Clare’s last appearance in an All-Ireland intermediate final was in 2016 when they were edged out by Sunday’s opponents Kildare, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, in recalling a contest that will give motivation to the current crop, particularly the four survivors from that day out in Croke Park seven years ago.
With a Dr prefix before her name it goes without writing that Laurie Ryan is a seasoned academic, so the chances are that if you kicked or hand-passed a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche at her that she’s control it straight away without breaking stride, know it, own it and pass another one right back to you.
“Out of life’s school of war,” he stated, “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger,” he added.
He coined it in 1888 when the GAA was just a couple of years young, but it could have been minted with the Clare ladies’ footballers in mind as they face down Kildare and some demons in Sunday’s All-Ireland final in Croke Park.
The demons of the ‘so near, but yet so far’ years when progress was made on and off the field, but they always fell short in that difficult race to the summit of intermediate football.
But where finals are concerned, it’s the demons of the last All-Ireland final appearance that was also against Kildare in Croke Park that need to be exorcised.
It was the September day seven years ago when the Clare side coached by Galwayman Neil Moynihan, with Paul Mannion as a selector, came tantalisingly close to a first All-Ireland intermediate success since 2009.
It was the day that their seven-year itch went unattended – Sunday will be the day when all involved with Clare know what needs to be done after another hiatus of seven years.
Above all Dr Laurie Ryan knows, and so too do the three members of the Harvey clan from Querrin who were there in 2016 and are back for more – the current captain Caoimhe who came on as a sub that day, as well as Gráinne who was left half-back and Shauna who was right-corner-back.
Laurie Ryan was full-back and captain.
It was a hard defeat to stomach.
“In our dressing room now,” mused Laurie, “there is just a silence because we know we have a lot more in us than the way we played today so that is the most disappointing thing coming off the pitch after that game”.
This initial thought came just 20 minutes after it was all over and when Clare football had endured another one of those ‘what if’ afternoons when the missed opportunities had everyone ruing a great opportunity lost.
It was a huge day – there were 34,445 at the great seat of the GAA and Clare had just been edged out by 1-13 to 1-12 and left to lick their wounds and reflect where it all went wrong.
The slow start that left them seven adrift – 1-7 to 0-3 – adrift after 21 minutes when the occasion seemed to be passing them by?
The similar slow start to the second half that saw them fail to raise a flag until 11 minutes in?
The wides when the game was there for the taking inside the last ten minutes when the sides were locked at 1-11 apiece?
It was all of those things that ultimately trumped the sparkling play that Clare had produced in fits and starts throughout the contest that went to the wire before Kildare landed the crucial scores to win.
Take the rousing finish to the first half when Clare hit 1-4 without reply as Niamh O’Dea (2), Gráinne Nolan and Ciara Hickey pointed before Ailish Considine shook the rigging for a goal that left matters tied at 1-7 apiece at half-time.
“We woke up towards the end of the first half and realised that we actually have a brilliant chance of winning this match and that they weren’t better than us,” said Laurie.
However, they failed to press on, even if with just eight minutes remaining it was there for Clare when that slow start to the second half was all forgotten about after points by Nolan (2) and O’Dea ensured that the sides were level for the third time in the contest.
Alas, by then Clare’s wides tally was mounting. There would be 12 in all before the call of time, while crucially Kildare’s captain Aisling Holton came up with a crucial score on 57 minutes to edge the Lilywhites ahead once more before Molly Price doubled that advantage a minute later.
That was the game, even if O’Dea’s fifth point of the game did leave the minimum in it before the hooter sounded to signal the end.
“We had the chances, we didn’t take them when we could have,” said Laurie. “We stuck with them right until the end and it was there for us, we were just unlucky. When do we miss that many chances in one day?”
However, manager Neil Moynihan was in no doubt. “We didn’t deserve it,” he blasted. “Hardcore honesty is what we need at this stage and basically we went out and didn’t perform to the best of our ability.
“I think every person in Clare will look at that game and say our players are a lot, lot better than that. If we had played to the best of our ability, we could have been six or seven points up leading into the last ten minutes but we didn’t do that.
“And when you don’t play to the best of your ability, you don’t deserve to win the game. The main thing is now that it’s completely down to them if they want to bounce back and come back here, it’s in their own hands,” he added.
Harsh words, but words that might resonate for the current crop. Particularly Laurie Ryan et al who struck a defiant tone after the game seven years ago.
“There’s definitely the will,” she said. “We are a really young team and we know that there’s a brilliant chance if we can stick together and even get a few more girls to get on board with us we…”.
Can win the All-Ireland.
That chance comes around on Sunday. At long last.
Seven years. The bridge everyone in saffron and blue hopes won’t be too far.
Emma O’Driscoll (Banner Ladies); Shauna Harvey (West Clare Gaels), Laurie Ryan (Banner Ladies) Capt, Kayleigh McCormack (Burren Gaels); Róisín Considine (Liscannor); Ellie O’Gorman (Kilmihil), Gráinne Harvey (West Clare Gaels); Louise Henchy (West Clare Gaels), Becky Mahon (Kilmihil); Sarah Bohannon (Shannon Gaels), Ailish Considine (Kimihil), Niamh Keane (Banner Ladies); Ciara Hickey (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Niamh O’Dea (Banner Ladies), Gráinne Nolan (Banner Ladies). Subs Caoimhe Harvey (West Clare Gaels) for Shauna Harvey, Aoife Keane (Banner Ladies) for Hickey.