections of confidence into the senior set-up for 2013.
But perhaps most significant of all was last year’s Munster against Tipperary in Thurles – it was this victory and the manner in which it was achieved that really kickstarted Clare’s hurling year at senior level in 2013 and provided an adrenaline rush for everyone involved in Davy Fitz’ set-up to kick on and claim the ultimate prize.
Of that there can be no doubt and for that Dónal Moloney, Gerry O’Connor, Paul Kinnerk and Jimmy Browne never really got the credit they deserved.
The limelight is theirs and their Under 21s now, not that they court such attention, as they chase down what would be an historic three-in-a-row in Munster.
Munster senior titles were put back-to-back in 1997 and ’98, while there were successive National League titles in 1977 and ’78, but never a three-in-a-row at any level of hurling.
The traditional super-powers of Munster hurling in Cork and Tipperary have managed the hat-trick on two occasions, while Limerick joined this select club with a three-in-a-row from 2000 to 2002.
Now it’s Clare’s time, and you could say that when it happens it will be bringing it all back to where we started – the club.
Clare captain Tony Kelly can create his own piece of hurling history – for his county and his club.
He captained the Clare minors to Munster glory in 2011, just like his clubmate Paul Flanagan did before him in 2010. Last year Flanagan lifted the Munster Under 21 trophy, now it’s Tony Kelly’s turn.
Ballyea take a bow when Wednesday comes and when Tony Kelly climbs those steps and lifts that cup.
Then it’s onwards and upwards to the All-Ireland – one that will be historic, all of 100 years after a Clare team first scaled All-Ireland heights.