*Kevin Hehir distributes the ball with Aidan McCarthy behind him. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

INJURIES have been an unfortunate constant of Ennistymon’s memorable run to a first Clare SFC final since 2018 and regrettably for Kevin Hehir, he’s been the latest addition to their long list of casualties.

Without defensive duo Darragh Conneely a former Clare U20 defender and Sean O’Driscoll the captain of the club side which contested the 2018 decider, midfielder Cathal Malone has been out of action since the knockout stages while doubts remain over the fitness of lively attacker Diarmuid Fahy.

Kevin Hehir has been the latest injury headache for Mark Shanahan and his management and is ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury sustained in the semi-final win over Kilmurry Ibrickane that will keep him sidelined for a lengthy spell.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Hehir recounted his struggles with injury throughout the year. “It had been giving me a bit of bother throughout the year but I was diagnosed with degenerative tendonitis in the knee, I had looked after it well and rehabbed throughout the year, the funny thing is I thought I was nearly back to proper, it felt well before the Kilmurry Ibrickane game, it felt perfect it was the best it had been all year so then whether it was a freak movement or something, nonetheless it went and gave way from underneath me and that was that unfortunately”.

Undoubtedly it’s a case of “mixed emotions” for the Inagh/Kilnamona hurler as he watches his side prepare for a county final that he would be itching to play a part in. “I will do my best now. If the lads want any help leading up to the final I’ll be there for them, it’s mixed emotions but at the end of the day it’s all about the team, we’ve strong lads coming in too who are chomping at the bit to get to the county final, it could be a lot worse”.

He acknowledged that injuries have been a constant of their year. “It’s just one of them years. Since the start of the year we seem to be having injuries, there’s serious strength in depth to the squad and I’m sure there’s a lot of younger lads who will be mad chomping at the bit, eager to get going and nail down their position on the team and show what they’re worth and no better place to do it in than the county final, we’ve been used to it all year in one way so it hasn’t fazed us, one more game and it’s about trying to get over the line”.

A member of the Ennistymon senior panel since he turned eighteen, Hehir has been with the club since U11. His introduction at half-time in their third round game with Doonbeg plus the positional switch of David Fitzgerald to midfield was a major turning point in the game and subsequently their season ensuring they topped the group. Again introduced at half-time in the quarter-final win over St Breckan’s, Kevin was rewarded with a starting jersey in the last four tie against Kilmurry Ibrickane before injury ended his involvement on twenty three minutes.

In his view, Ennistymon have upped their game defensively this season. “Defensively I think we’ve been unbelievably sound this year, I don’t know what we’ve conceded in normal times in most games, I don’t think we’ve conceded more than 1-10, we’re very sound at the back and we’re also comfortable at holding onto possession too, maybe in the past couple of years there’s been an anxiety when we’re on the ball that we have to score or create something, now we’re comfortable on the ball, we’re using our patience to try create scoring opportunities as opposed to forcing them, the two lads Mark and Ger have brought that in from the start of the year and you can see it clearly”.

He added, “The standard from when I first started playing football in Clare has drastically increased, I don’t think there’s any easy game you can get, we’ve had some serious challenges along the way, we’ve done well to come out the other side of them but we know the biggest challenge of them all will be against the form team in the county”.

Last year he got to experience the buzz of county final day but on the hurling field. “The one thing I’ve learned is how fast they go, the build-up for them is the long thing, once you’re out there it’s over in like two minutes, the main thing is while you’re out there for the hour to put your head down, work hard and things will go your way, don’t let it pass you by, it’s the same as any final put the head down, work hard and what will come at you will be good,” he said of county final days.

Kevin Hehir. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

When it comes to football, he faces off with many of his hurling teammates, it’s something that isn’t too difficult, he said. “It can be but once you take the field it’s who you’re representing on the day. Inagh/Kilnamona is where I’m from and it will always be my home parish and my number one team but once I’m playing with Ennistymon that goes out the window and it’s Ennistymon who I’m representing and who I want to win, you’ll do anything then for Ennistymon to win on the day”.

Just because he hurls with the McCarthy brothers, Aidan and Jason doesn’t mean he minces his words when they square off against them in meetings with Kilmurry Ibrickane. “I’m sure now if Aidan heard we were going easy on him then he wouldn’t be one bit happy and Jason wouldn’t be happy either, they are the same with us, they are serious competitors and don’t want anyone going easy on them and we don’t want anyone going easy on us”.

Jason will be joining him on the injured list for Inamona, having suffered a leg break also on the football side. “The only plus side is that it gives both of a lot of time to get right for next year, it’s still a year away and the one positive note for us hurling wise is that it gives us both times to get ourselves rehabbed and both right for next summer”.

Not alone has injury scuppered his chance of featuring this weekend but it has also derailed the travelling plans of the Inagh man. “The last couple of weeks I always had it in my mind to go, I finished up working in Dublin, I was working with Shareridge and then in the last couple of weeks I was labouring away with two fellas from Inagh, Dermot Lynch and Johnny Cider, the plan was to work with them for a couple of weeks and then go travelling but that has been put on hold so we’ll have to think again, reassess my thoughts and see how it goes”.

Some would say picking up the knee injury was a drastic way to avoid spending time overseas with freelance reporter Jamesy McConigley. “That’s it,” he confessed with a roaring laugh, “he’d only burn the head off me out there so I’d have to stay away from him”.

It brings us to the burning question that has presumably been often discussed at The Good House, who is the biggest media icon attached to the Inagh/Kilnamona club, Jamesy or Nicholas Rynne of Raidio Corca Baiscinn. “They’re both stalwarts at their profession but I suppose you’d have to tip Nicholas for his in-depth analysis on the day, he’s always the first at the scene of any incident to get his in-depth scoop so you’ve to give him the plaudits for that one”.

Rynne’s promptness to the scene saw him help to accompany both Hehir and Jason from Cusack Park via stretchers for their respective injuries. “He’s always in the thick of it,” Kevin observed”. Hehir himself would only love to be in the thick of the action this weekend but instead will have to settle for a role in the stands.

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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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