CONTROLLING the controllables. Never has the phrase held such resonance as with inter-county hurling action set to resume this weekend after a five month absence, the already all-encompassing role of manager takes on a whole new magnified level of responsibility.
Pre-Covid, the preparation, picking and peaking of an inter-county team was more than enough of an arduous task in itself. However, with the addition of no collective training permitted until a fortnight ago and meticulous regulations surrounding travel and match-day protocols, 2021 has elevated logistics to unprecedentedly lofty heights.
The only solace is that essentially every county is in the same boat and it’s that level playing field effect that makes the impending National League all the more anticipatory for Clare Manager Brian Lohan and his squad amidst their five match schedule over the next six weekends.
“I suppose like everyone else in the country, we’re just delighted to get back on the field and we’re really looking forward to the games now,” admits Lohan.
“We want to see where we’re at, we want to see how we compare against the other teams and ultimately the challenge of the championship to see how we’ll go in it.”
Having not even met the players in six months up to a fortnight ago, Lohan and Co have relied on technology along with the individual responsibility and leadership of the players to ensure their readiness to hit the ground running upon their return. And with Clonlara All-star winning duo John Conlon and Colm Galvin both back from injury and several fresh faces adding to the competition for places, the Shannon native is confident that the panel is better equipped for the hectic road ahead.
“We probably learned a bit from last year that maybe we didn’t get as much out of the first lockdown going into the championship as certainly what other teams got.
“So we’ve tried to learn from that but you actually won’t know if you did learn from it until you see how things pan out over the League matches and into championship.
“I do think we are a bit stronger though as I feel that we’ve more options all over the field. Obviously if you’re looking at the overall squad, you hone in on the age profile and there are plenty of young lads that we won’t have the opportunity to give three or four years in the squad to see how they develop. In reality we’re going to need to see them straight away.
“But you know that can be a good thing as well.”
Another blessing in disguise could also be avoiding all their Munster rivals in the upcoming National League as Clare are embroiled in an all-Leinster grouping with Antrim, Dublin, Laois, Kilkenny and Wexford. And with no room for any knock-out stages in this year’s National League, the Banner will steer clear of all six teams in Group A including Limerick, Cork, Galway, Tipperary, Westmeath and opening Munster Championship opponents Waterford.
“Given that we’ve drawn Waterford in the first round in Munster, it’s probably no harm to avoid playing them in the league. We’ll have a cut at them when the time comes around but ultimately you could argue either way about the merits of playing Leinster teams as opposed to Munster opposition for the league.”
With soft tissue injuries inevitably impacting the newly assembled squad, squad rotation will be commonplace over the next six weeks, starting with by far their longest trip during 2021 when taking on Antrim in Corrigan Park in Belfast this Sunday (1pm).
“It’s probably not ideal having to travel over 400 kilometres to play the first game but it is what it is and we’ll just have to deal with it as best we can both on and off the field. We’re following the specific protocols outlined so we’re not traveling by bus, everyone will be going individually by car. Look, the safety of the players is the main thing and with us staying overnight too, you want to take every precaution to ensure that.”
And with Clare GAA dominating the column inches during the most recent lockdown for all the wrong reasons, the set-up are eager to concentrate solely on earning the right headlines this summer, with the ringing endorsement of the supporters through Club Clare a welcome boost in that regard ahead of their return to action this Sunday according to manager Lohan.
“The squad themselves along with ourselves in the management are delighted with the support and the fact that so many people have decided to sign up with Club Clare.
“It shows the team that bit of support and it’s not just us either as there are ten other squads throughout the inter-county hurling and camogie grades that are going to benefit from that so it’s all good.
“We really appreciate the support the people of the county have given to Club Clare and we hope to repay that in some way over the coming months. We think we’ve worked hard and we’re going to try to represent the county as best we can.”
Again it essentially all goes back to controlling the controllables.
by Eoin Brennan