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Working his way through the ranks

Mark McCarthy has been winning trophies with Kilmurry-Ibrickane since his days with the U-12s. Photograph by John Kelly


ANY coach who wants an example of textbook football should watch a video of the 2006 Clare U-21 final when Kilmurry-Ibrickane clinched their fourth title in a row with a scintillating performance in the opening 20 minutes.
The young men in red and green blitzed Doonbeg in Cooraclare, notching 1-8 without reply, a display that would not have been out of place from any county senior champions.
Although a spirited Doonbeg outfit showed great character to reduce the deficit to just four points in the 40th minute when other teams would have totally collapsed, Dermot Coughlan’s young charges were still able to re-ignite their tremendous teamwork and clinical finishing to run out convincing 1-13 to 1-6 winners.
Manager, Dermot Coughlan feels this was the best display by Kilmurry from their six U-21 titles at this level against a strong Doonbeg outfit.
Coughlan noted the club’s outstanding run at underage level provided a great foundation for senior success and should provide players with enough confidence not to be overawed by Antrim champions St Gall’s in the eagerly awaited All-Ireland Club final on St Patrick’s Day.
Mark McCarthy lined out at right corner-forward on the all-conquering Kilmurry U-21 team of 2006 and he played his part by scoring three points from play in a very impressive forward line.
He started off his underage career as a defender and won a U-12 A medal at wing-back when Kilmurry defeated Wolfe Tones in the 1989 decider.
Kilmurry underage mentor and former Clare minor football selector, James Murrihy, has seen McCarthy’s progression from a talented defender to profilic attacker once he entered the minor ranks.
“Mark played at centre-back in teams I was involved with at club and inter-county level. I felt he was suited to this position because he has great vision, is a good fielder and a good man to pick out a forward with a long delivery,” he said.
“In the All-Ireland semi-final, when Mark came on as a sub, he looked up and showed great vision to set up Noel Downes with a hand pass for the crucial goal.
“In the 2007 Munster championship, he lined out at centre-back for Clare in three games and at full-forward in one game,” he said.
Former Clare junior manager, Joe Garry recalled that McCarthy scored five points from play off Michael Proutt in the 2009 Munster Junior Football final against a Cork side who eventually ran out easy 1-21 to 0-13 victors.
Joe said that McCarthy played very well on the night from limited possession considering Cork dominated from start to finish.
“Kilmurry have six forwards who are playing very well. Mark is a bit unlucky not to be in their starting line-up. If he was in any other club, he would probably be on their starting line-up.
“He played a significant role in Kilmurry’s success over Portlaoise when he came on as a substitute and worked very hard. He is a confidence player who thrives on the big occasion like a game in Croke Park.
“If his focus is right, he would be worth his place on any club team. He can kick well with both feet and is an out and out forward,” he said.
It has been a mixed year for McCarthy at club level. Disappointed over his substitution in the county final against Kilkee, he left the panel for a brief spell and didn’t make himself available for their Munster championship clash against Waterford champions, Stradbally.
Having returned before the Munster final, he was brought on and set up defender Evan Talty for his match-winning point.He was also introduced three minutes into the second half of Kilmurry’s hard-earned win over Tir Chonaill Gaels.
He would love to march behind the band in the final but even if he came only as a sub for five minutes and helped Kilmurry to win, he would be happy.
“There is fierce competition for places on the team. Kilmurry has 10 forwards battling for six places and this is illustrated by the fact that Odran O’Dwyer is on the bench.
“St Gall’s are a serious team, particularly when they get motoring. Kilmurry have 33 lads who can play football and it is disappointing when you can only name a panel of 24.
“Kilmurry’s underage success has been a huge boost to the club and we are now reaping the rewards at senior level. You could see up to 100 young lads between the age of six and 12 playing football under the guidance of underage mentors at weekends.
“It would be great to get a good start against St Gall’s and go into the interval two or three points ahead. Kimurry players now know there is too much at stake to start messing and get sent off. Hunger for success has brought us to the final and now we have to keep up our intensity for 60 of 70 minutes.
“Everyone is talking about the final and our supporters have been great, they have outnumbered fans from other teams for all of our games.
“ It would be great to win the final and bring back the cup to Kilmurry. It would also put Clare football on the map,” he said.


No order too tall for tigerish defender

MARTIN McMahon has the rare distinction of being one of the few Clare footballers who captained a Banner team that defeated Kerry in the Munster U-21 championship. Always one step ahead, Martin McMahon’s strengths as a tough defender will be in demand against St Gall’s.
Back in 2007, the diminutive yet tigerish Kilmurry-Ibrickane defender raised a few eyebrows in the run-up to the game when he declared Clare would leave their respect for the mighty young men from the Kingdom at the gate of the pitch in Kilmihil.
Having captured the 2004 provincial minor decider, Kerry entered this Munster first-round clash as raging hot favourites with future senior stars such as Tommy Walsh and David Moran. Some football enthusiasts felt Martin was foolish to make such a bold statement before the throw-in.
However, true to his word, he inspired his colleagues to shock Kerry on a 1-6 to 0-6 scoreline. In fact, the Banner men could have won by more than the three points if they had capitalised on all their scoring opportunities.
It was all the sweeter for McMahon having featured on the Clare minor side that lost to the young men in green and gold in 2004.
Former Clare U-21 manager, Joe Garry remembers Martin displaying outstanding leadership on a memorable night for Clare football when he outplayed and outfought a number of opponents.
A year later, Joe was boss of the Clare U-21 side when McMahon led the fight-back against Kerry in the second half but it wasn’t enough as the latter emerged victorious.
Joe believes McMahon has been Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s best performer over the last two years.
“Martin usually takes the most dangerous forward on the opposing team for a man-marking job. The last day against Portlaoise, he marked Paul Cahillane very well.
“His best position is probably wing-back. Martin thinks like a forward and is always a step ahead of his marker, which is rare enough for any defender. I expect he will be put marking one of the McGourty brothers.
“Too often, people focus on Martin’s lack of height. However, his strengths far outweigh concerns about his size,” he said.
Portlaoise entered the All-Ireland semi-final confident of reaching the final and expected a lot from Leinster club player of the year, Paul Cahillane. However, Martin had other ideas and the substitution of Cahillane six minutes from the end after scoring just one point from play illustrated how effective the Kilmurry defender was on the day.
Kilmurry custodian, Dermot O’Brien said he has played consistently well for the club over the last two years and couldn’t recall him playing a bad game.
Having returned between the posts, Garda O’Brien pointed out that the entire full-back line of Darren Hickey, Mark Killeen and McMahon offers him great protection as all of them are very good readers of the game.
“Mark is a great man-marker. Even if his opponent gets to the ball before him, Mark always tries to get his hand in to get the ball away. He will give it 100% for as long as he is on the field.
“St Gall’s work very well together as a team. They got some brilliant scores against Corofin in the semi-final and we can’t afford to give them a good start the next day,” he warned.
Martin played with Clare U-21s from 2005 to 2007. Clare lost to Cork during his first year, the Banner men beat Limerick but were beaten by Waterford. Victory over Kerry in 2007 could have paved the way for a provincial crown, however, Tipperary hammered Clare in the semi-final on a day when nothing went right for the losers.
Last year, he came on a substitute for Clare seniors when Limerick proved to be their masters in the Munster Senior Football Championship in Cusack Park and started in the All-Ireland qualifier when the Banner men lost by three points.
Kilmurry struggled to beat London champions Tír Chonaill Gaels in the All-Ireland quarter-final yet players were stung when GAA commentator Martin McHugh suggested they were not good enough to be in the top four club teams in the country.
Martin felt it was unfair to write off any team’s chances of All-Ireland glory on the basis of one lack-lustre performance and noted that other teams like Crossmaglen Rangers also found it hard to beat the ’Gaels in the All-Ireland series.
“Kilmurry must play with great intensity against St Gall’s and forget about the sideshows attached to playing in an All-Ireland final.
“The mental side is as important as physical preparation before any big game. St Gall’s like to play possession football and find their full-forward line at a certain point with a quick ball. If Kilmurry show St Gall’s too much respect and stand off them, they will cause us problems.”
He added that Kilmurry should concentrate on their own game, keep the space down for the forwards, get a good start and build on that.
“Micheál McDermott has instilled great discipline and a professional approach for training sessions and matches. He has also instilled a belief that Kilmurry are a match for any team when they play to their potential.
“St Gall’s have the experience of playing in and losing an All-Ireland final but Kilmurry have enjoyed great success at underage level and players don’t lose the head even when we go behind.
“I don’t think there is another club team in the country that has won five U-21 finals in-a-row,” he added.

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