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Clare selector Damian O'Halloran before their Munster Minor Championship Semi-Final at Pairc Ui Rinn. Photograph by John Kelly

Delivering Clare’s minor-gritty report

Pop quiz hotshot, name the current Clare minor mentor that helped a county garner back-to-back All-Ireland minor titles in the past five seasons?

In a vastly experienced team headed by former Clare senior captain Brian O’Connell, it’s not six-time Munster and three time All-Ireland winning joint-manager Donal Moloney nor 1995 All-Ireland winner Cyril Lyons who guided his native county to the 2002 All-Ireland decider as manager.
In fact it’s coach Damian O’Halloran who while teaching in Balinasloe, was part of Jeff Lynskey’s backroom team that made the breakthrough for Galway with All-Ireland minor crowns in 2017 and ’18 before also having a stint with the Tribesmen at Under 21 level alongside Lynskey, Franny Forde and Tony Ward.
“It was a great experience.” Recalls O’Halloran. “Going in cold, it certainly opened my eyes as to the standard required, the levels at which even minor set-ups are operating at along with the workload of management teams that are actually comparable to a lot of senior set-ups.
“I learned a lot and was lucky to be part of two All-ireland wins so all-in-all it was a great experience to bring back down to Clare.”
Answering the Banner call to arms, the current minor management was formulated in 2019 and have never looked back since as following three consecutive victories in as many weeks, they are now preparing for Wednesday’s Munster Minor showdown against Tipperary in TUS Gaelic Grounds (throw-in 7.30pm).
“It was obviously very appetising to be involved with such big names who have given a lot to Clare over the years.” Continued the Inagh-Kilnamona clubman.
“To be honest, it has been a pleasure to work with both management and players. At the start, it was just a case of all of the management coming together and outlining a clear philosophy and subsequently getting that clarity across to the players so that we’re all singing off the same hymn sheet. That’s easy to do when you’re dealing with such high calibre people.
“So we have really gotten to know the players very well, what positions suit them and the different characters you have in front of you and how to manage them.
“And rather than taking them over cold and only having a few months to work with them, it definitely stands to you to have built up an understanding over a number of years.”
Deep down O’Halloran knew that they had a good team at their disposal but it was only in the aftermath of their opening reverse to Tipperary that the squad really began to blossom.
“We didn’t feel like we did ourselves justice against Tipp the first day albeit that we were very competitive for long periods of the game. As a management we took an awful lot of learnings from that game. We also realised that we’re as good as what’s out there, we just needed to remain steadfast to what we’re good at and we were able to hit the ground running against Waterford, build again against Kerry and down to Cork then which has given us great confidence in what we are doing.
“I must compliment the players as they are really mature. I mean with the new rules, a mentor cannot enter the field anymore so we can shout on one or two bits to them but in essence, you’re depending on the leadership of the players to steer the ship.
“We have great leaders in every line of the field, we’ve used 23 players so far and every player has contributed as they have all bought in to what we’ve tried to do with them which is really important.
“I suppose this might sound strange to some people but we don’t want any stars, we want a team performance.”
That was epitomised in one of Clare’s most assured collective displays in Páirc Uí Rinn last Tuesday to emphatically dethrone the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions.
“Going down against Cork, we very much had to say to the players, and they felt as well, that we had to stick to our plan no matter what and that it was very important to not put Cork on a pedestal.
“Cork was always going to try and disrupt our plan as they had obviously seen our matches but we believe in what we’re doing and regardless of who we’re playing, we concentrate on our strengths and we stick to what we’re good at.
“Now, obviously you need variety within that as you don’t want to be too predictable but the fundamental belief is that if we stick to what we’re good at, we’ll be very competitive and cause anyone problems.”
Fittingly, the final piece of Clare’s Munster jigsaw is to try and redress the balance against Tipperary once more on Wednesday, the perfect litmus test of how far they’ve developed over the past month.
“Going back to that first game against them, you never like to lose, especially when you feel that you didn’t play to your potential. But we’re getting another crack at them now and it’s up to us to implement the learnings from that opening game.
“I mean we have improved with every passing game since that Tipp game so if we can implement what we’re good at and not get phased by Tipperary, we should be in with a good shout.”
Indeed, O’Halloran is better placed than most to advise the Class of ’22 on striking while the iron is hot as the Inagh-Kilnamona clubman was a noted underage star that at only 19, was even part of the Clare senior squad under Mike McNamara at the end of the noughties, only to suffer a career-ending groin injury.
“If you can’t do it yourself on the field I suppose, you really want to impart some knowledge or experience to the lads that are there at the moment. It definitely gives you that appreciation of the whole ‘you’re young now and on the Clare minor panel but it may not last forever’ scenario.
“Anything can ultimately happen so it’s just about making the most of the opportunity that’s in front of them, keep grounded and of course to try and achieve as much as they can and work as hard as they can while they’re there.”

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