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Clare’s James Hegarty holds off the challenge from Darren Collopy and Matthew Fitzgerald of Limerick during their Munster Minor Hurling Championship game at TUS Gaelic Grounds. Photograph by John Kelly

Eoghan and James gunning for glory


In what has been an epic minor season to date, two of Clare’s standout performers have been Eoghan Gunning and James Hegarty, who apart from their primary role as defenders have made important contributions to the scorecard writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh who spoke to them ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

To borrow the vernacular of a different GAA time, they’re real tearaways, with a cut and dash about them that lifts those around them on the field – the team and its performance and the watching public riding along with every ebb and flow of the proceedings before them.
Corner-back and captain Eoghan Gunning; centre-back and every bit the leader that his captain is, James Hegarty. Second-year minors and driving forces from deep in Clare push to win the Irish Press Cup for only the second time.
They weren’t born the first time it happened, while the last time a Clare minor team reached the All-Ireland final frontier in 2010, their hurling educations had barely if at all, begun.
They’re graduates now though. Star men, bulwarks, tearaways, and talismans and hurling the dream as they home in on something that’s seldom, but beautiful in Clare hurling. An All-Ireland final.
“It’s special,” says Eoghan, “to train for all these months on months on end and the end goal is to be in the All-Ireland and we’re here now, but we now need to knuckle down and hopefully get over the line.”
Eoghan is a nephew of two-time All-Ireland winner PJ O’Connell, while the last from his Broadford club to play in and win an All-Ireland was James Gunning [no relation] in 2009 in Clare’s big breakthrough year at Under 21 level, when Craig Chaplin was also part of the victorious squad.
Eamonn Glynn and Conor Tierney flew the Inagh-Kilnamona flag on that team, while before that Fergal Hegarty was the parish man on the 1995 and ’97 senior winning sides before the more recent All-Ireland wins for the county saw the club represented by Niall Arthur.

‘As a group, we would have met for the first time at U-14 and travelled up to this year. This year we started in December when this group of 30 met up for the first time. We did a lot of gym work and conditioning before we got into the hurling. We’ve had different managements. There have been lots of lads there to take credit for that. They have all helped us along the journey and improved us a lot as hurlers.’

A decade on from those underage glory days for the county that will hopefully return on Sunday, it’s safe to say that Inagh-Kilnamona have never had it as good when it comes to representation on county squads, and it’s something that James Hegarty et al are feeding off.
“There are four of us on the minor squad and there’s three on the senior, while Sean Rynne was playing in the Munster Under 20 final,” he notes.
“It’s great to see the older lads on the senior team and to look up to them. It’s great to have them around the club. When you’d go up to the field some nights, you’d meet Eamonn Foudy and he’d go pucking with you no bother and they’d really bring you on.”
“We get a push off the seniors and the seniors get a push off us,” says Gunning. “It was the same when the 20s played in the Munster final as well. It all adds together when you see every team competing so well in Munster.
“Having teams in minor, under 20 and senior Munster finals – I don’t know when the last time that was done, but it’s great that it’s happened; it’s great for Clare.”
The only time was 1999 when Clare drew a blank, but already the minors have put that to right in 2023, with the seniors to come against Limerick, while adding the All-Ireland is the crowning glory that’s now within touching distance.
“Brian told us near the start of the year that he went home to his wife and told her that we would win the All-Ireland,” says James, drawing from the well of confidence that he’s built up over the past two seasons.

Clare capatain Eoghan Gunning in action against Carthaigh Cronin of Cork during the Munster Minor Final. Photograph by John Kelly

Last year he was centre-back on the side that put the nightmare of Clare’s one and only minor day out in 2021 behind them with a victory over Cork on their way to a Munster final that only ended in defeat after penalties.
“We’ve always had real belief since,” he continues, “and it’s nice when your manager has that belief in you and knows and says that you can go to the very end where we are now. You get a bit of motivation out of that and we did when he said and we have used it.”
“As a group, we would have met for the first time at Under 14 and travelled up to this year,” says Gunning. “This year we started in December when this group of 30 met up for the first time. We did a lot of gym work and conditioning before we got into the hurling.
We’ve had different managements. There have been lots of lads there to take credit for that. They have all helped us along the journey and improved us a lot as hurlers.”
That improvement has been seen in Clare’s games to date, with the only reverse being the second-round defeat to Limerick, which was followed by an all-important win against Waterford, from where they’ve never looked back.
Cork (2) and Limerick were dispatched, as were Kilkenny.
These are the powerhouses of Munster and Leinster hurling respectively – now for the powerhouses of minor hurling in general as the current standard-bearers of the Tribe bid to win a sixth title for the county since 2015.
“Every year they would be expected to win it,” says Gunning. “For us, it would mean everything. When you start Under 14 you don’t realise what it is – it’s a journey to today with the minors and to be in an All-Ireland final is special. All we want to do now is to win.”
And to do that?
“Bring our best,” says Hegarty. “Everything has to go well for us. All we can do is try our hardest. If we play to our best we can beat anyone. It’s just to play to our best. We can do that.”
Until Sunday comes, then!

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