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The Clare senior hurling management: Ken Ralph, James Moran, Brian Lohan, Sean Treacy and Shane Hassett. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Shane Hassett will be a honorary Clare man when traveling back to his native soil on Sunday for the much-anticipated Munster Senior Hurling showdown in Semple Stadium.

The current Drom & Inch player may only have been involved with the Banner over the past two seasons as a Strength and Conditioning coach but the assimilation process is already in full swing as he outlined when asked about the difficulty of facing Tipperary twice in the Munster Championship in the space of twelve months.

“I would have hurled with a good few of the Tipp lads at underage and in college as well while obviously Seamie [Callanan] is my own clubman. But at the end of the day, when you invest so much of your time and effort into something, there’s no real question when it comes to matchday where your head is, namely getting a win for Clare. I remember when we played Tipp in the Gaelic Grounds in the Munster Semi-Final last year, I was doing hurleys for that game and I don’t think I ever jumped as high in all my life when we got a goal. Again this year there was only one thing on my mind, us winning the game and that was all that mattered to me from a Clare perspective”.

Acclimatising wasn’t an issue from the outset either as having already played under Brian Lohan, James Moran and Ken Ralph for UL at Fitzgibbon Cup level and subsequently coached a chunk of the Clare players at college level under the stewardship of Gary Kirby, Hassett quickly got his feet under the table.

“It just made that whole transition so much easier and I just seemed to fit in straight away without any real hassle. The first thing that really struck me when I got involved was the dedication of the players. I suppose I didn’t know what to expect really but it’s unbelievable as from the start everyone was all in and they still are. They’re just a really close group and they all buy in so again that makes my job very easy. A lot of them would be asking me questions as well and trying to pick your brain and see what more they could do so they’re excellent like that.

“In addition, the management fully recognise the importance of the sports science and strength and conditioning so they allow me to do my thing. And because I play as well, I can see things from the hurling side as well, that there has to be a nice balance and a nice mix as that’s when you’re going to get the best results.”

What arguably accelerated Shane Hassett’s appointment was the visible chasm in physicality and conditioning between the Shannonside neighbours in Brian Lohan’s first derby championship showdown in 2020 when Limerick simply blew away the Banner in a devastating second half masterclass.

Since then, Clare have been playing catch-up but while their recent championship draw in Cusack Park was extremely encouraging, Sunday’s provincial decider will provide the ultimate barometer of where the Banner current stand against the back-to-back All-Ireland champions.

“When you’re looking at all the teams out there, Limerick are obviously on top at the minute and therefore you’re always trying to judge where you are against them. A couple of weeks ago, we kind of got a glimpse that we could put it up to them for 70 odd minutes but that’s no good unless you can go out and do it again this Sunday. They’ll have a few players back that they didn’t have the last day so it is going to be a different challenge but it’s a really, really good test for us to see where we are and see can we match them again.

“And that’s no easy task because they are a very good team, are well conditioned and are experienced at winning finals these past few years so if anything we are going to have to go a level above that again if we are to win the game. At the end of the day, there’s no real magic formula to Strength and Conditioning and getting lads fit, it’s really about consistency over time. So I’m not going to say that everything changed in year one, maybe we’re more seeing it now that we have had a couple of years with the lads. But there are a few lads in particular who have improved massively over the last two years,” he told The Clare Echo.

“Limerick meanwhile had probably been doing it three or four years before everyone else and had their underage structures in place since setting up their academy. We’re seeing that in Clare now too so there’s great work going on in the county that hopefully we’ll see that over the next few years.”

From what you have witnessed and been involved with so far, would you be optimistic for the future of Clare hurling in general? “First and foremost, it’s exciting to see where and how far we can go with it at senior level. Obviously at the end of the day, you’re in a game where winning is really the end result but from my side of it, it’s about player development and the bottom line is that if I can develop these players to be better than they were when they came in, that’s a big part of my job done as well.

“So as much as winning and being fit is nearly everything, you also have to look at the players and see if they’re developing too. It is very exciting and hopefully we’ll see results at the end of it as well.

“Overall in terms of optimism for Clare hurling, definitely I would be very hopeful. I don’t have any direct involvement on the underage but I’ve been keeping a close eye on the minors and obviously we also have a number of guys that are still at that Under 20 age group so we would have been monitoring them over the past few years.

“There’s a lot of talent coming through. I know they didn’t get any victories in the Munster Under 20 Championship this year but they have two impressive performances and there’s a good group there and from a S&C point of view, with another couple of years at Under 20 or senior under their belts, they can seamlessly transition onto the senior team.

“There’s no doubt that the hurling is there. Clare is a good strong hurling county and we’ve already seen the talent coming through so if we could just the other side of it consistently up to speed, get them strong enough and physical enough and fit enough, that if they ever come onto a senior squad, then there’s a lot of scope for optimism”.

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