AS the curtain draws on what has been a forgettable year for Clare hurling, on and off the field, it is worth taking stock of where Clare hurling is, as it approaches a critical crossroads in 2020.
While the inter-county season of 2019 came to an end with a defiant defeat of Cork, it marked the end of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s tenure at the helm after three years.
It was a year that had peaks and troughs but the lows certainly obscured any highs that were achieved. Two embarrassing defeats to Tipperary and Limerick left a sour taste in many a mouth, with heated discussions and calls for widespread change endemic within the county.
On the club scene, Clare’s senior and intermediate champions, Sixmilebridge and Broadford, bowed out in their first games in the Munster championship, suffering defeats of 12 and 17 points respectively.
After their defeat to Ballygunner, Sixmilebridge manager Tim Crowe speculated as to whether that is the level that Clare hurling is at now. 2020 is likely the year that his musings will be proved or disproved. Brian Lohan will be looking to galvanise a very talented crop of players next year to prove to many that Clare haven’t gone away.
While the Clare club championships are among the most competitive around, and a war of attrition to soldier through, it remains a fact that Ballyea in 2016 are the only Clare club to capture a senior Munster club title since the golden era from 1995-2000. While Clare struck while the iron was hot, landing six Munster club titles in that period, one in the last 19 years makes for uncomfortable reading. Over the course of the Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship, Clare have fared relatively well with 10 titles but recent form is waning worryingly.
Since 2000, Limerick and Waterford clubs have captured five each, Tipperary four, Cork three and Clare one. With the strong hurling tradition and depth of clubs in this county; it has not tasted nearly enough success at the top table.
For a county with such a proud and capable hurling stable, it simply isn’t good enough.
Two years ago, Sixmilebridge ran Ballygunner extremely close when visiting Walsh Park. This year, they couldn’t lay a glove on them in their own backyard. The Clare club championship is touted as being one of the hardest to win, due to its cut-throat, competitive nature, and that is somewhat true, with the exception of maybe Galway. But there’s a saying in horse racing, ‘If you think you have three Gold Cup horses; you have none’. This is probably no more evident than in the Clare club hurling scene.
The reason that the club championship is so competitive is likely due to the fact that clubs are of a similar standard. When these clubs have gone on to represent Clare in Munster, it appears that standard is a small bit below what is required in the modern era.
It may take a Clare club to reach a new level to drag the rest along with them and elevate the standard to where Clare, clubs and county, are winning their fair share in Munster. This trailblazer could do with arriving sooner, rather than later.