A new brush sweeps clean is the mantra for Clare as they embark on the 2019 season with renewed confidence and enthusiasm this Sunday for the commencement of the National League.
Under a new management team headed by Clonlara’s Ger O’Connell, the undoubted aim is to finally end what has seemed an interminable period of transition over the past five years since the Banner County last appeared in the shake-up for honours.
Having bridged a 66 year gap to garner Munster Championship honours in 2012, Clare went on to contest both the National League Final and All-Ireland Senior Quarter-Final in 2014 but have failed to reach the knock-out stages of either competition in the intervening period, slumping to only three All-Ireland victories in the last 18 attempts, despite intermittent green shoots of optimism in blooding an exciting new crop of talent.
O’Connell’s appointment has already ushered in a sizeable backroom team of Clonlara club-mates Barry O’Connell, Paul Nihil, Shane O’Brien, Cillian Fennessy and Eileen Gleeson, Wolfe Tones duo Laura Linnane and Gemma Quinlan, Liam Clancy (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Claire Commane (Inagh-Kilnamona) and Alan Murnane (Parteen) along with shaking up the panel that includes the return of experienced quartet Fiona Lafferty (Inagh-Kilnamona), Aimee McInerney (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Naomi Carroll (Sixmilebridge) and Aoife Griffin (Newmarket-on-Fergus).
“What we have been training and playing challenges for is to be ready for competitive action so we have probably six weeks training done and it has been about getting to know the girls as much as the preparations.” began the former All-Ireland Minor winning Clare goalkeeper.
“Learning all the girls names has probably taken three weeks but seriously it has been brilliant, there’s a great buzz there at the moment and we’re really looking forward to Sunday now.
“I’m a guy that believes that if you are going to do it, you do it right so that’s the way I’ve approached it.
“Coming into inter-county management, it’s a learning process as much as anything so we have learned different bits and pieces about the set-up and the way things operate as we have gone on.
“But the girls have been first class since we turned up the first day and they have really bought into what were trying to do. We’re trying to do things a bit different which has probably freshened things up for them a bit as well. And look, it’s really about the girls enjoying it and performing to the best of their ability so we’re now looking to transferring that mindset from training into games.”
O’Connell’s reign couldn’t have been handed a more difficult start however as his flagship side travel to John Lockes GAA Club in Callan this Sunday (2pm) to take on three-in-a-row National League champions Kilkenny, a side that inflicted a 24 point defeat on the Banner in last year’s All-Ireland Senior Championship six months previously.
“It is going to be tough, there’s no question but for me, I love a challenge and you want the girls to look forward to it as well. And if you look at it from the opposite way, it’s arguably the best time to play them as they’re only going to be back and are not going to be flat out 100 per cent, much like ourselves. And from our perspective, it’s a great chance to have a look at girls and see where we are as a group so I think it’s a great time to play them.”
That positivity is certainly justified for their remaining three group matches, as with 2018 All-Ireland champions Cork and semi-finalists Tipperary and Galway fighting it out in Group 2, Clare can legitimately vie for a National League Semi-Final place when pitted against Offaly (home), Limerick (away) and Dublin (home) over the subsequent four week campaign. Not that O’Connell is prepared to look that far forward though.
“If you look at previous matches, there’s been nothing between the other three teams and ourselves so in general terms, it is a great opportunity to push for a semi-final place but for us at the moment, it’s a game-by-game process.
“It has been the way we’ve approached it that everytime we play a game, we reset and it gives everyone a chance to impress again. So we’re trying to make sure that it’s competitive within the squad so that places are not nailed down at all, it goes game-by-game and if you perform it gives you a great chance to stay on the team. And that’s the way it should be for every team.
“That starts this Sunday against Kilkenny so our aim is to go for the game, perform to the best we can and look after the things that we control. So we hope to play well against Kilkenny and see where that takes us, reset and then prepare for Offaly. But for the moment, it’s only Kilkenny that we are thinking about.
“Let’s be honest, it’s more than enough to keep us occupied for the next week.”
Clare Senior Panel
Amy Barrett (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Roisin Begley (Truagh-Clonlara), Naomi Carroll (Sixmilebridge), Michelle Caulfield (Truagh-Clonlara), Sinead Conlon (Tulla), Aisling Corbett (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Niamh Corry (Sixmilebridge), Bridin Dinan (Tulla), Ciara Doyle (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Orlaith Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Louise Egan (Truagh-Clonlara), Susan Fahy (Whitegate), Aoife Griffin (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Ciara Grogan (Clooney-Quin), Clare Hehir (Inagh-Kilnamona), Aoife Keane (Inagh-Kilnamona), Amy Keating (Inagh-Kilnamona), Eimear Kelly (Truagh-Clonlara), Fiona Lafferty (Inagh-Kilnamona), Sarah Loughnane (Sixmilebridge), Orlaith Lynch (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Laura McGrath (Feakle), Aimee McInerney (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Maire McGrath (Sixmilebridge), Laura McMahon (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Chloe Morey (Sixmilebridge), Doireann Murphy (Clarecastle), Niamh O’Dea (Kilmaley), Andrea O’Keeffe (Inagh-Kilnamona), Carol O’Leary (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Aine O’Loughlin (Truagh-Clonlara), Niamh Powell (Truagh-Clonlara), Aoife Power (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Alannah Ryan (Kilkishen), Mairead Scanlan (Scariff-Ogonnelloe), Lauren Solon (Whitegate)