Miltown Malbay’s Conor Cleary is honoured to have been appointed as the U-21 hurling captain but the focus, he says, is very much on Limerick and this Thursday’s Munster final.
“It’s all about the game. It is a great honour to be captain and a massive one to get but all the focus is on Limerick. We have seen how impressive they were against Tipperary and how hungry they were. We know the challenge that is ahead of us and we know it’s going to be a very tough game and we will have to be on top of our game if we are going to compete with them,” he told The Clare Champion.
“We have been very lucky with the coaches we have had at U-14, U-16 and minor and then at U-21 with Donal Moloney, Gerry O’Connor and Paul Kinnerk, who have had a great management structure going for the last few years. We are very lucky with the times we are in. Donal has told us to enjoy the time and we are really enjoying it at the moment,” according to Cleary, who plays his club hurling with Kilmaley, whom he has led to minor A and U-21 A county titles in recent years.
As a prominent dual player, is it difficult to keep both going and meet all the demands? “Not really, the football is a break from the hurling and the hurling is a break from the football and, at the moment, I am really enjoying them. It’s been a great experience being involved with the senior panel for the last two years and definitely the highlight of my career to date was being part of the U-21 success last year. Winning keeps you fresh and motivated and it’s not hard to keep both going,” replied Cleary, who plays senior football with his native Miltown and hurling and football with NUI Galway, where he is a student.
“I am very lucky that the management teams work well together and this is the case with Miltown and Kilmaley especially, there is never pressure put on. It is once a week with each team and there is never pressure put on to be at every session with either team. With Clare, they are very accommodating with club games. I am very lucky the managements are very accommodating for me,” he added.
Conor doesn’t believe that there is any extra pressure on Clare going into Thursday’s final, as a result of their win over a fancied Waterford side. Neither does he feel there is extra pressure because of the success of the teams of the past three years
“We are concentrating on Limerick. We really take it one game at a time. People might talk about past teams but, really, at U-21 level, it’s a new team every year. We concentrated on the Waterford game and it was great to get over that one. It was a great evening. Last Thursday morning, we had a recovery session done. We watched the Limerick v Tipperary game. We saw how well Limerick played and how impressive they were. We know there is a massive challenge ahead of us. We have worked hard in training and we will be as ready as we can and, hopefully, we will get a performance.”
Being involved in a Munster final “is a special occasion and it’s great to be part of it. When you are training in November and December, these are the games you dream of playing in; on a hot summer’s evening with a few thousand people there, especially a home crowd, these are the evenings you want to be hurling. Its great to be part of it. These are what the hard work is for”.
Clare are not looking beyond this final. “We just take it one game at a time. The only thing that matters now is Limerick, thinking about anything else will lead to our downfall. This will be a massive test. We feel if we are well prepared on the night, we will be good enough to compete. It would be great to bring the cup back to Clare and, at some stage, bring it to Miltown. The important thing is to win,” he concluded.
By sports editor, Seamus Hayes