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Young Clare ladies footballers look to future as well as present

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As Clare’s Minor ladies footballers prepare for the biggest games of their fledgling careers with the ZuCar All Ireland Minor C Ladies Football final against Wicklow it is interesting to hear manager David O’Brien discuss the long term goals for this group of players.

On Wednesday, Clare will travel to Kinnegad (throw in 7pm) in the hopes of securing All Ireland glory but with no All Ireland series held at U14, U16 or Minor level in the past two years, the Cooraclare man repeatedly emphasises the importance of working hard with these players to continue their long term development.

O’Brien believes Shauna Harvey’s presence in the backroom team is a huge boost as he feels the current crop of talent coming through can draw inspiration from her and continue to line out with club and county.

Harvey claimed an All Ireland Minor B medal in 2012 and appeared in the final at the same grade 12 months later before representing her county in the Intermediate decider against Kildare in 2016. Her experience of big game situations can only benefit the players according to the Cooraclare man.

“Shauna has been brilliant. She played in the 2012 final while she was coaching with her father Kieran when they won the Minor B in 2017. She is a massive asset and can relate to the girls. Her experience has been a big help to us so far.”

“We want the players to enjoy and get the most out of this experience. If they stick with it they can get the rewards. You can’t judge a player at U14 or U16 but at minor you are looking at adults. Our role is to facilitate and them looking at Shauna can hopefully inspire the girls to keep playing.”

Clare are appearing in their fourth All Ireland Minor decider since 2012, a strong record considering the disruption caused by the pandemic during the past two years.

The former County Board Chairman believes there are a number of factors at play here but nothing which he believes is ground breaking.

“Everyone gets involved. With the development squads, you need the parents to bring the players to training and to get involved. The clubs are sending in their players and helping us make up squads while the County Board are working hard behind the scenes. There is no secret.

“The big thing in the past two years has been keeping people together and hopefully they keep going after this.”

O’Brien admits it has been a challenging campaign with Clare competing in the Minor B Championship, where they faced Limerick and Tipperary before dropping down to the C grade and playing the former in a Munster final.

After beating Limerick in that provincial decider on May 2, Clare had to wait 79 days before facing Armagh in the All Ireland semi final. They came through 5-7 to 0-12 with Abby Downes’ brace alongside goals from Lauren Conway, Grainne Burke and Sophie Daly propelling them through to a decider against Wicklow.

However, the selector with Clare’s Intermediate team in 2017 admits that the lengthy gap between games was a difficult challenge to overcome.

“We only had two doing the Leaving Cert but a lot of the girls have summer jobs so on that side it was tricky get everyone together. We took a break after the Munster final. They have to live too. We got together a few weeks before the semi final and trained hard for it.”

According to the manager, there is a fine balance between trying to treat this game as just like any other while also enabling the squad to embrace the occasion and the pageantry that comes with an All Ireland final appearance.

“We are treating it as another game. Part of the enjoyment is going game by game. The players enjoy that too. There is a balance but we always speak about enjoyment before leaving the dressing room. We want them to love what they do.”

“There is a fine line especially at age 16, 17, 18. You don’t want to underplay it or overplay it either. You can’t deny their families or themselves the chance to get excited for the game so it’s a balancing act.”

Chairman of Clare LGFA, Seán Lenihan acknowledged the huge work the girls, their clubs and indeed their parents have put in, in preparing for an All Ireland Final.

“It’s absolutely wonderful that we are in the Final. Win or lose, it is an occasion that the girls will remember forever. It’s a pity that it isn’t played on a Saturday or Sunday so more could attend but I would appeal to all Clare Supporters to come to Kinnegad next Wednesday evening and cheer on the girls. It’s not everyday that the County get to an All Ireland Final and they deserve our support.”

Lenihan complimented to the Minor Management Team who have worked with this squad since late last year and had to negotiate Level Five restrictions at the outset of their preparations.

“Building on the success of other management teams involved in Clare underage and development squads down through the years, the current Management Team have put in great time and effort throughout the past year in getting the girls ready for this.”

“David O’Brien and his backroom team of Shauna Harvey, Patrick O’Connor, Paul Daly and Pat Meade Walsh have really worked hard and have done a wonderful job on behalf of the County. The Minor competition is almost a full year commitment because of the break between the Provincial and All Ireland series due to the Leaving Cert moratorium so great credit is due to them.”

“Because of the break, extra work is required from the Management Team to keep fitness and focus up. I really hope that all involved get their just rewards on Wednesday. Up the Banner.”

Clare Ladies Football Squad: Emer Hynes (Captain), Roisin O’Mullane (both Clooney-Quin), Caoimhe Cahill, Keelin Fitzgerald, Amelie Malice, Grainne Burke, Caoimhe Ryan, Emer Burke (all Banner), Katie McMahon, Joanna Doohan, Sophie Daly and Caitlyn O’Connor (all Kilmurry-Ibrickane), Elisha Twomey, Abby Downes, Sarah Looney and Eabha O’Malley (all Milton Malbay), Hannah Doyle, Eimear Clune, Katie Callaghan (Doora-Barefield), Jenna Murphy, Aoife Maloney (both Kilrush), Nell Walsh, Amber Keane Thompson (both West Clare Gaels), Sadhbh Blood (Burren Gaels), Lauren Conway (Doonbeg), Edel McNamara (Kilmihil), Sadbh O’Brien (Cooraclare), Emily McDonagh (Liscannor).

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