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Clare senior footballer Cian O Dea takes time out at the site of Ballyganner Castle on the family farm in Kilfenora. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare ready to step up to top table says O’Dea

Ivan Smyth speaks to Clare defender Cian O’Dea who insists his side are prepared for the challenge of trying to secure promotion to Division One.

WITH the old format for the league returning whereby the top two teams out of eight secure promotion, the margins will be fine as Clare go in search of a place at the top table.

Cian O’Dea knows his side are not among the favourites for promotion but after coming up short against Mayo last year, he insists belief among the group remains high as they commence their campaign this Sunday against Offaly (throw-in 2pm).

“We’ve been back since December and have had a couple of challenge matches. Things have been going really well. The depth we have on the panel right now is really good. We have new lads pushing old lads like myself,” says The Kilfenora man.

“We love playing the league. The matches come thick and fast as you have a match nearly every weekend. We want to set our stall out early and start well against Offaly. We want to be playing Division One football and pushing the very best teams. We don’t fear anyone. We know we can beat any team but it’s up to us to bring a performance week in week out.”

The 25-year-old knows his side are being written off nationally when the conversation turns to promotion. O’Dea is aware that Clare need a positive start to their campaign this weekend as they go in search of the two points on offer. With four of their seven games on the road, this weekend’s tussle in Cusack Park takes on greater significance.

O’Dea argues that although his side will be fancied to beat an Offaly side that are favourites to drop back down to Division Three, Clare must produce a performance to overcome John Maughan’s youthful side.

“With us having three home matches and four away it is really important to win our home games. Cusack Park has been a bit of a fortress in recent times so we need to keep that going.

“The goal for us is promotion and we believe we can get that but we need to start off well. We are always wrote off but we know what we can do.”

“We know this Offaly side will provide a stern test. They won the U20s last year which was great to see. We know Tipperary won the minors a few years back (2011) and some of those players didn’t come through.

“They did win a Munster two years ago but it’s not easy bring them through. Hopefully they (Offaly) can keep it going because they are a traditionally a big team and games against them are always close.”

O’Dea, who made his Championship debut when coming off the bench against Cork in 2015, sees first hand the growth of football in the county through his work as Games Development Officer (GDO) with Éire Óg. He believes that the amount of people that want to represent Clare now has risen enormously from when he first joined the panel.

“When I came on to the panel versus now, the amount who want to play is serious. You have kids coming up that want to be the next (Eoin) Cleary or David Tubridy. I see it in the schools first hand and the attendances at games are getting bigger and bigger. Colm (Collins) wants us to leave the jersey in a better place.”

O’Dea works full time as Éire Óg’s GDO as he explains how his job is to try and continuously improve the standards of both the coaches and young players alike.

“I’d be more hands on than a Games Promotion Officer (GPO). I’d be working in schools and the Éire Óg academy. I work to improve the quality of coaching in the club and helping the kids develop also. I’d be in the schools every day from 9-3 while working with the academies after that.”

“I’d be working with ladies football, camogie, football and hurling so it’s mainly with groups from aged 17 down. I used to coach a bit in primary schools in North and West Clare so it’s something I’m interested in. I would have done a bit of coaching in the evenings but I’m definitely going to keep playing for as long as I can.”

O’Dea lined out in midfield alongside his brother Jack when Kilfenora were defeated at the semi final stage of the Intermediate Championship. The Éire Óg GDO is aware that his club are in a period of transition.

“We are a team that are building right now. With such a small club we are not getting new lads every year. A few decisions didn’t go our way in that semi-final but no doubt Kildysart were the better team. It’s harder now with two teams coming down.”

O’Dea spent the latter part of the year lining out with David Russell’s Avenue United side as they progressed to the Last 32 of the FAI Junior Cup while also reaching the Last 16 of the Munster Junior Cup.

“After the football I went playing soccer with Avenue. I’ve had no breaks really but I wouldn’t know what to do if I did. It’s great for keeping fit.

“The set-up is really professional and enjoyable. We’re still in the FAI (Junior Cup) but the matches clash with the football. Hopefully I can play in the Cup on the 13th of February if Colm (Collins) will let me as we’ve no game that weekend.”

Towards the end of the interview, the conversation shifts towards the structure of the Championship as the debate continues to rumble on. O’Dea is unhappy with the lack of say players get in this debate.

“If you let the players vote and not lads in suits then we would have a better system. The people who it suits make the decisions. The structure needs to be changed and there are so many obvious solutions there.”

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