Clare will aim to bridge a 19-year gap to return to Division 1 for next year when they meet Mayo in Cusack Park, Ennis, on Sunday. Muireann Duffy spoke with Kilfenora’s Cian O’Dea
There’s no question that the Clare footballers want to see the heights of Division 1. The only problem is Mayo are the team standing in their way.
Despite the tall ask, Kilfenora’s Cian O’Dea remains resolute, the goals they set out to achieve at the start of the year remain firmly intact: “At training we really went through what we want, and said if we want this more than Mayo then we can do it.
“Ever since Colm came in, that’s one of the main things he tries to push; leaving the jersey in a better place. Every day you go out you’re bringing the Clare jersey forward with you and you’re not bringing it back to Division 3 or 4.
“You’re always moving forward, it’s all about leaving the jersey in a better place for the next generation.”
With 19 years having passed since Clare played in the top division, that approach has rang through within the squad, with most of the younger players only being part of the set up as Clare climbed the ranks. An upward trajectory all the way, with the efforts of those freshers faces are having an tangible impact on the make-up of the team, O’Dea admits.
“The competition this year for places is crazy. There’s lads there with two or three years who are competing for a spot and every day in training they are the ones giving it everything.
“I had a bit of a knock at the start of the year, but I was afraid to miss any training or matches in case I wouldn’t get my place back.
“It’s so competitive and fair play to them, they are the lads driving it on and their chance will come and they will be ready to take it,” he says.
“It’s called training for a reason, you train for matches – if you’re giving your best in training, it will transfer over to matches,” O’Dea adds.
And that effort certainly transferred over for Clare’s League outings so far this year, taking nice wins over Kildare and Laois, only to go down to Cork by a single point in the last round.
“Winning is a habit as they say. We beat Kildare and Laois and over the last few years we have had good games with both of them, so it’s good to get over the line with them.
“Obviously it was disappointing looking back now to lose to Cork because we hadn’t lost to them in the last couple of years, but we’ll draw on the positives from them few games and we’ll be happy that we have gone through,” the 24-year-old says.
But knowing the mathematics going into that Cork game did soften the blow at the final whistle O’Dea adds, “We only needed to lose by less than four, so within the final stretch we were happy enough it was only a point loss.
“I think if we needed to win or draw we could have pushed on and maybe got the win. Obviously we can learn a bit from it, but it wasn’t the end of the world and we were just delighted to get through.”
Mayo’s visit to Cusack Park on Sunday will be a step up from their three group fixtures, but the trip to Ennis may not be the major advantage it once was with such a limited crowd permitted to attend, but such considerations are far from O’Dea’s mind.
“Personally, once the ball gets thrown in I forget about the fans, so for me it doesn’t really make a difference. I know some players thrive off having fans there while other teams might like having no fans, especially if it’s an away game.”
“But obviously it’s great to have supporters back. My father was trying to get to the Cork match, but there was no way he would be allowed in, so he couldn’t. He’ll be delighted to be back in to see us play,” he adds.
The challenge is great, but the hunger may be greater, and facing into Kerry in the Munster Championship in two weeks, a solid performance is the order of the day.
“It’s all about the performance now, especially with Kerry two weeks after. If we don’t win, a good performance will still give us confidence going into that Kerry game.
“Mayo is probably the best game we could have got to prepare for Kerry.
“Mayo have been probably the second best team in the country for the last two or three years so they are not going to underestimate us. They will come on Sunday ready to play and we will be ready to match them.”
By Eoin Brennan