After an encouraging U-20 football campaign last year, Clare manager Michael Neylon is keen to see his side build on the progress made last year.
Although this age grade often sees a high turnover of players year on year, Neylon is hopeful his side can improve after they defeated Waterford last year before being a narrow two point defeat to Cork ended their campaign.
The draw for this year’s Championship has presented Clare with an opportunity as Cork and Kerry face each other on the other side of the draw. This leaves Waterford, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary battling it out for a place in the provincial final.
Clare face the Déise this evening (Thursday) in Fraher Field, Dungarvan, with a throw-in time of 7.30pm. Neylon is refusing to look beyond the clash although he admits every team in the section of the draw will fancy their chances of reaching the provincial showdown.
“We are looking at Thursday night first and foremost. The draw has presented every team the opportunity to make progress. It will come down to the team with the best mindset. There will be real tempo to this game on Thursday.
“Looking over the last two years we have won a game apiece. They won at home when they had the home advantage. It will be a real test. We know it’s not an easy place to go to. Thursday night will be a hell of a dogfight.”
The teacher in St Joseph’s secondary school believes his squad have “a nice mix” with regards to possessing both experienced players at this age grade and those who are in their first year of minor.
“We have a nice mix. We have nine or 10 of last year’s group and nine or 10 new guys with the rest coming in from clubs around the county. We are delighted with the attitude of the players. They have great hunger and desire to succeed.”
The Miltown man is back managing his club side this year as he balances that role with managing the best U20 footballers in the county. Neylon is enjoying the challenge of balancing the two roles.
“It’s a totally new experience. It is unbelievably good especially after coming back from a lockdown. It has been a very enjoyable few weeks. It’s great to be back on the pitch and you could only be drawn to the player’s enthusiasm to play.”
With Cork and Kerry competing the last five U21/U20 finals in the province, Clare have an unenviable task in trying to close the gap to the duo at this age grade. “First of all you have to be defensively sound. That is one of the main priorities we have for this year. Another huge area is the workrate of the team. We need to be outworking the opposition. We have brilliant forwards so we need to give them a platform to show what they can do.”
The Miltown man reports a clean bill of health heading down to Waterford.
Neylon is optimistic about the work being done at underage and in development squads to help Clare bridge the gap.“We think we are making strides. From minor, U20, development squads and the underage panels, we are all working towards common objectives. There is an interest in developing players and when guys come in and see that, they buy in to it fully.”
Clare Panel: Eoin Rouine (Ennistymon, Captain); Ryan Barry (Ennistymon), Stephen Casey (Clondegad), Thomas Collins (Lissycasey), Darragh Conneely (Ennistymon), Gavin D’Auria (Éire Óg), Manus Doherty (Éire Óg), Pat Doherty (St Breckan’s), Diarmuid Fahy (Ennistymon), Shane Fitzpatrick (St Breckan’s), Micheal Garry (Cooraclare), Shane Griffin (Lissycasey), Fergal Ginnane (Kildysart), Conor Hassett (Kildysart), Fionn Kelleher (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Tomas Kelly (Shannon Gaels), Tadhg Lillis (Doonbeg), Cian Mahony (St Joseph’s Miltown), Cian McDonagh (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Tom McDonald (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Cillian McGroary (Corofin), Mark McInerney (Éire Óg), Ciaran McMahon (Ennistymon), Emmet McMahon (Kildysart), Brian McNamara (Cooraclare), Sean McNamara (Michael Cusack’s), Thomas Meenaghan (Banner), John Murphy (Ennistymon), Oisin O’Loughlin (St Breckan’s), Mark O’Loughlin (Corofin), Cormac Reidy (Clondegad), Cillian Rouine (Ennistymon), Dara Rouine (Ennistymon), Brendy Rouine (Ennistymon), Andrew Skerritt (St Joseph;s Miltown), Jamie Stack (St Breckan’s), Eoin Walsh (Banner), Niall Walsh (Banner)
Backroom team: David Geaney (Dingle), Eoin Murray (O’Currys), Martin Guerin (Liscannor), Sean O’Brien as goalkeeping coach, (St Josephs Miltown) plus strength and conditioning coach Oscar O’Dwyer (Arravale Rovers, Tipperary).
by Ivan Smyth
The first hurdle trickiest for Clare
Munster Under 20 Football Championship Quarter-Final
Waterford v Clare
at Fraher Field Dungarvan,
(Brendan Griffin, Kerry)
As fairytales go, last year’s Munster Senior Football Championship was difficult to emulate as Tipperary bridged an 85 year gap to their last provincial crown. The reason? Because Cork and Kerry were drawn out against each other in the semi-final, leaving the door ajar for the rest of the province to capitalise.
The same happened in the 2020 minor championship, with Clare filleting both Tipperary and Limerick before their three matches in ten days schedule finally caught up with them against Kerry in the decider.
As the history books clearly show, it’s difficult enough to beat one of them, not to mind both Cork and Kerry in the same campaign and therefore, with that rare eclipse happening at Under 20 level this year, it’s a golden opportunity that Clare simply cannot afford to pass up.
After all, the Banner have never won a Munster Under 20 title (or its Under 21 equivalent) and haven’t even contested a final in almost two decades.
Michael Neylon’s squad is made up of players that contested two of the last three Munster Minor deciders, bypassing Tipperary (4) and Limerick (3) since 2018. They have had more difficulties in their attempts to negotiate Kerry and Cork but that is an issue they will be more than happy to contend with if they can reach a final.
The first hurdle is the trickiest as Clare will be wary of a Waterford side that beat them at the same venue as minors in 2019, albeit that the Banner had already qualified for the Phase 1 Final by that stage. It’s the arduous five hour round trip as much as anything as Clare hope to hit the ground running led by Ennistymon’s Eoin Rouine.
Waterford also edged matters when the counties last met at this level in 2019, again in Fraher Field so Michael Neylon and Co. cannot say that they haven’t been forewarned.
With the carrot of a home semi-final against Tipperary or Limerick to come next Thursday, Clare will never get a better opportunity to end their unwanted six year winless record at this level, backed by more than enough experience [seven of last year’s starting team still eligible] and character within their squad.
Munster Under 20 Football Championship (Knock-Out)
Quarter-Finals (Thursday, July 8 at 7.30pm)
Tipperary v Limerick at
Semple Stadium Thurles;
Waterford v Clare at Fraher Field Dungarvan
Semi-Finals(Thursday, July 15 at 7.30pm)
Kerry v Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh Cork;
Tipperary or Limerick v Waterford or Clare at Semple Stadium, Fraher Field or Cusack Park (depending on pairing).
Final (Thursday, July 22)
by Eoin Brennan