There is no doubting where Martin Conlon’s loyalties will lie for Sunday’s Clare senior hurling final as the Sixmilebridge man forms part of Tim Crowe’s backroom team when they go in search of consecutive titles for the first time in almost 30 years.
There are usually no secrets between neighbours in derbies like this but Conlon will have a unique insight into the opposition having spent three years involved with O’Callaghan’s Mills under the stewardship of Pat Loughnane.
It was a time of progress in the East Clare club, with their championship hopes only ended in 2017 and 2018 by Ballyea. That work hit a stumbling block last year as they contested the relegation final but a renewed effort has now seen them set up a repeat of the 1993 decider.
Conlon, who was part of the last Sixmilebridge squad to win titles back to back in that 1993 showdown, is not placing too much importance on his knowledge of Sunday’s opponents.
“When Pat Loughnane came calling about three years ago to come on board with them, I had no hesitation in doing it. Pat had his vision for the club at the time and the first question I asked him was if this group of players were capable of winning the Canon Hamilton, and I can still remember that day when he turned to me and said absolutely, the talent is there. There were real signs of that against Ballyea in 2018 when the chance was there. They had the chance again this year and they went through the gate this time and finished off the job. With ten minutes to go, they really reignited and finished off with 1-4 in the last few minutes. It was great being up there and as it worked out, I have that inside knowledge but I think both sets of management will know each other inside out so I don’t think it will be any major advantage one way or the other outside of knowing the players on a personal level a little better than most. I am a Sixmilebridge man, always have been and always will be but the one thing is that wherever I am involved or wherever I am at, I have a great passion for the game having played it at a good level so I will give everything once I take on a job. Once we cross the white line on Sunday, it will be a case of may the best team win.” he stated.
Since 1993, only St Joseph’s and Crusheen have managed to successfully defend the Canon Hamilton. Sixmilebridge have struggled in the role of champions in recent years but 2020 sees the 14 time champions back into the final with that tag for the first since their last successful defence. Conlon admits bridging that gap is something they set out to do this year.
“From the start of the year, we set our goals in terms of what we wanted to achieve and the back to back is something that eluded the Bridge. It hasn’t been done since 1992 and 1993 so that is a long spell but having said that, with the ability of the clubs you face in Clare, there is no guarantee of being able to do that either. We targeted trying to do that this year and we are back in the county final. We have done enough to get over every game so far and thankfully things have gone to plan to date” he noted.
Conlon, who has worked with the Airport Police Fire Service in Shannon for over 20 years, was also part of the Sixmilebridge squad who claimed All-Ireland glory in the 1995-1996 season along with winning three Canon Hamiltons during his playing days. He feels the game is now almost unrecognisable from his time on the field.
“If you look at every club team, not to talk of county, the game of hurling has evolved and changed so much over the years. Back when I was playing myself and we were winning Munster and All-Ireland clubs, it was 15 on 15 but that is now gone to a large extent. Your full forward line is now expected to work just as hard as your midfield and half-back line and every team have systems in place. They also know how the opposition are going to set up and that is the intriguing thing about Sunday’s game. When you think you what is going to happen, something might get thrown in to change the whole course of it and then you see how teams are going to adapt to it. It is not a simple game anymore and I think players enjoy that challenge of taking on a system once it is put in place and seeing what they can do with it” he stated.
It is a busy time for Conlon who also combines his work in Shannon Airport with his role as a qualified S&C coach. He also plans to undertake a MA in Sports Performance in UL in 2021 while also maintaining his role as an underage coach with the Bridge. He admits being involved with your own club on the biggest day in Clare hurling makes it extra special.
“Tim (Crowe) had been on to me the previous year but I had committed to three years with the Mills so I was not going to walk away, even though year three of that project didn’t go according to plan. Tim arrived on my doorstep after the ‘Bridge won last year and he is not a man you can say no to easily and neither is Davy so I am delighted to get back involved with my own club. Sunday is a massive occasion for players but also for the management team and it is a great privilege to represent your club on county final day” he concluded.