Clare’s ladies footballers will have just one home game in the group stages of the 2021 National Football League.
Evan Talty’s side are grouped with the Meath side who ended their championship run last year, along with neighbours Kerry and fellow intermediate side Wexford.
The campaign will start on May 23 with a home tie against Wexford, before trips to Kerry and Meath to round off the group stages.
Talty has also confirmed his management team for the coming year, with former Mayo ladies goalkeeping coach Donal ‘Doc’ Hughes, former Meath star Odharnaith McKenna (Performance Analysis) and Cooraclare’s Andrew O’Neill (physio) joining the set up.
Training is set to begin in earnest next week when restrictions will be lifted to allow elite level sides to resume on field training, with that session being the first time in 2021 that the squad will have met face to face.
It will also be the first opportunity for new Clare ladies football chairperson Sean Lenihan to meet the group in person, and the Miltown native, now resident in Doora Barefield, admits everyone is looking forward to getting back on the field.
“We always hoped but with the way the numbers were going we were a little bit apprehensive so it is marvellous to have that date now and light at the end of the tunnel. Players were doing their best with their individual programmes and Zoom sessions but there is nothing to compete with going out on a warm summers evening to a pitch and training with your team mates. We are delighted that we have a date for going back training and the plan is to go back on April 20. We have a tight schedule before our first league game on May 23 so that programme is being planned out as we speak”, he noted.
Lenihan outlined that plans are in place to capitalise on the appetite for sport that has been built up since the pause button was pressed earlier this year.
“Rather than centering at one venue, we hope to create a roadshow and travel to the various clubs in the county for our training. There will be a two fold benefit to that approach, with the local girls getting a chance to show off their grounds with pride, and the younger members of the club will be welcome to come out and watch the girls training. That will create a bit of a buzz around it and I think it will be an interesting angle that we will be introducing this year, so we are looking forward to getting out and getting back training. We have 22 clubs with over 2,500 girls playing in the county so it will be great for all the young people to come out and see their county team training on the home ground. There will be great pride for the girls and it will create more profile and awareness”, he predicted.
On field action might have been on hold, but work in the background continued unabated, with the board set to announce a new title sponsor in the coming weeks, along with a new gear partner and sponsored team van. Lenihan feels having that time during the lockdown period meant that plans could be worked on for when the restrictions would be lifted.
“As the saying goes, never let a crisis pass you by. It did create opportunities but it was challenging. We were not able to do the things we always did and the year didn’t start as soon as it normally would, but it gave room and breathing space to plan out our stall. We had a root and branch review of our own structures and put in our management teams at all levels. It is important to get things right at underage level to make sure that your conveyor belt of talent is always there feeding through to your adult team. We are in a good place now for the year and our girls will be as prepared as any other team, so they can focus on doing the business on the field” he said.
With some the usual fundraising streams not available at the moment, Lenihan is hopeful of continued support for Clare ladies football, which he feels is something that is now seen as an attractive brand to be involved with.
“Like any organisation, it costs money to run the board. Our normal revenue sources like gates, camps and different fundraisers are not there this year, so we have to look at different options. A lot of businesses have suffered during the pandemic, but others are doing well. We are hopeful that more of them will come on board, because lots of people, see the benefits of being involved with ladies football and with sport in general. We are the fastest growing sport in the country and organisations are seeing that”, he concluded.