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21s set to unlock door to victory

IN a season of contrasting fortunes for Clare hurling, the prospect of contesting an All-Ireland final didn’t appear likely a few months ago.Thanks to three magnificent performances, the county U-21 team take on defending champions, Kilkenny at Croke Park on Sunday with the All-Ireland crown as the prize. Such has been Clare’s form in beating Limerick, Waterford and Galway that they are considered to have an excellent chance of taking a first ever All-Ireland title in this grade.  

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Baby Abaigeal is Ciarán’s newest fan

Clare captain, Ciarán O’Doherty will never forget the countdown to the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final following the birth of his baby daughter, Abaigeal last week. The Crusheen corner-back will have another reason to celebrate for the second time in eight days if the Banner dethrone All-Ireland kingpins, Kilkenny in the eagerly-awaited decider in Croke Park.His girlfriend of five years, Michelle Carroll from Broadford gave birth to Abaigeal, who weighed 6lbs at 4.35am on Friday.The baby was due on the day after the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway but Ciarán was spared an awkward dilemma when she didn’t have to go into hospital early.“It was on my mind before the Galway game, but once I went into the bus, I put it to the back of my head. I am over the moon with our new baby. “It was good timing over a week before the final and gives me a clear run to concentrate on the game against Kilkenny.“It would be …

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Dillon thirsts for another coke

IF Cian Dillon is named at full-back for Sunday’s All-Ireland final, it will represent the first time that the NUIG graduate will have started a game for Clare.The 21-year-old Crusheen man could conceivably pick up an All-Ireland medal after just an hour’s competitive hurling.

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Looking for redemption

HISTORY has a habit of repeating itself when it comes to near misses involving Clare hurling teams in Munster senior and U-21 hurling finals. The banner has almost been hoisted to full mast when teams were on the verge of making the long-awaited breakthrough only to be cruelly denied by the concession of a late goal or a flurry of points. Bishop Willie Walsh has experienced the heartbreak of losing a provincial decider by  literally a puck of a ball as a mentor and supporter when victory looked certain for the Banner men. On Thursday, July 30 last, Ciarán O’Doherty and company eased the pain and frustration of narrow defeats in 12 finals with a tremendous display of guts, determination and silken skills to defeat Waterford for a historic first Munster final success.Die-hard Clare supporters who made the journey to Dungarvan felt it was a fitting reward for nine survivors of the team who suffered a heartbreaking defeat against Tipperary …

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Old friends pull hard for one hour only

Kevin Phelan came to work as a bank official in Clare a little over 30 years ago, firstly in Shannon before later moving to Ennis. He set up home in the county capital and has lived there since.Working in a bank provided opportunities to meet people and this led to the formation of many friendships. Equally helpful was the fact that he is a lover of hurling, which isn’t surprising given that he comes from Kilkenny. One of his many friends is former Clare hurler John Callinan, a solicitor based in Ennis. Scarcely a Monday goes by that they don’t meet at lunchtime.While the state of the economy generally comes into their Monday discussion, the majority of the lunchtime discussion is about hurling, the previous weekend’s matches and the upcoming fixtures.In recent weeks, Sunday’s U-21 hurling decider between Kilkenny and Clare has been discussed on quite a few occasions. Not alone is Kevin a staunch Kilkenny supporter well versed in …

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Playing through the pain to reach Croker

FOR Broadford’s Cathal Chaplin, it has literally been a case of blood, sweat and tears. For months, he indulged in the hard graft in Ballyline, went through the ritual of doing the drills, making the sacrifices and never complained. Never once. He was content to bide his time patiently on the wings, hoping that some day the window of opportunity would present itself.

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A whirlwind of masses, flights and hurling

IN his superb memoir Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby detailed the personal strains and triumphs of 20 odd years following a top-flight London soccer club. The book has become regarded as the ultimate account of fandom and while its author may know little of Clare hurling, Hornby would surely empathise with Fr Enda Glynn’s passion for it. The county’s hardcore support isn’t particularly big, as has been proven on occasions like the Clare-Tipperary game this summer but there are people like Fr Glynn who try to get the most obscure of fixtures and who have taken particular delight in this year’s U-21 odyssey.

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All calm in the Lyons’ den

LEARNING by losing can harden a team trying desperately to win. As long as they don’t keep losing, never turning the hurt of it all into championship winning armour, it can be the making of a group of eventual winners. Clare’s heroic men of ’95 and ’97 were the whipping boys of ’93 and ’94 before they swapped the dank silence of a beaten dressing room for the back-slapping on offer down the corridor. On the evening of July 31, 2008 several of the Clare U-21s that will sprint onto Croke Park next Sunday, had a Munster medal snapped from their palm. The injustice of it all could have finished them yet maybe it has helped make those who are eligible again this year. “A small bit of adversity is good test of character but I suppose, the difficulty of playing U-21 is some guys don’t get a second chance,” Clare U-21 coach Cyril Lyons reflected. “There were six lads …

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