Paul Kinnerk is still sore over losing the All-Ireland minor semi-final to Galway in 2011 and the only way he’s going to get over it is by winning this year Under 21 All-Ireland, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
STRANGE how history keeps on recyling itself.
So it was for this Clare under 21 team when they took on Tipperary in this year Munster Under 21 semi-final in Cusack Park.
A game that was to the 21s’ developmental curve in 2014 what the minor semi-final against the same opposition was back in 2010 when a slew of players who have driven Clare’s revolution were just beginning to make their way.
It was in Cusack Park, where it would be heartbreak house or the making of a team and the hurling generation that came after it. You could say that about 2010 and 2014.
In 2010, it was Tony Kelly’s point to win the game at the death – a score that Paul Kinnerk has referenced on a number of occasions as the dam-bursting score of that generation.
No one realised it at the time, but the point of age into the scoreboard end goal that at once released a tidal wave that has carried unprecedented riches.
You could say that the game against Tipperary this year was a nuanced version of the same thing. Make or break once more, with the latter looking to be the nap choice when Tipperary ghosted four points clear of Clare in the second half of a roller-coaster evening in Cusack Park.
However, it’s precisely because of what Clare did four years ago and the torrent created that day that Kinnerk et al on the sideline still believed as much as their players did.
The tide may have turned against them, but there was always past experiences to be able to draw on when the team’s need was at its greatest in the second half.
“One of their great assets is that they’re always able to dig deep and draw from past experiences,” says Kinnerk. “You get that from winning as much as the boys have – they have been in situations like that previously and they knew that if they kept doing what they’re good at, keep making the runs that we would get the chances. We got them in the end,” he adds.
Another dam-buster with the flurry of scores near the end to beat Tipperary by 5-19 to 1-25, swatting poor Cork and Antrim since then to move to within 60 minutes of a third All-Ireland title in a row.
“It’s been brilliant what’s happened the last few years,” says Kinnerk. “You couldn’t make it up, dream of it. All three groups were capable of doing it and winning the All-Ireland and to see the first two team going out and actually achieving it has been great. Now we want this team to get there.”
But as they go, the only reference to the big ‘three’ is to be found the default setting around the team, with everything relating back to their experience as minors three years ago when they ran aground at the death in their All-Ireland semi-final against Galway in Croke Park.
It’s not the three-in-a-row, but atoning for three years ago. You could say it’s a cause they’re fighting for as much as 2014 as a standalone year. This is their redemption falls.
“This group, having lost the All-Ireland minor semi-final in 2011 to Galway in the way they did – conceding an injury time goal to bring the game into extra-time and losing it – under 21 was always massive target for them,” says Kinnerk.
“Definitely, definitely we feel that this team has unfinished business. I thought that day against Galway in the minor semi-final was one of our finer performances over the last five years.
“That Galway minor team was a serious team. They were so physically bigger than us and to see our boys being able to match them in that regard and come so close to beat them. That game still gives me nightmares.
“For me, and for the rest of the management team it’s still a sore point. It definitely is to this group of players as well. We have referenced that game throughout the year and it’s nice to be in a position to be able to set it right,” he adds.
That it’s Wexford that loom on the horizon – a team that Clare have never met at underage level before brings a different type of challenge.
Kinnerk didn’t see them in the flesh the last day – by the time they played Galway he was long gone from Semple Stadium, as along with strength and conditioning coach Barry Fitzpatrick, he’d a county football championship game to play with his club Monaleen.
However, having watched the DVDs – again and again – he knows what’s in store. “With each opposition comes a new challenge. You look at attacking their strengths and that’s something we will be looking at,” he says.
“We would have preferred to have a tougher semi-final. Wexford have had that, winning a game that they didn’t look like winning at times in the second half. That’s something that they will draw on.
“But for us we have always set ourselves up for games by the way we have conducted ourselves in training – the intensity we have brought to games, the gameplan we’ve brought to games. That’s how we have maintained focus. That’s what we’ll be looking to do as well.
“They are a very hard-working team and I am particularly taken with the way that their forwards swarm tackle and how difficult they made it for Galway when they tried to come out with the ball. They were the same against Dublin in the Leinster final.
“We will have to be very clinical with our support play coming out with the ball and we can’t be playing into their hands with regard to aerial ball either.”
A case then of not taking on Wexford at their own game, but beating them on Clare’s own game that really flourished for the first time in the second half of the All-Ireland Under 21 final two years ago against Kilkenny in Thurles.
A repeat of that second half storm will do Kinnerk and Clare just fine.