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Tony Kelly of Clare in action against Shaun Murphy of Wexford during their Allianz NHL round 4 game at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly.

Clare Champion Sport Review Of The Year 2019 And Sports Person Of The Decade

Derrick Lynch

High point of 2019

There can only be one moment that stands out above all others for Clare sport in 2019, and that was undoubtedly Scariff-Ogonnelloe’s Munster senior camogie success. The East Clare side swept all before them this year in the championship, with that incredible statistic that they were never behind in any game across the campaign being a testament to their consistency. The fact that this was only their third year back up to the senior ranks makes the achievement all the more brilliant, as they established themselves as the dominant force in the province. From the battling qualities needed on the night they took down defending champions Inagh-Kilnamona, to the composure and confidence of their Munster final win, this was a year to remember for Scariff-Ogonnelloe, with hopefully more to come.

Low point of 2019

It is hard to choose between the disappointment of the on-field performances for the Banner’s hurlers in 2019, or the off-field performances that followed in the process to appoint a new manager. It was a year to forget on both counts, but a year that should be remembered in order to learn lessons all the same. The manner of the defeats against Tipperary and Limerick are the two which still cause the most pain, and led to plenty debate too. The fact that it was only the Thurles goalpost that had prevented Clare from being in the All-Ireland final the previous year probably lent itself to the confusion and surprise at Clare’s showing in 2019, with a championship exit in June leaving a long summer and winter of discontent.

Prediction for 2020

On the hurling front, everyone is in agreement that the only way is up. Brian Lohan and his new look backroom team need and deserve time to settle into their roles as they plot a course back to the top. Home games against Carlow, Dublin and Laois in the National League will bring plenty opportunity for new players to stake their claim for a starting spot. The trip to face Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford will be an interesting one while Nowlan Park is also beckoning. Clare will need to win one of those two games along with taking care of their home fixtures in order to reach the last four, and they should. Summer is when it matters but if Clare can get the New Year off to a positive start then it should carry into the championship.

Prediction: Clare to reach the National Hurling League semi-finals and advance from the Munster hurling championship.

Sports Person of 2019

Scariff-Ogonnelloe provided the moment of the year with their fantastic Munster championship success, and there any number of that team who could be chosen as the outstanding sports person of the year. The other outstanding moment was Kilmihil’s brilliant display in taking down a Banner Ladies side who were chasing more history in the Clare senior ladies football final. Central to that was a woman who had already tasted success in 2019, as Ailish Considine produced an outstanding display over the hour with some brilliant scores. It was a victory made all the sweeter as she lined out alongside her sister Eimear, and came just a few months after she had won the AFLW title with the Adelaide Crows. That achievement was all the more incredible as she was recruited by the Australian outfit on a rookie contract in late 2018 having impressed during a Crosscoders trial. That should have been enough for any sports person to sit back and enjoy the rest of the year, but the homestead was calling and she answered with aplomb.

2019 Sports Person of the Year: Ailish Considine

Sports Person of the Decade

Third: Colm Collins

The turn in fortunes for the Clare footballers can all be traced back to the appointment of Collins as senior manager in 2014. He came into the role at a time when Clare were languishing in Division Four of the National League and had suffered a decisive loss to Laois in the qualifiers which brought an end to Mick O’Dwyer’s one year stint at the helm. Since then, there has been no looking back. 2016 saw Clare win the Division Three title in Croke Park to move up to the second tier, and 2020 will be the Banner’s fourth consecutive campaign in the top 16. Munster remains the elusive dream but the qualifier route has given Clare football plenty memorable days. Collins has been responsible for arguably Clare’s most successful period over the last few years, while the structures for integrating new players onto the senior squad have proven hugely successful.

Second: Gary Brennan

Like his county manager, Brennan has been instrumental in the rise of Clare football in the last few years. The captain might be missing in 2020, but the leadership he has shown over the last decade has been invaluable. The Clondegad man was a part of the squad who fought for so long to climb out of the basement division in the league, so there are few better placed to understand the significance of the progress made since then. It was fitting that the St Flannan’s teacher would be the one to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Division Three title in 2016, while his acceptance speech was a touch of class. It is no surprise that this decade saw him nominated for an All-Star with the only surprise being that he was not nominated in 2019, while his performances for the Irish International Rules squad showcased his talent on the international stage. He was also pivotal in Ballyea’s Munster club success in 2016 with his brilliant late goal against Thurles Sarsfields in that semi-final being one of the seminal moments in that run.

First: Tony Kelly

In choosing someone who stood above all others across a decade, consistency has to be the number one consideration. In that respect, the choice just had to be Tony Kelly.

He was part of the Clare minor squads who won Munster titles in 2010 and 2011, while he was ever present in the historic three-in-a-row U-21 successes, including captaining the side that won in 2014. In 2011, he was chosen as the Munster Minor Hurler of the Year, while he was awarded the same honour at the U-21 grade in 2012. 2013 saw him crowned both Hurler of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year as he sparkled during Clare’s All-Ireland win. 2016 was a year to remember as he lifted the National League title alongside joint-captain Cian Dillon, while also delivering an outstanding performance on the day. He was a key cog for his club Ballyea as they won a first ever Clare and Munster hurling title with Kelly chosen as the Munster Club Player of the Year in recognition of his performances. He captained Ballyea to their second title in 2018, while he was also part of the victorious UL Fitzgibbon teams in 2015 and 2018. Kelly was also part of history this decade for Clondegad as they reached a first Clare senior football final in 2017 before losing out to Kilmurry Ibrickane.

For sheer consistency over the decade in terms of both collective and personal accolades, Tony Kelly has to be the selection as the Sports Person of the Decade.

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