*Gavin Cooney remains an injury doubt for Sunday’s final. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Éire Óg’s marquee forward, Gavin Cooney is in a race against time to be fit for what will be his first taste of a senior championship final.
In the lead up to Éire Óg’s hurling semi-final with Inagh/Kilnamona, Cooney strained his quad training on Tuesday of last week. It ruled him out of their defeat and presently has cast him as a doubt for this weekend’s final against Kilmurry Ibrickane.
His involvement will be an influential factor to the outcome of the final, whether or not he can feature won’t be known until close to throw-in. “I can’t run for the next few days, it’s just about managing it and hoping it will be right on Sunday, it’s wait and see, I won’t be doing much until Sunday so we’ll see how it goes then. It is my very first muscle injury in my leg, it is the worst timing possible, there was a major scare when it did happen, it’s nervy times but hopefully it will hold up”.
This year, Gavin has the “massive honour” of captaining Éire Óg. “It’s a nice feeling on the pitch, you’re trying to motivate all the people around you, I’m lucky the players beside me are equally mature and are as good as anyone else,” he said while flagging that he preferred to “try to let my football do the talking”.
Giving the captaincy to the Clare corner-forward was a “no-brainer”, manager Paul Madden detailed, “Gavin Cooney’s generation are the ones that are going to drive Éire Óg hurling and football forward for years to come”.
According to Gavin, Madden has matched the high standards of Colm Collins at county level. “There is no one else quite like him, being in the inter-county setup and coming back to club the way Paul has it set up there isn’t much of a difference, everything you could ever ask for he gives it to us, there’s no excuses from that point, he is one of a kind in the professionalism he brings to the setup and that bounces off the players”.
Recollections of the club’s last appearance in a final in 2014 for the LIT student are of “the red ultras at the town end, the flares and everyone in red, it was something you’d dream of running onto the pitch and seeing that, hopefully we’ll see it on Sunday because it would be a big boost to everyone”.
Having a vocal crowd is something appreciated more by players particularly those at inter-county level who lined out in behind closed doors contests for last year’s championship due to the pandemic. “The crowd is a massive boost for the players, we saw it against us in the semi-final, St Breckans have a massive crowd behind them, you’d hear them banging the shed, when they get a score it’s demoralising for you when you’re against it but when you’re with it then it’s a massive boost”.
“Last year having no crowds was very bad, it was tough for everyone but they were the circumstances we were in and it’s been a long eighteen months or two years for everyone, it’s great to give an occasion to the people of Ennis to hopefully come out and support us. I remember last year in Thurles, when you lose it’s a fairly lonely place to be in a stadium with no supporters, if you win with the supporters it’s a massive occasion,” Cooney stated.
Securing Seanie Buckley as a coach was signalled out by Gavin as a reason for Éire Óg breaking their quarter-final hoodoo. “Every year I’ve been on the panel, we’ve lost at the quarter-final stage be it in Cusack Park against Ennistymon in my first year and then we started to lose when we went out of Cusack Park, people were saying we couldn’t win in West Clare, this year we beat Doonbeg in Kilmihil and then we focused on taking it game by game in the quarter-final.
“We took momentum from winning the games and targetted getting past the quarter-final. Seanie Buckley is a massive influence, his input has been shown greatly in the way we are performing, it might not be as exciting as we’ve played in the past, we were high scoring but this year it is win at all costs. He has brought massive composure to our game plan, in years come by we’ve been trying to play fast exciting football which is good for the supporters but then we came up against teams which stopped us from doing that and we had no answer to counteract that. Seanie has given us a game plan to play a different way and it has definitely been a major boost”.
Last month, Gavin clashed with his Corry cousins from Sixmilebridge as Éire Óg ended their reign as Clare SHC champions, relations may not have been as cordial for those sixty minutes in Cusack Park but the support has been flowing through since then, “there was a bit of rivalry but they’ve sent me plenty of texts and I’m sure they’ll be in the red and white this weekend”.
Getting out of the house and a possible walk around town will form part of his routine on Sunday morning, by the evening he could follow in the footsteps of Peter Cosgrove and Alan Malone by leading Éire Óg to senior glory.