Clare will be without one of their key players when they get their 2019 All-Ireland Camogie championship underway this weekend.
The now former dual-star Niamh O’Dea has informed management that she will be concentrating solely on football for the rest of the campaign, having already featured earlier this season.
Ger O’Connell is also sweating on the fitness of All-Stars Chloe Morey and Maire McGrath but last year’s captain Orlaith Duggan could be in line for a first start of the season.
The Banner are facing the Rebels for the second time in quick succession having already lost out when the sides met in the Munster semi-final, with Cork going on to claim that title with victory over Tipperary in the decider.
O’Connell is in his maiden year as manager of the Clare Camogie squad and admits this is a date that everyone has been building toward since they took the reins.
“It feels like it has been a long time rolling around and it even feels like a long stretch since that game in the Munster championship too. After that game, we were able to narrow down our focus to the things that needed to really work and the girls have really been putting in a huge effort to make sure that we can improve on those aspects of our game. It is all about championship really and from our point of view the challenge was trying to get the team to peak at the right time and that wasn’t easy because it is our first year involved in the camogie structures. My management team have been brilliant in that sense and we have put our plans in place so I can’t but be really happy with where we are at the moment” said the Clonlara man.
Having the Munster championship as a stand-alone series sandwiched between the league and All-Ireland campaigns meant that preparations had to be tailored to ensure performance levels where at the right point when they faced Cork. O’Connell feels that having that challenge meant they were eager to ensure they would put their best foot forward.
He said: “There are massive breaks between all competitions across the season. We had the league up first and because we were new into the job, the first thing we had to do was get to know the names of all the girls. We then started to narrow it down to see what their strengths and weaknesses were as individuals and that can be a slow process. That might have showed in the league through the way we were playing and how we were trying to change things as we went along. It was a pretty up and down league and just didn’t finish the way we wanted it to. We refocused then for the Munster championship and we knew we were facing a good team in the All-Ireland champions. That was our seventh time in a row facing them in the Munster championship. I felt we were very good for the first 40 minutes of that game but legs seemed to catch up on us for a finish. They dominated the last 20 and they did the same thing then to Tipperary in the Munster final. We have worked really hard in the last five or six weeks and we know it is a massive test, there is no point saying otherwise but we are really looking forward to it. They are the marker we want to get to and you want to see where you are at against them. I thought we were really good in the firsts-half that day and could have went in at half-time leading if we took our chances. The teams like Cork and Kilkenny will punish your mistakes and that is what we really need to stamp out and take out of our game. We need to get the most out of our time with the ball and be as productive as we can with it and that is what we have been working on”.
Clare face five championship games in the space of just over a month with games against Meath, Tipperary, Waterford and Dublin to come between Saturday afternoon and July 20. O’Connell said while a busy schedule lies ahead, their focus for now is solely on the Rebels.
“We have Cork and Meath to come before the break and then we finish with three on the trot. A lot of those games are winnable if we are to be honest and they are games we are looking forward to but we need to go game by game and Cork is the first one so we can’t afford to look past them. Cork is all we are focused on right now. At the end of the day, there are three points on offer in the Cork game as much as there is for any of the rest of them so that is where we start. We will do everything we can to win that game, make no mistake about it. It is a home game and we only have two of them with the other one being against Tipperary. We really have emphasised that we want to play well at home because we feel it is important for the people of Clare to see the effort the girls have put in, and for the girls to have the opportunity to showcase what they can do too. The most important thing for us though is that we go game by game and make sure that we get the most out of it every time we play” he said.