An exciting new chapter for Clare Camogie begins in earnest this weekend when both the senior and junior sides take to the field in the opening round of the National Camogie Leagues.

For the first time since Clare’s first tentative steps at senior in 2009, the adult panels have combined their managerial and training resources to form a dual alliance. The first evaluation of the new regime sees the juniors travel to Enniscorthy on Saturday to take on All-Ireland Premier Junior champions Wexford before the flagship side host All-Ireland senior finalists Cork 24 hours later in Cusack Park (2pm).

In keeping with the new integrated approach, there are joint-managers in Conor Dolan and John Carmody, joint senior captains in Clare Hehir (Inagh/Kilnamona) and Niamh O’Dea (Kilmaley) as well as joint junior captains Kate O’Gorman (Kilkishen) and Sinead Hogg (Truagh/Clonlara).

“It’s new and it’s something that I’ve never experienced before anyway having the two panels together,” admitted Hehir who is captaining the senior side for the second successive season. “So it’s been brilliant, there are great numbers at training and with the joint-managers as well, there is that fresh voice there but also that familiarity with last year’s management. So, so far so good”.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Kate O’Gorman who is embarking on her third year as captain of the Banner’s second team. “The juniors have done pretty well in getting to the All-Ireland semi-finals for the last two seasons but there have been a lot of new players coming in and only a handful of survivors from the Kerry match in Cusack Park [in 2019] for instance so it’s all about development and progression.

“Training with the seniors, you can really see a difference in the quality and standard of training and if you were to come in off the street to watch training, I think you’d find it difficult to pick out which are junior and which are senior. In the last few years, the panels have been completely separate so the juniors wouldn’t really know how the seniors were getting on and in turn the senior management wouldn’t have gotten a great opportunity to see the junior players outside of matches so now that the two panels are combined, it’s a win-win for everyone really.

“The intensity of training is unbelievable, the hits are going in and training at the weekend, you’d definitely know that the first round of the league is coming up this weekend. And that’s what is needed, for the junior players to push the seniors on and who knows you might even see them lining out at senior before the year is out”.

That’s exactly what could happen as soon as this weekend as with Scariff/Ogonnelloe contesting their All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Semi-Final against Oulart-the-Ballagh at the same time in Clonmel allied to a casualty list headed by joint-captain Niamh O’Dea who will miss the league with a broken wrist, Hehir’s senior side may have to immediately delve into their extended pack.

“Injuries can come at any time of year but they do give the opportunity for other girls to put their hand up and if they want that position badly enough, it will give the management a headache. We’ve two big tests coming up with Cork and Kilkenny both coming to Clare in the space of a week so it’s just about showing what we’ve been working on in training over the past few weeks.

“I think the performance is the main one for us. Our record against Kilkenny hasn’t been too bad and that’s one that we’ll definitely focus on but Cork on Sunday, it’s the first round of the league so there shouldn’t be any nerves there. So it should be about going out and giving nothing easy to them, especially as we’re playing in Cusack Park which is brilliant. At the end of the day, the main aim of the league is to find new players and anyone looking to step up won’t find any better tests in Cork, Kilkenny and Limerick”.

O’Gorman is just as ambitious of the juniors’ chances in 2022 if they can maintain their upward development graph. “What better way for us to start than to face the All-Ireland champions Wexford away in the first round of the Division 3 League this Saturday. The last two years in championship, we have been playing well but just faltered at the final hurdle. The aim this year is to have no regrets and by playing the defending champions in the first round, by Saturday evening we’ll have a fair picture of where we are and how far we still need to go. That way we can take those lessons back into training and progress with the aim of trying to win the league first and then hopefully finally getting to Croke Park come the summer”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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