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John Conlon of Clonlara gets his shot away during the 2023 Clare Senior Hurling Championship final at Cusack Park . Photograph by Natasha Barton

‘This medal is so so sweet to everyone in the club’ – John Conlon

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It was clearly Clonlara’s day but undoubtedly John Conlon’s too as the sole survivor of the 2008 breakthrough had finally gotten his hands on a second Canon Hamilton. Having arguably been made to suffer more than any other club in the county when it came to the business end of the senior championship, that the sequel came in a year in which little was expected of the side obviously made the achievement all the more special for the 2018 All-Star.
“I just dropped to my knees [at the final whistle]. Look, I never thought at the start of the year that we’d be in this position. I suppose we had been playing Senior B for the last few years and not performing really well but it just goes to show you the work that has gone in. Donal [Madden] and his management team have just put in a serious effort and all the players have bought into everything they’ve done. From 1 to 30, all the management team and everyone in the club have really upped their levels this year and just drove it. And you can see that the parish is massively behind us too, just like in 2008 but all that hurt that have gone on in the meantime has now been extinguished.
“I mean just to meet all the lads I had played with there and to see the joy that’s in their faces is just amazing.”
Nine exits at the penultimate or ultimate stages in the past 14 seasons have been a weight upon Clonlara’s shoulders but the emergence of a new generation of stars, predominantly emanating from the club’s 2018 Minor A triumph have breathed new life into their flagship side.
“People say that we underachieved and underperformed but 16 years ago we were only an intermediate team. I actually only saw that final again recently and we only beat Killanena by two points but we went on to win a Munster Club and then a senior the year after.
“So we kind of just went on the crest of a wave and then I don’t know what happened really. Looking back now, maybe the more you try for something, the harder it gets so we had to take all that hardship and disappointment but the great thing about this is that it’s a brand new team now.
“I mean there’s only maybe five or six players left from the team that contested the last county final in 2016 so everyone this year just put their shoulder to the wheel, the training regime increased as did the sports psychology and everyone just bought into everything.
“We met on Friday night and we had one of the most special hours of my life in a Clonlara jersey and after that I knew we weren’t going to lose today.”
They never looked like letting the Canon slip from their grasp on Sunday either as they led from Micheál O’Loughlin’s 18th minute goal to the finish with a commanding collective final display.
“The big thing we consistently said all year was that you don’t need talent to work and that’s the mantra that we’ve followed throughout this championship. I remember in the first half, I didn’t track someone back and wasn’t alive for a sideline and Colm Galvin gave me enough of it so that just shows the camaraderie and bond that we have in the group which means that we call each other out when it’s not good enough that perhaps wasn’t there in years previously.
“That relentless work-rate and playing for the jersey is a must and if a player isn’t doing that, get the hell off the field.
“Look, it was far from a perfect performance but we’re thrilled to get over the line by any margin. In fairness Crusheen over the last two hurling weekends have been excellent. We knew that it was going to be a massive battle today as they [Crusheen] really went for it. I suppose we missed a few opportunities but they missed a lot too in the first-half so we were as bad as each other for shooting at times but county finals are different as there’s that extra bit of nervousness and edginess so look, we’re just delighted to come out on top.
“That medal is so, so sweet to everyone in this club. I mean in our 150 year existence, we’ve only won it three times so it’s great to say that we’re champions again.”
As the only player in the club to now hold two senior medals, Conlon is eager to build on this success by learning the lessons of their past Munster Senior experience which has haunted the current All-Star nominee to this day.
“We said earlier in the week that this is a final but that we’re going to use it as another stepping stone to extend our season and go to the Munster Club. I know we let ourselves down the last time we were there. We had only seven days to prepare for it the last time in 2008 and there were more lads in the pub than training that Tuesday or Wednesday night after the final. But we have a bit of time this time around thankfully so we can celebrate this first and then put our full focus on Munster.
“I remember saying in 2016 to Tony [Kelly], Gudgie [Gearoid O’Connell] and the Ballyea lads that the chance to represent the county doesn’t come around too often and to take that chance. Tony has always said that that stuck with him and they’re so glad that they knuckled down and focused in on the Munster Club seven days later when normally they would have gone partying and go wild.
“We have three or four weeks to concentrate on it so we can go hell for leather for the next few days and then get back to focusing on that next step.”
If anyone deserves to let his hair down, it’s Mr Clonlara John Conlon.

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