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Clare manager Brian O'Connell: " Losing well, winning well, we’ve had to fight it out to get here." Photograph by John Kelly

United purpose key to Clare minor success, says coach

With Clare appearing in their first All-Ireland Minor semi-final since 2012 against Offaly this Friday night in Semple Stadium (throw-in 7.30pm), manager Brian O’Connell believes unity is a key ingredient to his side’s success.

With a renewed focus towards developing and improving underage structures within the county, the work is starting to bear fruit as Clare are now just 60 minutes away from a first All Ireland final appearance at this grade since 2010.

O’Connell has worked with this group of players at U-15 and U-16 level as he believes the continuity that this group have enjoyed has helped them gather results this year.

“We have a good few people in the development squad structure that have put in a lot of work. Kieran McDermott and Donal Moloney are two that have invested a lot of time. This is the first group where we’ve had that S+C and continuity between coaches. Maybe we just got lucky with this group but there’s been a lot of work put in by a lot of people along the way.”

“You see it in football and hurling, all teams are looking for good S+C and coaching. There is merit in having a structure in place and hopefully others can be inspired by this group.”

O’Connell states that his side have a clean bill of health heading to FBD Semple Stadium on Friday.

Clare’s success at schools levels has also been a contributory factor towards this side’s progression to the final four. With the hard work reaping rewards for St. Flannan’s, St. Joseph’s Tulla, Rice College, CBS Ennistymon and of course Ardscoil Rís across the border, the former Clare captain believes the work within the schools environment is starting to pay dividends.

“The schools are doing fantastic work. The Games Development Officers and even the teachers are putting in a lot of effort. In Flannan’s you have Tony Kelly, Jack Browne and Jamesie (O’Connor). Ardscoil have Paul Flanagan and Cormac O’Donovan. The interest in the schools has an awful big part to play in developing players. We get a bounce out of what they do and we work together to make sure nobody is being overworked.”

In the past two years, this group of players have seen their game time in schools and at underage level with club and county curtailed to a degree due to the pandemic.

According to the Wolfe Tones clubman, the success this group of hurlers have enjoyed with their respective schools in recent times can help them as they prepare for a tantalising All-Ireland semi-final showdown.

“Covid has played a big part the past two years with a lot of this group having very little gametime. Any games from November last year to January or February, whether it’s in the Harty or with the Ardscoil lads winning the Croke Cup, it all helps.”

“No matter what level the games were at we needed them badly. Playing in those big games will definitely stand to them and please God they get to play in an All-Ireland final.”

O’Connell believes his side are well prepared for this Friday’s showdown. With a small cohort of the squad currently sitting their Junior Cert, he believes preparing and fine tuning their skills for an All Ireland semi final is an ideal way to take their minds off the exam pressure.

“Preparations are going well. Off the top of my head we have seven or eight lads tied up with the Junior Cert. They have some exams on Friday afternoon but I’m sure they would be glad to be hurling rather than just focusing on the Junior Cert. It gives them something to take their minds off it.”

Clare’s campaign has been one filled with highs and lows. The joy of dethroning reigning Munster and All Ireland champions Cork was followed by a gut wrenching penalty shootout defeat in the provincial decider.

A poor performance followed against Galway as the energy – both emotional and physical – seemed temporarily drained from O’Connell’s charges. However, a much improved display against Laois saw them reach the final four.

In his first year managing at this grade, O’Connell admits that this campaign has been full of learnings for himself and the players.

“If we’re talking tactically, Tipp were down a man and they managed to bring that game level so we looked at that game and learned from it. We learned what to do if that happens again. On the emotional side, losing heavily against Galway wasn’t ideal but we just weren’t at the races.”

“The lads were physically and emotionally tired from the Munster final. We managed to bounce back and be resilient. They have responded to the different situations really well so hopefully we get a big performance now against Offaly.”

As his side face in to their eighth game of the Championship, the most of any team left in the Championship, the former Clare captain is delighted with the experience his troops have gathered.

“It’s just a great experience. Within the seven games so far there has been such a variety of experiences. Losing well, winning well, we’ve had to fight it out to get here. We’ve had extra time and penalties so there’s been such a variety of experiences across the games.”

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