Clare’s 2020 All Ireland senior camogie championship campaign gets underway this weekend when they take on Tipperary in the Ragg on Sunday afternoon.
Ger O’Connell’s outfit are part of the three team group along with the Premier and Dublin, with the top two sides advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Clonlara clubman admits while it was a challenge to stay focused in such an uncertain year, their mindset was always fixed on reaching this point.
“It has been a long year to be fair about it. We were preparing that the championship would eventually happen and we had to have that mindset really. Even when the girls were off from the middle of March, they were still working on their plans and then once the club kicked in we were always seeing how they were in terms of injuries and staying updated on that. We were always being prepared for it because we had to and you could not take that chance of being caught because you would be stuck in a corner then. We have always been prepared to go so when we got back in mid-September, we were ready to go and knew what we wanted to attack” he said.
O’Connell, who kept his management eye in by taking the reins with Truagh-Clonlara in the closing stages of their club championship campaign, says it took some time for players to readjust when the county squad came back together. He also feels that players schedules are much easier to manage in a shortened window.
“When we came back the mood varied really. You were always going to have some players buzzing from the club championship and others then who were going to be that bit flatter depending how their own club went. It was great to get them all back together again and most of the panel came back injury free which was good. You are getting a group of players together who are used to playing a certain way with all their individual clubs so the first job is to get everyone back focused on and buying into what we are trying to do. We have had less than ten sessions with them up to this point so there is only so much you can do in that time. It is never enough time but in saying that, it has been a long year for players now so it is a good thing for them to know that there are only the four or five weeks of training and then they are playing championship. There are pros and cons to both and as a management you want more time but as a player you just want to go out and play games” he outlined.
If Clare overcome Tipperary on Sunday, it will leave them in pole position to claim a place in the quarter-final pot ahead of their last day showdown with Dublin in Ennis. O’Connell is confident the squad are in the right vein of form to get the results that will be needed.
“I am happy with where we are at. We played a few challenge games and I think we have got back into the swing of what we want as a team and a group. The girls are really buying into what we are looking to do and that absolute honesty is all that we can look for from them in everything we try to do. We are getting that from them and we are seeing progress so I think we are in a good place now for next Sunday. They are a great group and they have absorbed everything we have thrown at them so I am confident we are ready for it. I don’t think any of our players will fear facing Tipperary. It is an open group and we all know we can beat each other so it will all be on the day really. With the way we have prepared, I am just really looking forward to it and I think the girls are too and I am confident the girls will do themselves justice” he stated.
With the game set to be played behind closed doors under Covid-19 restrictions, it will mean a much different atmosphere in the Ragg. Despite the uncertainty surrounding how sport will play out over the coming weeks, O’Connell says they have to block that out and focus on what they can control.
“The game is on next Sunday and that is all we have in our head. After that, we will be preparing for Dublin so we are not thinking about anything else. We are doing everything right in relation to the protocols for Covid in everything we do but our absolute aim and target is on Tipperary next Sunday and there is nothing else that we are thinking about. The situation has been going on so long now that everyone knows exactly what the story is in relation to washing their hands, wearing masks when they have to and all that needs to be done. The message we are all working to is just to be careful outside of the group in what we do. It only takes one person to get it and the whole thing could fall so as long as everyone minds each other we will be fine” he concluded.
Meanwhile the Clare Junior camogie squad are also in action this weekend in the Premier Junior All Ireland series.
It will be a notable outing with the tie being played at the home of Clare Camogie in Fr McNamara Park on the Quin Road in Ennis.
Offaly are the visitors as the Banner begin their bid to go one better than last year when they lost out at the semi-final stage to eventual champions Kerry.
Clare are in a three team group along with Offaly and Wexford, with the top two teams moving on the last four of the championship.
Joint manager Ann Marie McGann outlined that it is something of a step into the unknown in 2020.
“We don’t really know much about Offaly and we know less about Wexford. We did go to Wexford when we were at U16 level and we only had to not lose by four points to reach an All-Ireland semi-final and we lost by nine so we will be hoping something like that doesn’t happen again. With the top two teams in each group going through to the semi-finals, we know we have to win at least one of the games and realistically we will be going out to win them both. With there only being the three teams in our group, we know we have that back up of being able to bounce back if we get beaten in one” she said.
Victory this weekend would leave Clare all but qualified for the latter stages and McGann admits that is where their focus will lie. She is confident the squad are ready to hit the ground running.
“We have been telling them that we want to get off to a positive start and particularly being at home.We lost to Offaly two years ago on a day when we just didn’t take our chances. That game was up in Offaly but now we are at home and that should be a bit of an advantage for us in the sense that there will be no travelling involved. We have ten clubs represented across the board this year from junior to senior and things have really lifted over the last week or so. I have never seen them as good and it is a pity the game was not on last weekend because they would have eaten any team alive. We just have to try to build it up now for the rest of the week and get off to a good start against Offaly” she said.