HURLING: A Lynch-pin to the cause

Clooney-Quin captain Fergal Lynch has toiled long and hard in the green and red, making his debut for the club’s intermediate side in the late 1990s before finally making it to biggest day of the club year nearly two decades later. He spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

Clooney-Quin captain Fergal Lynch who will make his first appearance in a county senior hurling final on Sunday.

“GOOD things come to those who wait,” goes the old proverb extolling the virtues of patience, but on the surface of it, given what he’s achieved, it seems slightly wrong to pair it off with Fergal Lynch.

All because it’s not like the principal in Scoil na Mainistreach in Quin hasn’t experienced much of what is good and great over the course of a long and fruitful career in the GAA.

He’s played in an All-Ireland final and he’s won an All-Ireland medal, while at club level he has back-to-back senior football championship titles with Cratloe from 2013 and ’14.

“I’ll never forget the days with Clare,” he says, “because those ten or 11 years with the Clare set-up were special. Having said that, it’s a statement that every GAA players makes, but it’s the club where you start and where you finish.

“Winning the senior football medals with Cratloe was special too and myself and Cillian (Duggan) would say that we thoroughly enjoyed playing with them and it gave us huge experience and we brought that back hurling for Clooney-Quin.

“This is different though, because you’re playing with your native parish and the people you grew up with. You’re representing the club that you have played with since you were five/six years of age.

“There is more of a vested interest in it. When we were playing with Cratloe at the time, we weren’t immersed in it. We were able to sit into our car and drive home. We were away and disjointed from the hype. At the moment we’re immersed in that and trying to keep our heads down. It’s very different.”

It’s where the “good things come to those who wait” clicks in, because Lynch, as captain and an elder statesman in the Clooney-Quin squad has soldiered a very long time for this day, to play in a county senior final.

How long you wonder!

“I started playing adult hurling in ’99,” he recalls, “when myself and Conor Harrison played. It’s a long time ago.”

So long that it’s his 19th championship season between the intermediate and senior ranks — a mammoth trek to a first senior final that certainly extols patience, perseverance and        commitment to the cause.

“We have gone through an awful lot of managers who have put an awful lot of hard work into us, between Mike Murphy, Jimmy Casey, Francis Browne, Ger O’Halloran,” says Lynch.

“All of these guys put huge work into the development of the club. The current management have done a great job, but a lot of people have before them as well.

“We won an intermediate title in ’86 and two or three years later we went back down to intermediate,” he says charting the last 30 years of the club. “It took us almost 20 years to get back up and ever since 2006 we have been knocking on the door of county championships and never seemed to get through to a semi-final.

“The dynamics and the personnel on the team has changed a lot since 2006 — myself and Conor Harrison are the only on that team who are still on the team. Enda Harrison who played in 2006 is the squad, while Shane McNamara who is playing now was on the squad back then.

“Now that we’re in a county final there’s a buzz and excitement going on in the school and I’m very fortunate to have a great staff here in the school and they’re shielding myself and Donnchadh Murphy from a lot of it. They’re taking over the decorating and the promotion side of it.

“We’re getting on with work in school and with our own bit of training as well. There’s good hype around and great excitement but at the end of the day we going to have to try and go out against the ‘Bridge and put our best foot forward to see where it takes us,” he adds.

Beating Éire Óg in the quarter-final took Clooney-Quin the furthest they had been in championship since 1952, while the semi-final victory over Conlara broke further ground by ensuring a first county final appearance since 1944.

“This year we did things a little bit differently,” says Lynch. “We took every game from the beginning of the Clare Cup series until now and just said ‘there are 60 minutes ahead of us and we’re just going to focus on that and forget about everything else’. That’s what we did.

“We met a very strong Newmarket team who out-muscled us and out-hurled us in the first round, but thankfully the way the system is we had another bite at the cherry and we haven’t put a foot wrong since. We were very disappointed after the Newmarket game — we felt we were well prepared going into it. We were missing Jimmy Corry, who was exam-tied, and he was a big loss to us.

“We gathered a bit of momentum afterwards. We went out a week later and we played O’Callaghan’s Mills in a Clare Cup game and myself, Conor (Harrison) and a few of the older lads weren’t taking the defeat like others would. We took a lot of that out against the Mills and beat them well on the day. Things seemed to kick on  from there, to shake us and it gave us the kick in arse we needed and we knuckled down and got the work done, getting cup games, challenge games and championship matches into us and it has taken us a on a long journey.”

A journey that could have ended before it began after having to go to extra-time to beat Feakle before the side has flourished with impressive wins over Whitegate, Éire Óg and Clonlara. “People say Feakle should have beaten us that day,” admits Lynch, “but we hurled extremely well for 50 minutes that day and then when Feakle came back at us we couldn’t cope with their final ten minutes and they blitzed us.

“With luck, by the grace of God we got that goal towards the end and we hurled very well in extra-time and it brought us on to the next stage. We were on the borderline of going into relegation or being promoted to the next round. Now here we are in the final and you can see what it means to the people around. We’ve been coached by people who never got an opportunity to play in a county final. It’s something special for us and something we are really looking forward to.”

All that’s left is to embrace the day like there’s no tomorrow — Clooney-Quin’s shot at the Canon Hamilton; their chance to seize the big day against the blue bloods from down the R462 road from  Lynch’s workplace.

“The ‘Bridge are a fantastic team,” he says. “They have huge strength in depth. They have guys on the line that are as strong as the guys who are going to be playing. Any day you’re coming up against a team like that you’re going against the odds.

“All we’re focusing on is our training and getting a performance out of ourselves on the day. All we really want to do is do ourselves justice. If we perform the result will take care of itself after that.”

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