EXPECTATIONS soared in Clare about the prospect of winning more All-Ireland hurling titles back in September 1997. The county was basking in glory after the senior and minor inter-county sides combined to win the first All-Ireland double on the one day.
It looked as if a new era had dawned for Clare hurling and fans were confident that travelling to Croke Park for All-Ireland finals would be a far more regular occurrence.
Apart from losing to Kilkenny in the 2002 All-Ireland final under the stewardship of manager and current U-21 selector, Cyril Lyons, this is the first Clare adult or underage team to reach the final hurdle in 12 years.
The anticipated spin-off from winning two All-Ireland senior titles in 1995 and 1997 and three provincial crowns in 1995, 1997 and ’98 and the All-Ireland minor crown in 1997 never materialised.
Clare senior hurling selector, Alan Cunningham believes that Clare can learn a lot for the Kilkenny model of developing underage hurling.
Acknowledging that a lot of good work is being done by clubs in Clare and in the county board development squads, the St Camin’s teacher feels that the Banner model would benefit from more co-ordination.
“Kilkenny prepare their teams to play to a particular game plan and style from U-14 level. Their development squads are larger and they keep large groups together for longer.
“Looking in from the outside, it seems that all Kilkenny teams play to a particular pattern. Kilkenny players are very good at catching a high ball, hooking and blocking, which comes from the training ground and are also physically very strong.
“One of the big plus factors in Kilkenny is that everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet. County board and clubs are all on the same wavelength. Clare needs to write the hymn sheet and then make sure it is implemented across the board,” he says.
Former Scariff Community College teacher and Munster Council Colleges’ chairman, Eamonn Moroney feels that Clare talisman Darach Honan and Nicky O’Connell have benefited from played with Ard Scoil Rís in Limerick, Patrick O’Connor gained valuable experience from playing with Gort Community College while local schools such as St Flannan’s and St Camin’s in Shannon have also made a huge contribution.
He says that it will be much easier to promote hurling when a particular age group is going well and predicts young hurlers in Clare will be trying to emulate players on the U-21 side.
“Clare must forget about playing Kilkenny and the All-Ireland final and concentrate on their own game. This Clare team has tremendous spirit and determination and players seem to be prepared to die for each other all over the field,” he adds.
Cumann na nBunscoil chairman, Seán O’Neill believes Clare U-21 hurlers are giving a great boost to the promotion of GAA in local schools at a time when Munster rugby and other sports were to the forefront.
“Students are looking forward to going to Croke Park to support the team. The Clare team has evolved from the skills taught in primary schools and clubs in the county.
“It will be much easier to promote hurling and GAA thanks to Clare reaching an All-Ireland final. There is a great buzz in Clare about the final since the Galway game,” he adds.
Six of the starting 15 that played against Galway got their first taste of the Clare jersey when they represented Clare at primary school level while Donal Tuohy, Eamonn Glynn, Ciarán O’Doherty, Enda Barrett, John Conlon and Darach Honan played in the primary game competition before championship matches.
The Clonlara players on the team managed to win two Clare primary school titles with Clonlara National School.
Former Cumman na Bunscoil public relations officer, Gearóid Roughan points out a lot of principals and teachers such as PJ Fitzpatrick in Clonlara National School put in a lot of work promoting hurling in national schools, which they don’t always get credit for.
He wasn’t surprised that Clare captured a provincial title this year as there was a nucleus of a very good team still available from 2008 and this was strengthened by the addition of the O’Donovan brothers from Clonlara, Cian Dillon and Enda Barrett, who weren’t available last year.
Former Cumman na nBunscoil secretary, Brian Culloo recalls Clare didn’t build on the great All-Ireland double in 1997 and feels every effort should now be made to see what helped the current U-21 team to be successful and replicate in the coming years.