The 2018 campaign might have been the most memorable and enjoyable of recent years for Clare hurling supporters, but for Shane Golden, it was one that sticks in the memory for a different reason.
The Sixmilebridge man was forced to watch from sidelines as injury meant he would not get to play a part as the Banner went all the way to a replay against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
He is back to full fitness this year, and says he is enjoying being back in the thick of the action.
“From my own point of view, I was just trying to shake off niggles and injuries and just get a clear run at it. At the start of the year, I didn’t really know what my plans were and I was just taking it day by day to be honest. Thankfully I just got a good run early on with the Munster League and then the league came along and I had a few good games so thankfully it has taken off now. It is really about getting the confidence back and going out to play games continuously and that was what I was striving to get for the last few years. Now I am delighted to be just able to go out training so it is a real added bonus to be able to get game time and play well. I’m thrilled to do that. When I look back on last year, thinking about going to the Munster Final and not togging out that day with the atmosphere and the trip in and all that, I remember thinking how brilliant it would be if I could get even a minute of action. It was the same at the Galway game even though I got back togging for those, I remember really wishing I could be out there to experience it but because of the injuries I just couldn’t. I really focused then on this year and took time to get myself right in the off-season and getting myself right. It is really in my head then that whatever chance I get, I am going to take it, and I know I never want to have that feeling again of being at a Munster final and not be able to partake in it. Hopefully things might be a little different for me now this year” he said.
The league campaign saw Clare bow out at the hands of Waterford at the quarter-final stage, but with the new structures coming into play, it meant that no one was at risk of relegation. Golden admits that it meant teams were more focused on using the league as a building block to championship.
He said: “I think teams were using it as a way of trialling what the Munster championship would be like in terms of the amount of games and the frequency of games. We didn’t really think about there being no relegation, we just went out to target a win in each game because each of them were big games. When you are playing the likes of Limerick, Tipperary and Kilkenny you just want to do whatever you can to win. It was almost like a dress rehearsal for championship but teams did take it seriously too. Maybe there was a little sense this year with no relegation that some might have eased up or there might have been mind games involved. From our point of view, the focus was just on winning and that’s how we looked at it. Trying to peak for those games can be a little difficult because you have had a tough pre-season and then you look at trying to maybe play two or three games in a row. When we finished up, we had played three weekends in a row before the weekend off prior to the Waterford game. Maybe the fatigue factor did play a part so we will be looking at getting that right for championship. That is part and parcel of the learning process from those games, and it is those kind of things we will be looking to get right ahead of the Munster championship”.
Clare’s discipline in the tackle was one of the major talking points arising out of the National League campaign, with Stephen Bennett landing 0-14 from the placed ball when the sides met in Walsh Park in March. Golden says while it something they have looked at it, it is not something that has led to too much concern.
“There was a lot of emphasis on that after the league. Even going back to the Kilkenny game we were cruising until the frees brought them back into it. It is not something we over analysed though because I don’t think we were doing anything different from the last couple of years. We were probably just a bit over eager in the tackle at time so that is something we have worked on in training to deal with it. We didn’t see it as a massive crisis or anything like that because it is just a little adjustment to make in how we were tackling and we have worked on that now and put it to bed” he stated.
Clare face three games in a row in June in the Munster championship, but after Sunday’s clash with Waterford they will have a three week break until that block of fixtures. Golden feels it is a tough schedule to handle.
“It is strange because last year you had Tipperary with the four in a row and they tried to change that to have the two week break. It means that we have a bye in the second round and then there is the week off so it will be three weeks until we play again. It is a funny one but it like the old championship in a way I suppose in the sense that you can only really focus on that first game and going all out to win it and then move on to what comes after. It will be difficult then facing into three in a row but we” really have not looked past Sunday and Waterford. That is our sole focus now and once that is over, we will move on to thinking about the others” he noted.
Clare will be the first of the visiting teams to Walsh Park for this year’s Munster championship, with Tipperary also set to travel to Waterford City later in the campaign. Clare already have the experience of going to the venue earlier this year for that league quarter-final but Golden says while that is a help, the advantage lies almost solely with the home side.
“It helps us to have been there before because of all the Munster venues it is the farthest away for us to get to and all that goes with it. You play it through it through your head as to how long it will take and where we will be stopping and all that. Even the dimensions of the pitch are something we will have to deal with because it is a narrow and shorter pitch. I’m not sure it is any advantage to us to have been there before but it might be a little bit of help to have played a game there in the last few months in terms of the style of play and that kind of thing. It will be a great atmosphere too, even when you think about some of the league games that were in Cusack Park there was a savage atmosphere there and it will be the same down there too. It is their first championship games in a good few years and it is a huge event for Waterford and their fans. I’m sure they will have a huge crowd and a vocal one too and with it being the first Munster championship of the new season, I am sure there will be a bit of bite in it too. It is something you look forward to because it a huge part of why you play is to be involved in days like that where you can hardly hear yourself think. It will certainly be something to look forward to” he concluded.