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Clare Manager Wayne Freeman. Photograph by Natasha Barton

Double whammy for ladies’ footballers

Clare’s flagship ladies footballers received a devastating double blow in Cusack Park on Sunday when not only exiting the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship at the quarter-final stage but subsequently also seeing manager Wayne Freeman step down following a successful two year reign.
Having previously led a new-look Banner to the brink of an All-Ireland title in his first year in charge in 2023, Kildare native Freeman added a National League Division 3 crown to the Munster Senior B success garnered last year and seemed destined for another prolonged championship assault until being unceremoniously edged out by Tyrone on home soil.
Announcing his decision to step down immediately afterwards to his players in the dressing room in Cusack Park, an emotional Freeman, who managed the side with fellow Lilywhites Lee Hunt, Brian Willis and Jack MacNamee along with Kerry native Graham Shine, was understandably crestfallen.
“We just informed the players that we won’t be here next year. We made that decision at the start of the year and if Clare was closer to Kildare, I’d love to stay on because I do enjoy working with them but it is too far and it is too much travel on us as we’ve small families.
“It’s a bit emotional for us because we think very fondly of them, we enjoy working with them and we enjoy each other’s company. It’s not a good day in general but I wish the successor all the best and I think he is going to inherit a really good group of footballers.”
His Clare side failed to replicate their heights of previous displays on Sunday though, with Freeman at a loss to put his finger on what exactly had happened in their 2-8 to 2-7 reverse to Tyrone, having been six points up by half-time.
“We didn’t play well enough today and that is a fact, we didn’t have the control we wanted to have in the game, we were a little bit erratic and making decisions off the cuff rather than sticking to the plan.
“I don’t know what it is but we were a little bit off, some of our kick passing went straight out over the sideline which is not like us at all, we would normally have way more control than that.”
Nothing from Clare’s preparations had prepared Freeman and Co. for such a subdued performance in front of their own supporters which only added to the initial introspective frustration.
“We’ve trained the house down, we have trained the absolute house down and we have never let up in terms of working hard, we were never going through the motions, there was no example of it happening in training that we weren’t really at the races or we weren’t sharp or looking fit.
“You could see towards the end we were chasing all over the place so the fitness was there and the legs were there, I think it was just sharpness of the mind, we were switching off and runners were coming from behind us and we weren’t aware of them and our communication wasn’t great.
“Some of it is hard to figure out right now until you review it and some of it is obvious, I thought we got to grips with the obvious stuff and made changes but over the course of 60 minutes when you do make individual errors and from big players because they are the ones you look to lead but when they make little errors then everyone else gets nervous so it was an accumulation of both.
“That said, they [Tyrone] were good and that wasn’t surprising. We were expecting that as Chloe McCaffrey was back for them today and that was a huge boost but we let too much slip throughout the game, even at six points up we still felt we were chasing a bit, it was never comfortable and that played through in the end.
“When you are making unusual errors it feeds back into the rest of the team, it wasn’t just the goal, it was kicks over the line and our handpasses hitting the floor, it creates more nervousness and that seems to seep through to the team and I think that is more what happened more than anything else, we just got nervous and we got afraid, we started to get jittery and as soon as we started to make mistakes they punished us in the second half, that is why they went on to win it”.
So how exactly did you break the news of your departure to the team?
“I thanked them for their work, I told them how proud I was of them, it was an emotional few minutes in the dressing room.
“Look, we didn’t see this coming and there is no point lying, because our form this year in general has been great.
“I thanked them for everything they have done, they have worn the jersey with brilliant pride, the support they had today was super.
“Ultimately I go back two years ago when nobody gave us a hope. Even within the county, people were looking at the team and saying ‘they are going nowhere’, now they are back up in Division 2, they have competed in Croke Park and they are back up at the top end.
“They will be favourites again next year and they have to be rebound. Look at Dublin, these things happen, this is football, big teams have gone out of the men’s game and now the women’s game. “So these things happen in sport and not everything will be plain sailing, you just hope on days like today when you are not fully at it that you might just get over the line because the next day will be a better day but that wasn’t for us today which is unfortunate.”
Considering the turnover of players that greeted you when you came in at the backend of 2022, how important is it for this group of players and the work that has been put in over the past two years to stick together for 2025?
“It would be devastating for the county if this team were to break up in any way really. This is a very young team, I think Laurie Ryan is the eldest in there and she is still flying around the place so it would be devastating for the county.
“I’m so proud of them and the work that they have put in. I can’t tell you how fondly I think of them because they are brilliant and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
“However, the biggest problem with ladies football is the turnover of players is too big and that is everywhere, that is not just Clare. We’ve had a massive turnover of players since Evan [Talty]’s time, it has been phenomenal and you wouldn’t believe it so I hope they stay together because they have a massive potential. And I’m sure there’s one or two more to come back next year from their travels, big players.
“So I think they will be favourites next year and I’d love to see them go on and win it.”

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