SINCE the introduction of the provincial and All-Ireland club championships across all grades, their popularity has grown enormously and one of the main reasons for this is that they provide players with the opportunity to represent their parishes at the highest level, while playing beside their best friends and family members.
Kilmaley have that opportunity this week when brothers and cousins will line up side by side as the Clare intermediate hurling champions face their Cork counterparts Kanturk in the procvincial club finals in The Gaerl grounds, Limerick at 2pm.
Kilmaley will be led by team captain Colin McGuane, who will have his brother Aidan as a team mate, while family members will be in the stand supporting the team and will include their father Noel, a member of the team that brought the Canon Hamilton Trophy to the parish for the first time in 1985.
“The club is a real family affair and that makes it more special, as one plays with their friends and family. These are all the people I grew up with and it’s great to be in a Munster final with them,” according to Colin, who is delighted to be following in the footsteps of his father Noel.
“They won the Canon in ’85 and if I can get to that level, I will be very happy. My brother [Niall, a regular in the team prior to his decision to go overseas] is in New Zealand at the moment and if he was around, I am sure that he would be togging out on Sunday also.”
He believes the arrival of the club championships at provincial and national levels “has brought a new life to hurling; a very unique experience”.
“It’s something you dream of. Now it’s with your club, with the people you grew up with. It’s something I am looking forward to and something I am going to relish,” added the club skipper.
According to University of Limerick student Aidan, “The club championships are great, as it brings it to one’s own parish. Being in the Munster final in Limerick is dream stuff for the club. It’s something special to play with your friends, your neighbours and the lads you grew up with.
“It’s a real parish day. It’s great to see the flags being put out. There is a great community spirit and this is a great opportunity and we will be trying to do ourselves proud.”
Colin says, “It’s a great honour and a privilege to be team captain. There is no pressure whatsoever and all I have to do is to go up for the coin toss. There are enough leaders around the team and on the panel,” said the full-back.
He admitted that “it will be great if I get to go up the steps of the stand on Sunday to collect the cup. The whole focus is on Sunday, when we will have a big following. It’s a huge day for all.”
His brother Aidan is confident that, “Smith O’Brien’s and Tubber [teams beaten by Kilmaley in the knock-out stage of the Clare title race] will be wishing us well. We want to do the grade justice. We are representing the county. The pitch might suit us. There will be no excuses down there.”
Both agree that there has been a massive change in 12 months.
According to Colin, “There is so little between a lot of teams in Clare. It was a massive disappointment last year; the first time the club was ever relegated and from day one, when we met this time last year, the objective was to get up to senior. Achieving that target led to a lot of relief.
“Clare is the most competitive it has ever been; there is hardly a puff of wind between the 16 teams. Look at Feakle and Clooney-Quin. Feakle were four points up with a minute to go. Clooney drew and went on to win in extra time. They finished up in the county senior final and Feakle were relegated.”
Aidan believes, “The image in the dressing room after we were relegated last year is driving us on this year. We are helped by the results at minor and U-21 levels over the last few years. We set out goals this year and we have met them so far.”
Aidan spent much of the summer in the US, where he suffered an injury that kept him out of action for a while.
“I broke a bone in my ankle, which caused me a bit of trouble. With the help of great physios, I got back fit for the county final and everything is holding up grand since. After coming back, my ankle rolled in training. These are all set-backs but once the team is winning, there is something to look forward to and it helps the recovery.”
They both agree that Kilmaley face a big task on Sunday.
“We are facing a big challenge. Kanturk are very strong. They have good strength in depth, three key players and a number of underage Cork players also. Coming from Cork, they have faced tough competition in their own premier grade. We will have to be at the top of our game,” commented Colin.
“We are facing a big task and if we are honest, it’s our toughest of the year. They are a good hurling team. We have worked hard. We have had good preparation with the cup and good championship games. There is a good panel there and everyone is pushing for inclusion in the team. The target was to get back up. We didn’t look past Clare and once we won the intermediate, there was a bit of pressure off. We set our goals and there is a great opportunity now. We have never been in a Munster final, There is a great chance for players to play in a Munster final and these don’t come around too often,” added Aidan.
The brothers agree that the future for the club is bright.
“In the last five or six years, a new standard has been set with the amount of underage finals the club has contested. There is great work being done and, hopefully, we can win a senior title in a few years.” noted Colin.
Looking ahead, Aidan said the target is to be strong at senior level. “The goal next year will be to stay senior. There are enough hurlers in the club to bring the senior title back, something that hasn’t been done in 15 years,” concluded Aidan.