Clare’s National Ladies football league campaign gets underway this weekend when Armagh make the trip to Shanahan McNamara Memorial Park in Doonbeg.
It is the first of seven games in their Division Two campaign with a new format for the league this year. The semi-final stage has been scrapped with the top two in the standings at the end of the league series going straight through to the final.
It is a third year in the role for manager James Murrihy, and he says with the talent in the squad it was easy decision to continue for another campaign.
“We are really looking forward to getting the league underway because we feel we have some good work done now over the last few months. We started back in November and we have been working away since then. We had a challenge game before Christmas and we have had another three since just we are just really looking forward to Sunday. At the end of a given year, you do your reflection. I reflected on what I had done myself and did that with the players too. We looked forward to this year and extended the backroom team to bring in some really experienced people and hopefully we will get the rewards for that” said the Kilmurry Ibrickane man.
Murrihy has also made a number of changes to his backroom team for the 2020 season, with Kilkee native and former Clare star Ger Keane taking on the role of coach. He feels having someone of that calibre involved has made a massive difference so far.
He said: “He is an unbelievable guy to have involved with us. If you look at Clare football over the last 25 years, he is in the top 10 both on and off the field. He was an excellent player and he carried that on when he worked with Mick O’Dwyer and Colm Collins. It is great to have somebody who has been at the coalface of a men’s inter-county set-up now involved with us so that is really important. The girls were positive about it straight away because Ger has a great way about him. He is a teacher so he is well able to deal with people and by the second session, he knew all their names and it made it very easy after that. You are always looking for areas to make improvements. When you start back playing in January, your ultimate goal is the championship in July. You would like to think that you can improve as the league goes on. We have good work put in and we have good buy in from the girls and we seem to be going along nicely so hopefully we get off to a good start on Sunday. On a given year, you are looking to bring in players that will improve the set-up. We have kept the vast majority of the panel from last year and introduced a few new girls to the panel so we have a panel of about 34 at the moment. We have a few injuries but hopefully those new girls will make an impression and bring about that extra little bit that we are looking for. In the short term we are hoping to have a good league campaign and after that, we want to ultimately go further in the championship than we did last year”.
It will be a competitive Division Two campaign with stern tests awaiting including three Ulster opponents along with fellow Munster outfit Kerry. Murrihy is confident the standard of opposition will be of benefit to the overall development of the squad.
“We are in a league with five senior teams and then ourselves, Meath and Wexford would be seen as pretenders to the intermediate title. We have a difficult first phase of games where we have three weekends in a row and that starts with Armagh. I know they didn’t win the league last year but over the course of the seven games I felt that they were the best team. They will be looking to push on again and go beyond the senior quarter-final which they reached last year. We have two long journeys then up to Monaghan and Tyrone but initially, we want to make a fast start at home to Armagh. We know it is going to be a tough game and we will have to play to the best of our ability to be in with a chance of winning. We need to make sure that we don’t make too many mistakes and that we take our chances when they come around. Our work-rate is of the things that we are looking at and sometimes that can be hard to quantify. We can talk about retaining our kick-outs, not giving the ball away and putting it over the bar, but the main thing is that we get the girls working really hard. We feel that we have a metric for that so if we can outwork the opposition, we will be halfway there to winning the game” he noted.
With only the top two going forward to this year’s final, Murrihy feels making a positive start to the league is vital in order to build both momentum and confidence for the season ahead.
“We need to be picking up points in those early games to build up the confidence a bit before we come back for our run of home games later on. Armagh are a team that we are striving to be. They are around number seven or eight in terms of the pecking order in the country and that is a place that Clare want to reach. You can get no better chance that having a team like that in your own back yard and testing yourself against them. I would like to think that we are a bit more ready for the league than this time last year and hopefully we can put in a good performance and if we do that, then the result will take care of itself” he concluded.