Joint-captain Cian Dillon enjoyed the feeling of lifting the National League trophy, but it’s now about the next challenge of trying to keep Clare’s unbeaten season going as the main business of championship begins, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
IN the recent National League final one of the jobs of work that Cian Dillon had — apart from the libero’s role he inherited from the injured David McInerney and the lifting of the cup role he enjoyed with Tony Kelly — was to walk the red carpet and introduce the Clare players to President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins.
“This is Patrick Kelly the keeper, you met him in 2013,” he might have said. “This is Jack Browne, he wasn’t there in 2013, but he’s here now….” and so on.
But there’s more. Could have been so much much more that is!
“I teach in Ballycar National School,” Dillon could have revealed, which would have been quite the conversation stopper and then starter for President Higgins, the most famous alumnus from the small two-teacher school on the outskirts of Newmarket-on-Fergus.
But he didn’t — too much in the zone for the league final ahead, but as he reveals a few weeks on, “I might hop it off him yet.”
What about in a Munster final, when President Higgins’ diary would surely be cleared to attend a Clare Munster final in the same way that President Paddy Hillery did in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Just to get there — not that Dillon is thinking of Munster finals future, or National League finals past for that matter, just Waterford. Again. “After winning a league you don’t dwell on it too long,” he says of the league win.
“It was a proud moment and as a young lad you’d be looking ahead to days like that — you dream of playing for Clare and putting on the county jersey and lifting a cup, whether it’s accepting it as a captain or a player are the kind of things you hope for and wish for.
“But you don’t dwell on it. It’s engrained in you. Even as a young lad, or when you start off playing for Clare — you automatically, whether it’s a good or a bad thing, you look to the next game and the things that you can improve upon and you go again.”
For the 27-year-old Crusheen man about to embark on his seventh championship season it represents another day out as Clare’s sweeper — his fifth since assuming the role against Tipperary in the league quarter-final in Cusack Park.
“You get landed into it and you start to learn to play it,” he says. “A learning curve, but the games have been coming thick and fast and there’s no better way to play a new role that to get matches under your belt.
“Tactics only stand for a small bit of it though,” he continues. “Waterford have taken it to the next level over the past few years. They have shown incredible consistency, mainly down to the players they have and the system they’re playing that’s allowing them the game and brand of hurling to suit the players they have.
“We’re trying match that in a sense and set up in a way to counteract that too, but it’s down to how you prepare in hurling. Tactics are only a small part of it — if you don’t have the work done, fitness wise or in the gym, or on your touch and skill level it’s going to be shown up on the day. It’s only a small bit of it really. There are other things you need to win games — heart, fight and not willing to give up.”
That’s certainly been Clare in close game so far this year — the Tipperary game when they found a way thanks to Aron Shanagher’s late goal; both Waterford games, especially says Dillon, in the winning of the replay.
“It was the manner in which we won,” he says, “the way the emotions spilled over and the celebrations at the final whistle. It looked that we were dead and buried but lads showed great resolve to dig it out of the fire. We had the resolve to dig out the result.
“We know that if teams hit us for a goal or two that it’s within us to come back, it’s within us to keep fighting to the end. We know we’ll get chances, it’s just being focused at the time to take them,” he adds.
Now to do it again. Easier said than done, but Dillon is certainly braced.
“We know the attitude they’re going to have coming out,” he says. “We have to look to improve from game to game. If you’re happy with where you are at one moment it might all come tumbling down the following game.
“We have to look for improvement; we have to try and find ways to get at them and open them up. It’s definitely going to be one hell of a battle, but definitely one that we’re going to be ready for.”
Then the Munster final chance to say to Michael D, “I’m teaching in Ballycar National School…”
Above: Clare joint-captain Cian Dillon introducing his colleagues to President Michael D Higgins ahead of the National League final against Waterford. Natasha Barton