On the eve of Clare’s first All-Ireland Intermediate Final in seven years, the Lenihan family have unquestionably been hugely influential in the Banner’s passage back to the LGFA’s most prestigious annual day.
It essentially came down to answering the county’s call as Sean Lenihan admirably stepped up to assume the vacant Chairperson’s position at short notice ahead of the 2021 season while later in the same year, his daughter Amy, a notable forward for her club St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield, was asked by new manager Evan Talty to cover as sub goalkeeper despite having never played in that position before.
Both have only gone from strength to strength in their respective roles ever since as Sean is now in his third year as Clare’s administrative figurehead while Amy has made the custodian’s position her own since last season.
However, while their impacts have emanated from contrasting on and off the field approaches, their goal is certainly common to both as getting Clare back to an All-Ireland Intermediate decider has always been the number one priority.
“The aim at the start of the year was to get to an All-Ireland Final so the fact that it’s in Croke Park is a great plus.” Outlined Amy whose sister Ava is also serving as a water girl for the flagship team.
“It’s a stadium that we haven’t played in previously so it will be completely different from anything we’ve played in before. I’ve heard it’s very hard to hear on the pitch with all the kids cheering but of course that’s the same for both teams.
“So it’s great to get to Croke Park but now whether it was in Croke Park, Cusack Park or Gurteen, the aim now is to win the final.”
Having to step back and consider the bigger picture, Sean’s broader perspective was predominantly centred upon supporting the players and management’s clear objective.
“We’re so delighted for them all but having a brilliant panel is only part of the equation of getting a team there. It had to take the help of a lot of people to achieve that such as a hard working committee, very many people working hard at club level across the county and of course successive management teams that have all played a part getting this team to Croke Park on Sunday.
“Needless to say that our very generous main sponsor Rengen Power has helped fund this remarkable journey and we also get great support from our gear partner Gaelic Armour which is backed by our own Martin Donnelly, a great Clareman and Gael.
“I must also thank all our other sponsors because to get to an All-Ireland weekend incurs a lot of additional costs over and above what you’d normally budget for so that’s why we have set up the ‘sponsor a player’ fundraiser that has been going on in the background to support our team and hopefully help them to win it on Sunday.”
And of course, Clare LGFA’s top table were also responsible for recognising Wayne Freeman’s potential in being the final piece of the All-Ireland jigsaw. Sean takes up the story.
“When I came in, James Murrihy had just finished and Evan Talty, who had been a selector with James, stepped up thankfully as it provided a level of continuity. We made it to a quarter-final in his first year and a semi-final last year but after putting in a huge amount of work as a selector and then a manager, he stood down so we advertised the post and I’m delighted to say that we had a large number of interested parties both within the county and outside.
“So we set up an interview panel, ably assisted by John Sweeney of the Clare Sports Partnership, just to bring that independent view into it so after interviewing the candidates Wayne emerged victorious.
“I knew from his application and the preparedness of his presentation for the interview that he had his homework done so that impressed from the start. Of course he also had the benefit of playing Clare last year in Cusack Park when he was manager of Louth in which they unfortunately beat us on our own doorstep.
“I asked him in the interview what had he done to prepare for that game and what he told us he did for the Clare match really impressed me as to what he could do if he was our manager.
“So we deliberated and appointed him and we’re obviously delighted with the success he and his team have had. He has an excellent backroom team of Brian Willis, Lee Hunt, Diarmuid Tobin and Eoin McMahon and that’s vital because no on person will deliver what we hope to achieve, it requires an awful lot of people putting their shoulder to the wheel.”
Amy agrees wholeheartedly with those sentiments towards her manager who has quickly reshaped and rekindled the county’s flagship squad in his near ten month reign so far.
“Wayne has been great since he’s come in and also credit to Evan [Talty] who had been with us for the last few years as he had built up a strong team and a strong bond within the team.
“Wayne came in with a fresh pair of eyes as he didn’t know any of us so everyone had work to do to get to know each other and I must say that he’s been brilliant since the start of the year.
“The three boys from Kildare travel down two to three times a week and along with Eoin [McMahon], Diarmuid [Tobin] and Edel [Conway], they have all put so much time into rebuilding a new team and getting us to where we are now.”
‘We will be determined not to let the occasion get to us as it has taken us so long to get here, we just want to grasp this unique opportunity with both hands.’
Amy’s journey from goal scorer to stopper is one of the major success stories of the squad’s evolution over the past few years as she have thrived in the role from the outset.
“Two years ago I was called up as goalkeeping cover for an injury so I have just automatically been in that goalie role ever since. Being an outfield player for my club actually helps with the way we play because I’m not just staying back on my line, I’m coming out, getting involved in play if I can and just generally being an extra option if the girls have to go back and recycle possession so it’s all good so far.”
While Amy is relishing her new role, having some additional skin in the game does make it a little more tense for Sean too though.
“My heart has definitely been in my mouth for some of the games but seriously though, she’s been very good. And I know we have shipped a few goals but goals will happen in matches and the mistake could stem from the full-forward line or the half-back line.
“At the end of the day, a goalkeeper is the last line of defence and while nobody expects anyone to keep out a rocket, her outfield experience comes into play very much so as she has a good kick-out which is a vital part of the modern game.
“Of course I am very proud of Amy but she is only one member of the team. I am also very proud of the other 30 girls on our panel. Each of them has put in a huge effort and have made many sacrifices in terms of their work, study and social lives since last November. How could you not be proud of them and I really hope they get the win because they absolutely deserve it.”
And on the flip side of that, how strange is it for Amy to have her father involved in the Clare set-up?
“Dad has been involved for years with Doora/Barefield so I’m used to him being involved in the background as I think I’ve always had him as a chairman or some sort of administrative role.
My first year being involved at inter-county just happened to be Dad’s first year as chairman so that was obviously different as this is much bigger than club level.
“I don’t get involved with any of the boardroom stuff, I only get involved if it’s to do with the players and maybe a decision that needs a bit of influencing so it’s good to have him involved.”
Sean won’t have any influence on Sunday’s result however as it’s now down to Amy and Co. to lead Clare into their biggest battle to date.
“I’ve been around GAA and LFGA for most of my life so I know the ups and downs associated with the sport.” Admitted Sean.
“I’ve seen games where the best team doesn’t win, I’ve seen big leads turned over in the flash of an eye as has happened to this team.
“What we want now is the perfect game on Sunday, we want them to start well, not lose focus and finish well. Of course we have a little bit of history with Kildare as well as they beat us in the final in 2016, they beat us in our third game of the league this year and then again in the final by a solitary point after extra-time so look, hopefully it’s third time lucky for us this Sunday.
“We’re in it to win it.”
An unflinching mindset echoed by Clare’s number one.
“I know all the girls are very excited and really looking forward to it now. Obviously there will be nerves kicking in closer to the time but for example in the semi-final against Antrim, I was talking with Aisling Reidy before the start and we were just so relaxed. I think possibly because our matches clashed with the hurlers, maybe not many knew we were playing because there wasn’t that much hype or pressure put on us. It allowed us to just go out and play like it was just another game of football and that’s exactly what we’ll be looking to do again on Sunday.
“We will be determined not to let the occasion get to us as it has taken us so long to get here, we just want to grasp this unique opportunity with both hands.”