*Eibhear Quilligan. Photograph: Inpho / Tommy Dickson
Clare’s Allianz hurling league campaign for 2021 will begin in far away Corrigan Park in Belfast on Sunday (throw in at 1p.m.) when they face newly promoted Antrim.
While the Banner county outfit will carry the favourites tag into the tie they can take nothing for granted against the Ulster side who are determined to make an impression in the top division this year.
Sunday’s fixture is the first of five league ties that will be played over the next six weeks in the lead up to the championship where Clare will face Waterford in the Provincial quarter final with Tipperary awaiting the winners in the Munster semi-final.
Goalkeeper and 2020 All-star nominee Eibhear Quilligan is adamant that “we cannot take anything for granted. Having just gained promotion they will want to make a statement. They will see this as a chance to take a big scalp and will be marking this game as a huge fixture so it is important that we don’t give them anything”.
The Feakle clubman is, like his fellow county panellists, “delighted to be back. We have been waiting so long to get back and it’s brilliant to be back as a group. The group involvement is important as there is only so much you can do on your own, particularly during the winter months. Everyone has put in savage work and I hope what we can now put what we have done on our own into practice”.
Eibhear believes that the schedule of five games in six weeks “brings opportunity. Everyone will get time and that’s what a panel is there for. All these games will give everyone a chance and it’s up to those involved to take that opportunity. It will mean more rotation and it will give the backroom team the opportunity to see where everyone is at”.
While “the league is important the championship is where it is at. That’s where the real cut and thrust comes into it as it steps up a little but, that said, we will not be taking anything for granted in the league”, the custodian stressed.
With John Conlon back at full fitness, Quilligan said his return along with that of Conlon’s Clonlara clubmate Colm and Ian Galvin has given the panel a boost.
Quilligan doesn’t feel that the absence of challenge games will prove a problem. “Over the past couple of weekends we have had practice matches involving all of the squad whereas if we were playing challenge games it would not have been possible to give all game time. Lads seem to be moving well while new guys in the management team such as Mike Carmody, Shane Hassett and Trevor Slattery have kept on top of us and brought a great freshness to the scene”.
“Right now the whole focus is on Sunday’s game and we won’t be taking our eye off the ball. It’s their first year up in the division for some time and they will be looking to push on. We must be ready to meet that challenge”, concluded the LIT graduate who is competing with Donal Tuohy (Crusheen) and Eamonn Foudy (Inagh-Kilnamona) for the goalkeeper’s jersey.