Selector Seán O’Halloran doesn’t bat an eyelid nor does he pass any apologies. He’s strong on the reward culture. That’s why Clare has yet to field the same team two days running in the championship.
His thinking gives an insight into that of the entire management team. Players on form are rewarded with places. It’s a good policy in that it keeps people on their toes, training is kept fresh and players are kept guessing. Nothing is a foregone conclusion.
“As a management, we are very united in our decisions. Our attitude is to actually play people on form and those who are going the best in games and at training. It’s a simple but effective philosophy and it creates a very healthy training environment.
“It keeps everybody on their toes. Players are rewarded for their honesty in training. It’s a policy we have adhered to from the start and so far it has worked for us. It also sends out the message to the players that the first 15 is never set in stone. We view their performances in training as the basis for team selection,” he reveals.
In any event, second guessing teams appears a futile exercise. Who would have predicted that both Cillian Duggan and Liam Markham wouldn’t have made the starting team against Galway or that they wouldn’t have tasted some game time in Thurles?
“You generate a healthy environment when players realise that their performances in training count. Attitude and application is very important and it brings the best out of everybody, the players and us as a management team.
“I believe with that environment in training the team tends to pick itself most of the time. The changes we made from game to game have worked well. But as you well know, some day they do and other days they don’t. So far it has been all good and hopefully it will continue in that vein for one more game,” he says.
While the county board has stood indicted of its failure to make capital on Clare’s breakthrough in the ’90s, that same level of criticism cannot be directed at the juvenile board, of which Seán is chairman.
During his watch, the development squad concept was introduced and while he acknowledges this policy has reaped moderate success, he concedes that more needs to be done.
“I would like to think that the introduction of the development squads initiated the careers of several county players like Brian O’Connell and Jonathan Clancy. Working with players over a period of time has to be beneficial, it has them competing in a competitive environment and there’s a consistency in their coaching. Their involvement also broadens their insight to other aspects of their preparation and what the demands are to compete at the highest level,” he emphasises.
However, he stresses that the development squads aren’t the be all and end all in the development of players.
“When you look through minor and U-21 teams, about 80% of the players are products of the development squad system. But players mature at different ages. Some are late developers and yet go on to have very long careers. Others who peak earlier may not play at senior level.
“A case in point is Kilkenny. Derek Lyng, Eamonn Kennedy and Aidan Fogarty weren’t products of the development squads. They never played underage with Kilkenny and yet went on to win senior All-Ireland medals,” he says.
Of the final itself, Seán isn’t overly concerned that Clare are leaking a lot of scores – 2-12 in the Munster final and 5-15 to Galway, admittedly after extra time. The bail-out has been the phenomenal scoring prowess of the forwards.
“Our forwards have matured a lot in the last 12 months. Fellows are a year older; they’ve gained that vital bit of experience. They know what the demands are and I’d have to say that as a unit they’ve delivered in every game we’ve played.
“Having said that, I wouldn’t be too concerned about our performances defensively. I wouldn’t read too much into it because at this grade the hurling is much more open than at senior level,” he responds.
He cautions that Sunday will be a different test again.
“Kilkenny are a very formidable outfit. Richie Hogan is an exceptional talent and they have a lot of players who featured in last year’s winning side. It will be a different style of hurling we’ll face, a different game.
“The Clare backs have done all that has been asked of them so far and if they continue to do that, I’d have no worries. I don’t care what they concede as long as we are a point in front at the final whistle. We’ll be judged on the result because in an All-Ireland final that’s all that matters. The end game is the result,” he says.