*Clare’s Conor Cleary. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
The arrival of GAA championship time always creates huge excitement not just with players and management but amongst supporters also so it doesn’t come as any surprise to find that excitement levels are huge in Clare this week ahead of the opening rounds in both the Munsster senior football and hurling championships.
The excitement is particularly high in the Cleary home in Miltowm-Malbay as twins, Eoin and Conor prepare to fill key roles for the county’s footballers and hurlers this weekend.
Eoin will lead the footballers as they seek to upsets favourites Kerry in Killarney this Saturday evening while Conor will fill a key defensive role for the hurlers in Semple stadium in Thurles on Sunday as Clare take on Waterford.
“Yes, it’s a huge weekend for the family and it’s particularly brilliant for our parents who have missed so many games during the Covid lockdown. It’s a proud weekend for us and its great for the parents that they will be able to attend the games. They have always been great GAA supporters and prior to the Covid lockdown there was always one of them at our games. Both would be there unless the hurling and football clashed. They are great Clare supporters but our involvement has been nice for them”, Clare hurling full back Conor told The Clare Echo this week.
As the Clare hurlers put the finishing touches to their preparations to plans for their meeting with last year’s All-Ireland finalists Waterford on Sunday, Conor says “we have improved a lot in recent times. We have worked very hard and we have had very good strength and conditioning work under Shane Hassett, Mike Carmody and Trevor Slattery. Our first two games in the league were disappointing but winning the last three in the league has been brilliant ahead of facing Waterford. We know from last year that we are facing a stiff test. They are very fit and strong and they have serious hurlers all over the field as is the case with Munster teams at that level. Leook we are focussing on getting our own game right and delivering a performance on the day”.
The secondary school teacher who was attached to Rice College in Ennis last year, agrees that “it is very disappointing to lost players like Patrick O’Connor and Aaron Fitzgerald to injury. Aaron has been a great addition to the panel this year while Pat has been a huge player with Clare in recent seasons. To lose them is a huge blow particularly knowing the amount of work they have put in”.
“We are focusing on getting our campaign off to a winning start especially with the momentum we have gained from our wins in the last three league games. Players want to win every game they play and having got that winning feeling, we want to keep winning”, said the defender who made his Clare debut in 2016 when he lined out against Waterford in Thurles in the championship, a game that came two weeks after the league final. Waterford were victorious on that occasion.
“Those three league wins in recent weeks have given us a lot of confidence in the run into Sunday’s championship outing. We would have targeted those games, they were the three to win. Last day our lads were hurling with confidence,” the team’s full-back stated.
Welcoming some supporters back to Cusack Park for their final league encounter with Kilkenny gave huge energy to the players, the Kilmaley hurler pointed out.
As the Munster quarter-final edges closer, Conor said that this week the focus will be on their own game. “It’s about keeping fresh, doing our homework on the opposition but the majority of focus is on ourselves. Look it’s great to be back playing and the focus of any player is to be winning games and we are no different”.
He won’t travel to Killarney on Saturday evening but hopes to see the game on television where he will cheer on his brother Eoin and the Clare footballers for what he hopes will be the start of a winning weekend.