The Clare ladies footballers make their bid to reach a first All Ireland Intermediate final since 2016 this weekend as they take on Meath in their last four tie in O’Moore Park Portlaoise.
James Murrihy’s side came through a dramatic final round group game to seal their spot in the last four with Kildare’s loss to Laois confirming their progress after Clare’s comprehensive victory over Sligo saw them through on scoring difference.
It set up a crunch showdown with the Leinster outfit who Clare have already met in 2020 as the sides played out a thrilling draw during their National League campaign earlier this spring.
It is the third year under manager James Murrihy’s watch, but for coach Evan Talty, it is his first taste of being involved in an intercounty set up.
Along with fellow 9-time championship winner Enda Coughlan, they guided Kilmurry Ibrickane to the Clare ladies intermediate club title this year, with victory over neighbours Miltown in the decider.
The call came from his first cousin to get involved just over 12 months ago, and he laughs when asked how he got roped into the role.
“Sure James, typical James” he laughed.
“It was something we had spoken about for a while and then last October I commited to doing it. At the time, I was not sure if was going to stay playing myself last year or I had no intention of taking the Kilmurry ladies either. That was my only job but I ended up with a few more after that. It was good to get involved and be able to see these players up close. I would have followed the likes of the Banner, Kilmihil and the other top teams over the years so to actually get to work with those players was great because there is some real quality there. I say this a lot to be honest even watching the likes of Dublin and Armagh, the standard of ladies football at intercounty level is extremely high and it is always getting better every year. The standard of kicking, foot-passing, scoring and everything else that the top intercounty men’s players have, a lot of these girls have too” he outlined.
Having lost the opening group game against Kildare, it left the Banner with an uphill task to reach the knockout stages, with only the group winners coming through. It meant that Clare had no more room for errors while also needing other results to fall favourably for them to go through. Talty admits it was the players that set the tone in the weeks that followed as they got their season back on track.
“It is still somewhat surreal to be honest because we certainly did not see it coming. I thought once we lost that game against Kildare, there was a slim chance of us getting any further and it was just a matter of playing out the games. Anything can happen though with the year that is in it so when it did happen it was great because the girls deserve it for all the work they have put in this year. It was a challenge that first night back in training after the game against Kildare, particularly for management to try and keep it going. When we got to training that night, and saw how enthusiastic the girls were, I think it gave us a real boost because they were really up for it. That sense of positivity really kept going then for the few weeks that followed too” he noted.
Clare’s second game of this year’s National League campaign saw them pitted against the Royals as they played out a high scoring 3-12 to 3-12 draw in Doonbeg. Ironically, it was the only point that the Banner picked up in this year’s campaign but Talty said the focus was on building from game to game throughout the season.
“We were happy enough with the league because we were operating in Division Two with senior teams and while we did not get any wins in the league, we had been very competitive and we were more looking at our performances. Outside of the Armagh game, the rest of the performances were pretty decent. We did well against Tyrone and Cavan and also against Meath when we played them in Doonbeg. We could have won a lot of those games looking at the stats afterwards and we were also missing a lot of players. That gave us a chance to blood some of the younger players and that really helped in developing the panel to where it now. We have a panel of 30 and any of them can play at any given time. There is no such thing as weakening the team by making changes, and you could have finished up with a stronger team than what you started with. With the way things are now in terms of the lack of preparation that teams have, you are going to end up having to use your fives subs, which means that whoever starts or whoever comes on, it is a case of horses for courses depending on who we are playing. Someone might lose out even though they have played well, and that is not a reflection on how that player has performed so much as it is about us looking at the team we are playing and how we need to set up against them” he stated.
2020 saw him being part of the Kilmurry Ibrickane team that secured a ninth Clare SFC title since the turn of the millennium, with Talty, Enda Coughlan and Michael O’Dwyer being ever present for all those successes. He admits that while his time on the field might be drawing to a close, that desire to be involved at top level sport is still as strong as ever.
“I find myself that as the playing days are coming to an end, the coaching side of things is certainly something that interests me and being able to get out on the pitch. There is a great sense of satisfaction when you see things like kickouts or movements that you have worked on in training coming off, it really keeps you going and gives you that bug to keep at it. Something has to get me out of the house for a few hours every week. This was a good learning curve to be involved in. It really astonished me to see the level of preparation that goes into an intercounty team. As players, we just turn up, play, and get physio or food and that is it. The amount of hours that goes in behind the scenes is unbelievable and that is a credit to James because I could not do what he does. I love being out on the field but the level of organising that is involved at this level is unbelievable commitment” he said.