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*Oisin O’Brien. Photograph: Sport Action Photography

Ask any of the current Clonlara squad about the key early influencers in their hurling careers and outside of their parents, they are more than likely to reference national school teachers Eddie Horgan and PJ Fitzpatrick at the top of their lists.

Management: Eddie Horgan (Manager), Paul Nihill, Darach Honan, Dave Clohessy, Aaron Hogg
Captain: Cathal O’Connell
Titles: 2
Most Recent Title: 2008
Key Player: Colm Galvin
Fresh Blood: Colm O’Meara, Cillian O’Brien
Fun Fact: The Canon Hamilton Cup, is named after a Clonlara native Monsignor Hamilton who was born 200 metres from the current GAA grounds. As a young priest, he posed in the photo of Clonlara’s 1919 wining team.

Horgan’s involvement in the development of hurlers in the local school for over 30 years finally came to an end following his retirement last year. But far from being idle, he has taken up the mantle as Clonlara senior manager this year in a bid to turn their fortunes with regard to finally getting back into the championship winning enclosure.

Despite three further county final appearances and five semi-final finishes since, a fully merited second title hasn’t arrived to accentuate that sole 2008 triumph. So after trying a number of different approaches, perhaps this year’s lack of preparation time might just work and unlock the key to success.

Not that 2020 has been anywhere near ideal for Horgan and his new management team. “Preparations have been just as difficult for Clonlara as everyone else after the lockdown. There have been quite an amount of niggles and little injuries in our camp as I’m sure there have been in all other camps as well around the county due to players coming back from their own training regimes and not being used to contact training on hard grass at this stage of the year. So our squad would be suffering from minor injuries that we’d be hoping will clear up in time for our first game against Newmarket on Friday. But there would be some concerns being honest.”

One unquestionable leader that is definitely out is 2018 All-Star and 2020 Clare captain John Conlon who suffered a cruciate ligament injury just before the lockdown. “We were really looking forward to having John as one of our talismans again for the coming year. So he is a huge loss to us and we’re just hoping that other players now step up to the mark and fulfil the role that John was so good at for our team.”

Winning the 2018 Minor A crown has increased the competition for places within the squad while last year’s Junior A success has also aided the cause. But while Horgan is more than pleased with his side’s response in recent weeks, it’s still a big step into the unknown this Friday against an experienced Newmarket outfit.

“It’s a very, very difficult challenge for us to begin our championship campaign this Friday. We would have loved to have had a few markers against some of our opponents in the Clare Cup. So we’re dancing in the dark but what we do know is that we’re going in against an opponents that are one of the Blue Riband teams in this competition. We certainly won’t be taking anything for granted. There’s always at least one serious performance in Newmarket every year so I’d imagine that they’ll have all guns blazing gunning to topple anyone that tries to hinder their progression”.

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