With a first competitive outing as Clare Ladies’ Football Manager inexorably drawing closer, there is an understandable excitement and anticipation in Evan Talty’s voice ahead of a welcome Cusack Park National League showdown with Wexford this Sunday (2pm).
A nine time County Senior Football champion with his native Kilmurry Ibrickane, Talty is more than comfortable in Clare headquarters and is also familiar with the Clare ladies football camp after answering the call from his cousin James Murrihy to get involved in the backroom team twelve months previously.
Three lockdowns later and the hectic existence of an inter-county manager has suddenly hit home for Talty after an admittedly comfortable initial transition period.
“I suppose I thought this inter-county management craic was very easy there as for the first couple of months [during lockdown] as I was saying ‘Jesus I don’t have to do anything.’ Joked Talty.
“But I’ll tell you one thing, I’m really get a dose of reality now in the last four to six weeks with all that’s involved in it.
“Luckily, we’ve a big backroom team and I’ve said from the start that all I want to do is focus on football and not all the logistical and other off-the-field stuff that goes with being an inter-county manager.
“I have a great backroom team with Caoimhe [McMahon, Covid Officer) and Sarah Cunningham [Logistics Officer] who help me out doing all that kind of stuff and then we also have great coaches and analysis team.
“So we all spread the workload and it gives me time to focus on the football side of things which is really enjoyable.”
Leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of gathering the best possible panel post-lockdown, the new manager invited over 80 players across the county to trials, with almost 70 eventually auditioning for prestigious places.
“We eventually picked a panel of 35 and to be honest, it’s really good that when you go to sit down and pick teams for your in-house games, every marking duel is a good match-up.
“So I personally feel our squad is the strongest it’s been in a while because we have that depth to it and with players coming back from injury like Niamh O’Dea etc, it gives those girls, that might not have played inter-county or are just returning to it, the chance to get experience in the league.
“But I suppose no more than anyone else, you just don’t know where you’re at until that first game in the league. So it’s going to be a bit of a learning curve for everyone, we’ve 11 new girls on the panel so it’s all about trying to give them as much game-time as we can to see can we find new players for the championship.”
Despite three difficult assignments to come over the next month against fellow intermediate side Wexford and away trips to senior duo Kerry and Meath, Talty is not afraid to make bold National League moves either in the hope of striking the right balance for the All-Ireland series.
“There’s always that big decision for any management whether to go with your strongest team all the time or experiment to try and find new players?
“And for us, we made that decision from the minute we came in that the National League, while we’re facing some very strong teams in it, should be used to try and unearth some new players and be seen as a platform for the All-Ireland Championship.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the championship. I mean realistically are we going to win the league? We haven’t won a game in it in a long time so winning it isn’t really our main objective.
“Our priority is to get performances in the league and if girls can step up to the plate and mix it with the likes of Kerry, Meath and Wexford, then I know that they’re going to be ready for championship come July.”
Clare, who are seeded for this year’s championship after a semi-final finish in 2020, will realise their All-Ireland Intermediate Championship grouping this evening [Thursday] when the draw is made live on both TG4 and LGFA Facebook pages from 8pm. But regardless of who their summer opponents are, Talty is optimistic that Clare can finally fulfil their potential this year amidst great optimism and buoyancy in the county.
“There’s a feel-good factor in Clare Ladies Football at the moment and that’s coming right from the top down under the leadership of Sean Lenihan. We’ve new sponsors in Rengen Power for the next three years and are also getting to play in Cusack Park in a league game for the first time in I don’t know how long.
“So as I’ve said to the girls, the standards are now being set from the top down with the county board and it’s up to us to reach and maintain those standards by producing the goods on the field.
“Look, make no mistake about it, we’ll be looking for a big performance against Wexford on Sunday and any team that we put out this year, we expect them to firstly win the games.
“So we’re determined to hit the ground running but as I’ve said, you don’t really know where you’re at in relation to all the other teams until the ball is thrown in on Sunday.
“It’s really a journey into the unknown at the start but it’s a challenge that we’re really looking forward to nonetheless.”
By Eoin Brennan