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Clare selectors Donal Moloney and Ger Hickey before their Munster Minor Hurling Championship game against Limerick at Gaelic Grounds. Photograph by John Kelly

‘Players have the freedom to express themselves’ – Ger Hickey

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With national discussions surrounding the balance between enjoyment as opposed to winning at underage level, Clare’s minor side have struck the perfect balance.
That’s certainly the opinion of Clare selector Ger Hickey as he states that the freedom the players are given has helped forge this group in to All Ireland contenders.
“We give them the freedom to express themselves. We do have tactics and we monitor their workload but they still have that freedom to make decisions. Everything we do is player led. They get to express themselves on the field and in training.”
“They have great groundings with their club and school. We have seen Scariff (Community College), St. Joseph’s Tulla, Flannan’s and Ardscoil Rís all enjoy success. They have the freedom to go out and play while the bonus is that they have won Munster and hopefully will win an All Ireland.”
Hickey was in charge of Clare’s Celtic Challenge side last year and since becoming involved with underage squads within the county in 2021, he has seen the standards continue to rise. The Broadford club man believes that having two U17 sides helps to ensure competition remains high while he credits the fellow members of the backroom team for leading the charge.
“Last year I was manager of the Celtic Challenge team, so I’ve seen the set up. I was involved with data analysis last year. I would have worked with Brian (O’Connell). He has leadership qualities and with him, we all challenge each other. I think the thing we do right is having two minor squads. We cast the net wide.”
“You look at the backroom team; Fintan Leamy guided Clooney-Quin to a minor title. Damien O’Halloran has great experience while Donal (Moloney) has incredible knowledge of the game. He’s a mentor to all of us. Kieran McDermott is the guy who I came in under. He really helps to drive the development of players. Rob Mulcahy does great work as our S+C coach. This is probably the first team that has had S+C from U14 up and it’s certainly made a difference.”
The Clare supporters need little reminder that progressing through to All Ireland Minor finals is a difficult feat with this only the county’s fourth ever appearance in a decider at this grade.
Hickey feels the work put in during the winter months has stood to this crop of players as he cites the cold winter evenings as the most enjoyable nights of training throughout this memorable journey.
“I live in Limerick and it’s a long road out to Clareabbey or Caherlohan from October to December. Honestly, I found the most enjoyment on those cold, wet nights because they built resilience in the group. We pushed them and they responded well. You don’t always get what you deserve in life or sport but they have so far. Their parents deserve great credit too for all the journeys they have made over the year.”
“Our reward is seeing them progress. They have made massive strides since October, November never mind over the past couple of years. Their attitude and how they prepare for games is excellent. If we have training at 7pm they are there and ready to go at 6.15pm.”
The Clare Selector believes the one point win against Waterford in the Munster Championship was a key moment as Brian O’Connell’s charges rebounded from their defeat to Limerick in the previous round.
“I think that was a turning point of the year. The game was called off on the Tuesday and we had to come back down two days later to play. They drew level late on but the way we worked the ball out from the back and won the game was a great sign of progress. We learned a lot from the loss to Limerick so it hasn’t been an easy journey.”
With Clare hurling on a high after the U20 side’s progression to the Munster final while Brian Lohan’s men have reached a provincial decider for the second consecutive year, these are heady times for supporters.
The Clare Selector believes the current structures in place within the county is bearing fruit: “I think the system that has been put in place has been a big part of the recent success. The support we have had from the County Board has been great. The Clare Development squads and Academy set up has driven standards while the focus on S+C has helped players cope with the physicality of the game.”
“The whole system has contributed to it. Last year we got to a Munster final which we lost on penalties to the side that won the All Ireland. The eight players on last year’s panel brought experience which has been important. It’s the sum of all the parts that has contributed to our recent success.”

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