HURLING: ‘These opportunities are very hard to come by’

Clooney-Quin's Conor Harrison in action against Ballyea during their Round 3 meeting in September. Photograph by Natasha Barton

Upon securing an Intermediate League title in his first adult season in 1999, Conor Harrison’s hopes that Clooney-Quin’s ascension up the ranks would be all plain sailing quickly came to a shuddering halt.

At the time, the county minor’s potential saw him called up to the Clare senior panel in 2000 before making his competitive debut a year later but at club level, three county intermediate final defeats threatened to derail their ambitions before finally making the breakthrough in style in 2006 when adding Munster honours to their long-awaited county title.

“2006 was a great year, we had been knocking on the door for a couple of years and lost a couple of finals. We were beaten by Crusheen in the 2000 final, we lost to Corofin in 2002 and we were beaten again after a replay by Smith O’Brien’s in 2004 so to finally get over the line after trying for five or six years was just brilliant.”

Their assimilation to senior also took time but after paying their dues, Clooney-Quin finally qualified for a quarter-final place in 2009 only to be downed by their intermediate successors Clonlara who were then county senior champions.

The same opponents again proved their undoing in the last eight of the 2010 version and therefore it was ironic that Clooney-Quin’s progression to a first county final in 73 years would come against the expense of Clonlara a fortnight ago.

However, it was their one point championship exit to eventual All-Ireland finalists Ballyea last year that really hit home to Harrison and Co. that a tilt at the Canon Hamilton was not beyond the bounds of possibility.

“I felt that we had been there-or-thereabouts for a couple of years after coming up from intermediate and we unlucky to have come out the wrong side of a few narrow defeats. We came up against a very good Clonlara team in two quarter-finals and last year, we weren’t that far away either.

“We were beaten by the two county finalists and went out in Round 3 to Ballyea by a point, who went on to have a fantastic year so we knew that we weren’t that far away.

“We had a little bit of belief that if we knuckled down a little bit more that there wasn’t that much between a lot of the teams.

“Winning the Senior B last year was also a fantastic boost even if not every team values it. For the likes of myself and a few more, we fought so hard just to get up to senior that we weren’t just going to take it for granted. We’re not above playing Senior B and we treated it with the respect it deserves.

“And it was fantastic to win it and you can’t beat winning matches and winning trophies and it was particularly a great development for the younger players coming through.

“And therefore getting a couple of wins under our belts has been massive this year, it has further grown that belief and the momentum from those wins has been huge.

‘There are thin margins between a lot of the teams in this championship albeit that the ‘Bridge have been the outstanding team all year and have consistently been at the top but we’ll just have to take the next day as it comes as well and see what happens.”

With 2013 and ’15 champions Sixmilebridge already lowering Ballyea, Cratloe and Newmarket-on-Fergus’ colours, Harrison is acutely aware that Clooney-Quin will be outsiders for Sunday’s final showdown but it’s a position that they are have become accustomed to in their roller-coaster five match ride through this year’s championship.

“All the games we’ve played so far, we’ve probably been underdogs for most of them and it won’t be any different next Sunday as we’ll treat the ‘Bridge with the same respect as we treated everyone else, give it 100% and who knows what could happen.

“To be honest, I’m really looking forward to it, there has been a great atmosphere around the whole parish and it’s great to see all the Clooney-Quin colours out in force so I’m just really, really looking forward to the game now.

“After all, these opportunities are very, very hard to come by so we have a fantastic opportunity on Sunday and we’ll be doing everything we can to make the most of it.”

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