It was an enthralling hurling summer that Clare understandably never wanted to end but while supporters still bask in those indelible championship memories, the players and management themselves have long since parked 2022 and have been gearing towards not only emulating but eclipsing those feats in the coming season.
Of course, with such ambitions comes heightened expectations, something which selector Ken Ralph only welcomes as they prepare for their first real tests of 2023 over the next eight weeks.
“I would hope that expectations have risen because we had a reasonably good year last year. Obviously it didn’t end too great but we were happy with the majority of our championship run and we have to push on now. We have to kick on and improve and with that inevitably comes expectation and we hope to meet that this year and try and go a couple of steps further than we did last year.”
Having incrementally finished each of their last three seasons better than the last, the only logical next step therefore for Clare is to get their hands on some much-needed silverware.
The crowds last year really, really got in behind us, were really encouraging and playing in Cusack Park was electric and that buzz was brilliant to see. So we’re hoping that we get a big crowd again on Sunday and in turn that we give them something to cheer about and start the season on a positive platform.
“We have improved every year but ultimately it’s probably a bit frustrating that while we’ve improved with each passing season, we still haven’t won a trophy. I can guarantee that there will be no stone left unturned by the management or players to go that step further and finally reach the top of that mountain and win a trophy. First up is the League, then the Championship so inter-county hurling is all about winning really and I can tell you that as a group, everyone in the Clare camp wants to win.”
The only niggling drawback in that plan is the evidence of Waterford’s 2022 Kamikaze campaign that saw the Deise power to a National League title, only to ultimately peak too soon as their championship campaign simply fell apart. So with the final only a fortnight out from the Munster Championship opener once more, what is Clare’s strategy for the upcoming National League?
“We will set out to try and win every game obviously and if we win the league, we win it but realistically we also have to balance trying to strengthen our panel with winning as well.
“I mean there’s not much point in going with your tried and trusted team and not giving others a decent run so there will be some experimenting but we will be going out to try and win every game as well.
“We’re happy enough with the way things have gone for us so far as training has been going very well. We’ve already played two games in the Munster League and there were a lot of positives to take from both games. Even though we lost one of them, we were still happy with some aspects and players and that improved even more for the second game. We had a lot of good performances against Waterford, saw a lot of players and even guys that didn’t do so well in the Tipperary game turned it around to have a great game against Waterford so that was a serious positive.
“To be honest, the win against Waterford was actually a bonus really. It was nice to win it and wasn’t the end of the world if we didn’t but the fact that we did and the manner of the way we won it, we were delighted with it.”
First up is Westmeath this weekend, with Ralph keen to replicate last year’s unprecedented support in Cusack Park on Sunday.
“The crowds last year really, really got in behind us, were really encouraging and playing in Cusack Park was electric and that buzz was brilliant to see. So we’re hoping that we get a big crowd again on Sunday and in turn that we give them something to cheer about and start the season on a positive platform.
“That said, we have two Munster League games played and not a whole lot of hurling done outside of that so we’re obviously going to be a long way off from where we’ll be come the latter stages of the league or championship time. So being our first National League match, we’ve got to be careful as Westmeath as we all know had a couple of great results at the end of last year’s championship.
“They drew with Wexford and then had a big win over Laois so they are improving all the time and we were up in Cusack Park in Mullingar last week to see them play Dublin and we can see that they have a very definite way of setting up and trying to play.
“As a group under Joe Fortune, they’ve been on the road a few years so on Sunday if your mind is on Tipp in the first round of the Munster Championship or Kilkenny last year, Westmeath will have no problem coming to Ennis to beat you.
“So we need to perform and if we do, hopefully, we can kick the league off with a win.
“This is 2023 now, not 2022, so everyone is back down the bottom of the hill and you have to earn your respect and drag yourself up the hard way again.”