FOR Broadford’s Cathal Chaplin, it has literally been a case of blood, sweat and tears. For months, he indulged in the hard graft in Ballyline, went through the ritual of doing the drills, making the sacrifices and never complained. Never once. He was content to bide his time patiently on the wings, hoping that some day the window of opportunity would present itself.
He played no part against Limerick or Waterford in Clare’s successful march through Munster. Yet he never lost the will. Disillusioned no, disappointed yes but he continued to be driven by desire. He kept doing the right things and, unexpectedly, opportunity finally knocked for that Semple Stadium thriller with Galway.
The call-up to the starting 15 came when least expected, he admits, because he hadn’t even been handed a jersey for the Munster final. But he benefited from management’s strategy of rewarding players on form and those going well in training.
Cathal, a sports management student at Limerick Institute of Technology, appreciates that chances are rare and the when they arrive, they have to be grasped with both hands.
“Nobody was more surprised than myself when the team was named for the game with Galway,” he concedes. “I was hoping to get among the substitutes but never thought I’d be started. It was a shock when I was named at midfield. I was very surprised because I didn’t think I’d get a run from the start,” he adds.
However, having waited so patiently for his opportunity, his game could have been over in a matter of seconds. He picked up a hand injury in the throw-in but decided to keep quiet about it and play through the pain barrier.
“I knew straight away that I had damage done. But I didn’t go down and the management wasn’t aware of it. It would have been a savage disappointment if I had to go off. There would have been nothing as bad but I was so caught up in match, I kept it to myself and played on,” he reveals.
After that game, there were tears of joy for Clare’s pulsating victory. But that joy was quickly tempered with disappointment when an X-ray revealed that the blow had inflicted more damage that just bruising. A broken finger was the verdict and the injury may yet sideline him for the final.
“The hand is strapped up. It’s sore enough but there isn’t a whole lot I can do except hope for the best. I’ll do a bit of hurling this week but I’ll move mountains to play in the final,” he vows.
Not surprisingly, the Chaplin household in Coolagh is hurling mad. While Cathal’s inclusion in the panel has been a source of satisfaction, there’s a certain amount of sympathy for older brother, Craig not that he would be looking for or expecting any.
Craig was a member of last year’s squad that lost the Munster final in controversial circumstances. This year, he was part of the extended training panel but failed to survive the cut when management had to prune their squad before the championship.
“It’s great for Cathal but naturally Craig was gutted. I’d be disappointed for him. It was his last year in the grade and I suppose when he made last year’s panel, the expectation was that he would make this year’s as well. But it doesn’t work that way,” Danny surmises.
“It’s gut-wrenching for him alright but he’s delighted for Cathal and the team that they are doing so well. He’s friendly enough with a lot of the lads on the panel and he has gone out with them celebrating their wins. He doesn’t bear any grudges. He knows that’s the way sport goes. There are no guarantees,” he adds.
Interestingly, Danny and his brothers John, Christy and David, who have accumulated 21 senior championship medals between them with Sixmilebridge, all played on losing Clare teams in Munster U-21 finals.
“It was a slag in the house given that we had lost so many finals. And then Craig last year, that controversial final in Ennis. Thankfully, that losing streak is at an end because Cathal has now broken the mould,” he says.
Danny rates Clare’s chances in the final and says the team management has ticked all the right boxes throughout the campaign.
“If they give a repeat performance of the display produced against Galway, they’ll have an outstanding chance. They’d be pretty hard to beat,” he ventures. However, he tempers his comment with the warning that, defensively, they’d need to be more solidified.
“The full-back line needs to tighten up. They conceded 5-15 to Galway. They can’t give away a score like that again and expect to get away with it. Against that, they are running up excellent tallies themselves and Darach Honan has been superb.
“There’s a good work ethic within the team, there’s strength in depth to the panel and there is great competition for places. That’s a great sign, a great strength and I’d have to say the management has got it right so far. The changes they’ve made have worked. They have a good balance to the team and they have everyone, not just the 15, champing at the bit to play. If they can get it right for one more day,” he says.