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Doonbeg’s Páraic Aherne is looking forward to lining out for his side this Saturday. Photograph by John Kelly

Aherne prepares to walk behind the band

THE teaching profession must be the most represented occupation in the Doonbeg dressing room.

Páraic Aherne and Colm Dillon teach woodwork and drawing, while Brian Egan imparts his knowledge of metalwork. On top of that, Paul and Brian Dillon are in the process of joining the teaching ranks in the Magpies’ changing room.

Given that Clare club footballers and hurlers are generally idle most summers, it must be a source of some frustration to Doonbeg’s collection of teachers that their summer holidays are not pock-marked by many games of championship football.

“The team that comes out at the worst end on Saturday is going to suffer most maybe because they’ll have gone on for so long, when possibly it could have been avoided,” Aherne suggested, when commenting on the lack of regular championship action in the county until late autumn and early winter.

The Doonbeg wing-back, a teacher in Thurles CBS, reasonably points out that retaining interest throughout the year is almost impossible.

“Most teams would have started back around February playing Cusack Cup. Then, when you hit the middle of July, you’re not sure when you’re playing. It’s fantastic that the Clare hurlers have won. They can justify the delay that way but when you’re sitting in the middle of July and you could be near enough your peak fitness, how do you hold it for another four months, especially when you don’t know when you’re playing. However, in fairness, our management have done their best and have kept us fresh. Lads are excited and are looking forward to what’s ahead,” he said.

Saturday’s final will represent Doonbeg’s third game in successive weeks. That’s good for momentum but not enough time to completely heal even a niggling injury.

“When games are on that regularly, you need a lot of luck that lads will come out of a game and still be able to play the following week. The way we’ve been training, management have tried to keep it fresh and not push lads too hard, when they didn’t need to be pushed. That has been a massive factor in us remaining fit and staying fit, hopefully, for Saturday,” Aherne suggested.

He acknowledged this year’s final pairing is unique and fresh, yet the Doonbeg man is not at all surprised at Cratloe’s emergence.

“It is a novel pairing but Cratloe are coming strong. They have had some great wins this year. Beating Kilmurry would have been a massive step for them early on in the year and I’m sure it would have given them a renewed focus on the football side of things. They have plenty of good footballers that have contributed to Clare. At underage level, especially, they have always contributed good footballers, so they were always coming and now you have Colm Collins in charge of Clare. I’d say football is a growing sport in that side of the county,” Aherne observed.

Prior to winning his first championship medal in 2010, Aherne spent some time in Australia. He returned Down Under in 2011 and came home for good in April 2012. It’s not a shock to learn that he met dozens of Clare people in Australia.

“The one club, in particular, that stood out was Kilmihil. You have a full team of those boys gone out. It’s amazing that they can keep going at all. We are very lucky in that, bar one or two players we’ve lost, the likes of Shane O’Brien is travelling back from England and we’re very lucky that he can make that journey. I know that other clubs aren’t lucky but that’s the roll of the dice and the way things are,” Aherne said.

He loves working in Thurles CBS, although the West Clare man has learned that hurling is king in the Tipperary town.

“It’s a massive hurling stronghold. They support me in the football but their interest level isn’t too high. It’s a very big sporting school but hurling is key down there,” he laughed.

It’s not possible for anybody growing up in Doonbeg to avoid having a love of The Magpies drilled into them. It’s part of the fabric of life in the Long Village and its sometimes isolated, yet stunning, rural hinterland. Winning the 1998 Munster club title still stands as an historic highlight for the club. The success-laden 1990s certainly left its mark on Doonbeg’s current left half-back.

“There’s no substitute for walking behind that band. The feeling it gives you when you’re growing up and, particularly when you’re growing up in Doonbeg in the 1990s, all you ever hear about is walking behind the band. You don’t hear about lifting the cup but you hear about walking behind the band,” is how Aherne encapsulates what it means to play county final football for his native club.

About Peter O'Connell

West Clare native Peter O'Connell has worked for The Clare Champion for 12 years and covers everything from sport, especially GAA, news, features and has been even known to branch into the fashion scene on occasion.

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