When Clare ladies football manager James Murrihy set out his stall for 2020, you can be certain that facing into the last week of November was not something he had budgeted for.
The Kilmurry Ibrickane man is in his third year in the role having taken over from Neil Moynihan, who also led Clare to this stage of the championship in 2016.
He admits it has been a season like no other, and has meant that everyone has had to adapt to a different way of working in all walks of life. He feels the innovations forced on people over the last few months have also led to unexpected opportunities of how to take things to the next level.
“When we met in the Temple Gate on October 15 2019, little did we think that over 14 months later we would still be playing competitive football in the 2020 championship. Everything that has transpired over the last seven months or so has presented challenges that none of us could have seen coming. Just even from a work perspective, I would have used Webex a few times but between Microsoft Teams and Zoom, people have now had to quickly get up to speed on their computer literacy and everything changed almost overnight. In the challenging times we are in, particularly from a health point of view, that was probably the easy part. As lads got used to it, it became a really useful resource in that you could share screens or videos about different tactics or plays, so I think it is something that will become the norm for teams doing that type of work, particularly where lads are based all over the country” he said.
The Clare Sports Partnership Inclusion Officer outlined that getting his squad to this point has been a work of steady progress but feels that the change in people’s work and educational schedules has had a positive impact for those involved at this level.
“It has taken time particularly in the winter when girls are in college and based all over the country that can make it hard to get the midweek sessions in. You are looking at a challenge game on Sunday mornings and a Friday night session so you probably don’t get them as often as you would like to. Since we have come back after the lockdown, a lot of their classes have been online so that has freed them up a lot more from a study perspective to make sure that when we are training three times a week we have pretty much a full complement bar one or two that would be away and that has helped over the last eight or nine weeks” he stated.
With the vast majority of the squad having seen game time over the group stages, it leaves Murrihy and his management team with a selection headache ahead of this weekend’s crunch showdown. Hat trick hero from the Sligo game Amy Sexton is one of those examples, while the likes of Roisín Looney, Louise Woods, Tara Kelly and Fidelma Marrinan will all be pushing for starting places. Murrihy outlined that the competition for places meant that keeping the focus on what they needed to do in that final group game was made that bit easier, despite Clare’s fate being held in the hands of Kildare and Laois.
“On the face of it, it would seem to be something that could have been a major nightmare but to be honest, with the group of girls we have it really wasn’t an issue. Some girls had not started a game and they were really chomping at the bit to get that chance and to bring that level of intensity and focus into training, so that really drove the other girls on. From our perspective it has been great that bar one or two on the panel who are injured, most people have got time on the pitch over the three games and that is a great thing for morale. It can be hard for some panel members to keep training and not see the fruits of that labour coming through in terms of getting game time. The three games allowed us to do that and it brought its own sense of enjoyment to the girls and that motivation to keep coming training to drive it on over the last few weeks. It is a big change that when you play in the league it is unlimited substitutions so you don’t think about making them. There might only be two in one game but you could have eight or nine in another. In championship, you can only make the five subs so that brings its own pressure on us as a management team to make sure that girls are going well and if they are, that they are rewarded for that by getting on the pitch either on the starting 15 or from the bench” he said.
So how will Clare approach this weekend?
“If you think about it from the point of view of the week we had leading into the Sligo game, we are pretty much in bonus territory. There was a small percentage chance of us actually getting into the semi-final so we have just followed on from that and taken the view that we are where we are and it is just another game. If you look at the bigger picture, as a county we have not been in this position since 2016 whereas Meath have been in the last two All Ireland finals. I think that will brings its own pressures for Meath and while we have our own level of expectation within our group as to what we want to achieve, I think the pressure is off our girls to a large extent. We have had our battles with them including in the league this year, and two of the last three years in the championship. We have yet to fully get over the line against them but hopefully that is something the girls will rectify next Saturday” he concluded.