*Sean Doyle. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill.
Clare Under 20 manager Sean Doyle is hoping to make it third time lucky when his side commence their 2021 Munster Championship campaign against Kerry in Tralee on Monday evening.
Having spearheaded two memorable minor adventures in 2017 and ’18, the Bodyke clubman’s step up to Under 20 level has been dogged by injuries to key players amidst successive first round exits to Cork and Tipperary. However, while his treatment table fortunes haven’t altered this year, Doyle is confident that Clare are better equipped to deal with any absentees for the knock-out competition.
“Overall, I’ve great faith in these lads. They’ve serious work done since we’ve returned and have played five matches in the last few weeks against Tipp, Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford and Offaly. So we’ve had a good preparation and everyone has had an even chance. It has been a long time since last year. There were 12 of this year’s squad that lined out against Tipp last October and all are available again bar Mark Rodgers who is ineligible due to this ridiculous new rule. I mean because he played 20 minutes of senior hurling, he cannot play for us now which is a killer.
“Shane Meehan, one of our talismanic forwards, is also out with a hand injury, Cian Galvin is nursing a knee injury and is definitely out for Monday at least, Killian O’Connor is gone with an ankle injury while Ian McNamara broke his finger against Offaly so is in a race against time to play some part. To lose three elite players is a major blow for any team but it does give others a great opportunity to show what they can do.
“We’ve 34 players in training and we’ve changed our style a small but this year to suit our players but even as a shop window for senior level, it’s a fantastic platform as Brian Lohan brought in a good few of our players into his development squad and is keeping a close eye on our progress.”
In addition to retaining his backroom team of Jim McInerney (Tulla), Ger Rodgers (Scariff) and coaches Val Murnane (Caherline) and Evan Kilroy (Gort), the addition of All-Ireland senior winner Niall Gilligan (Sixmilebridge) has brought ‘great energy to the group’ according to Doyle who is acutely aware of the unpredictable task that awaits them on Monday.
“We’ve just tried to make it as professional as we can in the hope of getting a good result on Monday evening and that includes the help of Paul Flanagan who has been doing a bit with us on the side. We’re going into the unknown and being on a week day, it’s a long day and good journey down to Tralee too but overall, we’re treating Kerry with the utmost respect because Clare haven’t had good results in this competition in the last few years either.
“I know we’ve been hindered by a lot of injuries but look, we’re hungry for a result and we’re not taking Kerry in any way for granted because we know that they are out for a big scalp so we’re well prepared for Monday evening”.