WITH a potential boycott of the National Camogie League prevented on Tuesday afternoon with the Camogie Association’s u-turn to align with the other three codes in a split season fixture approach, the path is finally clear for Clare to home in on neighbours Galway on Saturday.
As opening National League tests go, Clare couldn’t have envisioned a tougher start as Galway have contested the last two all-Ireland Finals.
However, possessing the coach that helped the Tribeswomen to only a third ever All-Ireland crown (2019) in Conor Dolan is certainly a huge boost to the Banner’s cause.
And for the Meelick native himself, it promises to be a strange occasion as it’s the first time that he has faced Galway competitively since coming back to Clare in 2020.
“It’ll be interesting. Look, I had nothing but good times and memories from the two years I was involved with the girls up there.
“It was a great experience and we had a good bit of success along the way but I’m back in my own county now and I’m loving what I’m doing with the girls here.
“And the bottom line is that we’re every bit as good as them. It’s just trying to get that self-belief into those girls and ensuring that they fulfil their maximum potential up against the best. That’s the only way they will ultimately realise that they’re as good as what’s out there.”
Without a challenge match since returning to training over three weeks ago, it’s essentially a step into the unknown for Clare, with Dolan also wary of the post-lockdown factor after last year.
“When we came back training after the club championship at the end of the summer, honestly I felt that they were only 80% of where we should have been going into the championship.
“We still got to a quarter-final and we stuck with Cork the first three-quarters of that game but fitness levels allied to Cork’s cute-ness and experience just pushed them on. And being honest, the result wasn’t really a fair reflection on how the game had actual-ly gone.
“But this is a new year and hopefully we’ve learned from that. Unfortunately we had a challenge match arranged for last weekend but it had to be pulled at the last minute so we won’t have had a test before Saturday.
“But we have had three internal matches and it has allowed a couple of the younger girls to stick their hands up for selection.”
Overall, Dolan is enthused by the consistent stream of underage talent that is blossoming onto the senior stage to bolster the squad’s strength-in-depth and competition for places.
“Looking at the bigger picture, we’ve an awful lot of very good talent coming through and that’s all to do with the work being put in at underage with the clubs and county set-ups.
“There is a conveyor belt emerging through so the shackles are off at the minute and they’re just being told that we have a kind of a style but also to go out and express yourself.”
That philosophy earned Clare a first All-Ireland Quarter-Final appearance in six years last November but for Dolan that’s only the first step in their overall development plan.
“That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, you want to play for your county and from a young age, you dream of playing one day in these big stadiums.
“Páirc Uí Chaoimh is probably on a par with Croke Park at the minute. It’s a brand new stadium and its facilities are second to none. It’s places like this that you want to be playing in on a regular basis.
“So this should be spurring the girls on to give that little bit more so that we’re back down there contesting this year’s quarter-final if not a semi-final.
“And maybe try and progress again then after that.”
Just like Galway.
by Eoin Brennan