Eoin Cleary last lined out in a competitive game last November in the Munster Club football final for St Josephs’s Miltown.
The Limerick-based Garda had to succumb to surgery on a hand issue after that, which kept him sidelined until last weekend. He was a late inclusion to the starting 15, with news of the development starting to filter around St Conleth’s Park from the time the Clare squad arrived.
He was glad to be back on the pitch, but his immediate thoughts were of the disappointment of the result as Clare left Newbridge with no points to show for third time since 2016.
“Great to be back but it was unfortunate with the result. We left ourselves too much to do in the first-half, but played well in the second-half. We pegged it back and got it back to 1-12 to 0-12 and we looked fairly good I thought at times. We didn’t capitalise when we were on top though but Kildare did. They hit their purple patch and went eight points up and that’s probably where the game was won and lost. We had a few chances towards the end but we didn’t take them. We will have to just go back to the drawing board again now and look at where we need to improve so we can try and get two points up in Fermanagh” said Cleary.
Kildare set the tone early on last weekend, leading by 1-10 to 0-5 at the break, with just one of Clare’s points in the opening period coming from play. Cleary admits they had targeted a quick start to the game, but failed to deliver on that.
“Colm had talked all week about bringing energy to the game and it was the last thing we did really. We came out very flat and we didn’t really show any energy at all, and it was very frustrating because we were coming in at half-time scratching our heads wondering what was going wrong. In the second half, I felt we showed what we are capable of and when we run the ball, we are a very good team. We didn’t really give the ball away that much, it was more down to taking poor options so that’s something we are going to have to look at and rectify those mistakes. Hopefully we can do that and build on it again now for the next day and that’s going to be a massive game. Fermanagh got a great result up in Donegal so they’re going to be well fired up this week at home and gunning for another two points themselves. That’s something we are really going to have to be ready for, and if we don’t give a full 70 minute performance the next day, we are going to be in real trouble so that’s something we are really going to aim for. Gary (Brennan) spoke after the game in the dressing room and just said we have to park that result now and move on. If you start feeling sorry for yourself, that kind of attitude comes into training too and that’s not good for the team or for anyone. We just have to put the heads down now and put in a massive effort for what lies ahead in Fermanagh and hopefully that will be enough to get the two points” he noted.
It has been a long road back from injury for Cleary, as he was forced to watch on as Clare clinched silverware in January in the McGrath Cup, while the opening three rounds of the league also saw him in a bystander role. It is not something he is used to and he says it’s a period he is glad to have behind him as the business end of the year looms.
He said: “It was a long journey alright and for three months I didn’t really know when I was going to get a game. Thankfully I got back today but I know that I have a lot to work on too in terms of shooting and a bit of fitness work to get up on. It’s great to be back with the lads out there now and hopefully I can add something more to the game the next day”.
While the focus at the moment is very much on inter-county matters, there’s been plenty off-field activity for those involved with St Joseph’s Miltown in recent weeks. Two-time championship winning manager Michael Neylon vacated his post after four years in charge, with the man he succeeded now re-taking his spot in the hot-seat after David O’Brien was unveiled as their new manager. He’s someone that Cleary knows well having worked under him for both club and county in the past, and he admits that is a positive move for the defending champions.
“Mikey Neylon did a great job with us for the past few years and there is great credit due to him and his backroom team for what they put into it and the success we had. David is in there now and I have no doubt he is relishing the challenge that lies ahead. The players will be back training now this week and everyone is really looking forward to the year ahead” he concluded.
Clare v Fermanagh gets underway in Brewster Park Enniskillen on Sunday with a 2pm start.