Eoin Cleary has been through five previous National League campaigns with Clare but this one will be a little different to all the rest.
Gary Brennan’s departure from the panel for the coming year not only left a gap to filled on the starting 15, but it also meant that the captaincy duties would need to be reassigned for the first time in nearly a decade.
Having made his debut against Waterford in the championship in 2014, Eoin Cleary has developed into one of the top forwards in the country and it was no real surprise that he emerged as the successor to Brennan in taking on that responsibility. He admits while he never thought the armband would come his way, he is looking forward to taking it on to the next level.
“I am looking forward to the challenge ahead. We had Gary as the previous captain and what he brought to the set-up was unreal along with what he brought to players off the field. He was very unselfish and very generous to other players with his time. It is a new role that I am looking forward to stepping up to, but there are so many leaders on this panel to assist me in that. It is a title at the end of the day but we are all leaders in this panel so we will all be working together to drive things forward for the year ahead. It was never something I had thought about but when Colm told me I would be captain for 2020 I was delighted of course. Clare football has been on an upward curve over the last few years thanks to Colm so for him to trust me with this role is a huge honour and one I hope that I can fulfil to a very high level” said the Limerick-based Garda.
During his time with the county panel, Cleary has been an ever-present in Clare’s rise to Division Two. He has also seen the makeup of the panel change numerous times over the years with the one constant being that standards were never allowed to slip. He’s confident that the players who get the call to step into the breach will be ready to make their mark on the team.
He said: “Different lads have come in, others have left and this year is no different. We set high standards all the time and we will be working to hit those again in 2020. With the new players who have come in looking very good at the moment, we would hoping that can continue and we are looking forward to them testing themselves in their first league campaign this year. We will just be sticking with the same things that we have done in other years and it seems to have worked for us. You can go back to 2017 against Cavan in the league, we were down a lot of players that day because of injuries but ended up drawing a game we probably should have won. It is stuff like that we draw confidence from in that when we lose players, we know someone is there to step up and is ready for the occasion. There is a lot of experience in the squad and they know the system as well as anyone else does that we are trying to implement in this team. There are new guys in who have played a high level of football with Clare minor teams and with their clubs too so you can see that bit of bite in training. Things have really stepped up over the last few weeks so we are really pleased with that. The players who come in have been watching us over the years and know the style that we play so they can adapt to it without any real fuss. There is a great sense of calm there from talking to the lads and everyone is just really looking forward now to game one and it will hopefully be an enjoyable occasion”.
Cleary was also involved when these two sides met in the qualifiers last year with the Banner withstanding a late fightback from the home team in Mullingar to come through by the narrowest of margins. David Tubridy’s goal with 20 minutes to play was a crucial score on that occasion, and Cleary is eyeing more green flags to get the year off to the perfect start.
“We had a great win up there last year and performed really well on the evening. We got a really important goal to swing it our way and we will be looking for more of them on Sunday. We will have to just go about our business as we normally do and try to create as many scoring chances as we can and hopefully take them. The two McGrath Cup games saw us create a lot of chances, and while we took some of them, there were plenty that we didn’t too. It has been the same in a few challenge game we have played and we know that any opportunities we create the next day, we are going to have to take them because when they come your way in really competitive games, you just cannot afford to leave them after you” said the three time championship winner with Miltown.
All teams will be looking over their shoulders in the closing rounds of this year’s campaign with the threat of relegation not just impacting on the league but also on the championship. Cleary says it is not something they will be thinking about until the time comes to assess where they stand at the end of the campaign.
“You would not really worry about it until the final game and see what it means when it comes to that. We saw a similar scenario last year when it came to that Tipperary game which was essentially a relegation final and it was only when that game rolled around that we began to worry about relegation. It would have been the exact same if we had have been in a position to be fighting for promotion. It is something that is just in the back of our minds at the moment and if it something we have to think about down the line, we will but at the moment, it is all about the opening game and hoping to drive it on from there” he concluded.