*Kieran Keating. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

A MUNSTER TITLE remains top of the wanted list for Clare’s senior hurlers and management according to the Chairman of Clare GAA who has criticised a “bizarre reinterpretation” of a GAA ruling which saw Adam Hogan denied the chance to line out in the provincial U20 hurling final this year.

In his Chairman’s address at Clare GAA’s Convention for 2023, Keating began by paying tribute to all those who gave of their time, expertise, effort and endeavour “to further the cause of Clare GAA in all its facets in 2023”.

He stated, “Annual Convention is our opportunity to take stock of where we are coming from as a County Committee, where we have been this year and what we may have achieved, and where we plan to head in the upcoming year and beyond. We measure our progress and benchmark our gains, take our learnings from what the year has brought, and march onwards towards the new year and its opportunities to be explored and achievements to be targeted”.

Colm Collins’ resignation as manager of the Clare senior footballers following a decade was a starting point in Keating’s address. “Colm has given so much leadership and organisational guidance to our football teams at all levels over the past decade, and no doubt will continue to do so with his club, Cratloe”.

Relegation from Division 2 of the National Football League following second consecutive seasons in the second tier occurred “despite some good performances in Croke Park, Navan and at home in Cusack Park, a couple of narrow defeats were our downfall and we dropped through the trapdoor to Division 3”.

Commencing the championship with “a rousing victory” over Cork was followed by a semi-final victory against Limerick to see Clare quality for a first Munster final since 2012 and secure their spot in the All-Ireland SFC series. “Although we went back to the Gaelic Grounds with hope of recreating the magic of 1992 against Kerry, a very polished reigning champions team put us away with some early goals and some fine football, not least from the Clifford brothers whose mother had sadly passed away the night before, after a long battle with illness,” the Chairman stated. Defeats to Donegal, Monaghan and Derry ended Clare’s involvement in the 2024 campaign.

Efforts to appoint Collins’ successor soon commenced. “Tralee native Mark Fitzgerald came through as the strongest candidate to take the nomination as our new Senior Football Manager for 2024/25 and I wish Mark, his coach Seanie Buckley, and his backroom assistants every success and assure them of our continued support. I would also like to pay tribute to a number of our Senior players, who for reasons of sabbaticals or foreign travel, may not be with us for the start of 2024. We look forward to many of you returning to the fold later next year or in 2025”.

County Board officials were “delighted to have reappointed” Michael Neylon as U20 manager for 2024. Clare’s Munster semi-final battle with Kerry in Tralee which required extra time to find a winner saw captain Brian McNamara produce “a man of the match showing” in the eyes of the Chairman and many spectators. “I wish Brian a full recovery in the months ahead from his unfortunate injury at training before the start of the club championship and hope to see him lining out for Mark Fitzgerald’s squad early in the new year. In the meantime we wish Mikie and his assistants every success with the new round-robin format for the Munster U20 Football Championship”.

Dermot Coughlan’s minors started with an away win over Waterford before conceding four goals to go down to Limerick in round two. “The third and final game against Tipperary again became a knock-out fixture, and our lads found their more-physical opponents just too strong in Thurles and exited the championship on a 0-12 to 0-8 scoreline. I would like to thank Dermot and his backroom team and wish them success as they take charge of a new crop for the 2024 season”.

On the hurling front, Keating noted that Brian Lohan began the second year of his renewed term in charge of the seniors. “Our opening round saw Tipperary come to Ennis and hit for goals early and often, to leave Cusack Park with the win. Our backs were against the wall then for the trip to the home of the reigning champions, Limerick, but our players delivered on that memorable night and inflicted defeat on their hosts and blew the Munster Hurling Championship wide open. We followed up with a big win against the Deise and then a narrow win in an electric atmosphere against Cork back at Cusack Park left us on top of the table for the second year running and qualified us for a Munster Final clash with Limerick”.

Offering some insight into the management’s rationale to push for the Gaelic Grounds as the venue for the Munster Final rather than Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Keating explained, “our management team took the decision that our supporters and our players would be better served if we agreed with Limerick that we would play the final in the Gaelic Grounds, and the hurling public on both sides of the Shannon applauded the decision. Love nor money couldn’t get a spare ticket for the final and we were treated to another game for the ages by two evenly matched teams. Unfortunately a few spurned chances and a couple of arguable decisions that we didn’t get late in the game saw us come up short by the minimum margin, and that elusive Munster title remains on the wanted list for this panel of players and management team”.

A “facile” quarter-final win saw Clare return to the All-Ireland semi-finals to face Kilkenny for the second year in a row. “Despite our lads getting on top for a period of the second half, a goal against the run of play, and a top-drawer save onto the cross-bar by Eoin Murphy to deny Peter Duggan an equalising goal, left us disappointed and denied the shot at Liam McCarthy”.

Keating acknowledged the exits of Sean Treacy, Adrian O’Brien, James Moran and Michael Carmody from Lohan’s management. “I would also like to pay tribute to the members of the 2013 team who continue to be leading lights for our younger panellists, and in particular, to our 2023 All- Star recipients John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell, to all our other All-Star nominees, and to our young hurler of the year Mark Rogers and his fellow-nominee for that award, Adam Hogan”.

Adam Hogan collides with Diarmaid Byrnes. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Implementing a new round-robin format at U20 hurling “served to give more opportunity to see these men develop into a fine panel of players,” Keating said. Terence Fahy’s side produced “battling draws” and a fourteen-point win against Waterford ahead of a five-point loss to Cork in the fourth round. “Whilst a late goal helped Cork to a five-point win, the fact that they went on to beat Limerick in the final game meant that our four points from four games were sufficient to earn us third spot and an away semi-final, in Thurles. A stirring victory by a three-goal margin put our lads into the final against Cork. The final in the Gaelic Grounds was a fantastic battle and although we came out the wrong side of the result by two points, our supporters and all involved in the background could not have been prouder of the effort seen that evening. Our captain and later-to-be young hurler of the year nominee, Adam Hogan, was denied his opportunity to play in the final as it fell within the 7-day window imposed by Central Council in its bizarre reinterpretation and rewording of a motion passed at last Congress”.

Recapping a campaign for the minors which went beyond their wildest dreams, the Chairman said Brian O’Connell’s outfit “never looked back” following their third round win away to Waterford. “Victory over Cork in our final game assured us of at least a semi-final, and Cork’s victory over Limerick in the last game meant that we had a home venue v’s Limerick for that one. A six- point defeat of the neighbours led us to a final date with Cork in Thurles, and on a fine evening that will live long in the memory of these young men and their parents and families, a magnificent third quarter in particular, helped us to a seven-point victory (1:19 to 0:15) and only our fifth ever Munster Minor Hurling Title”.

“An All-Ireland semi-final victory over Kilkenny soon followed (0:23 to 0:15), and although Galway had been shooting the lights out in all their games up to their semi-final, we looked forward to the final in Thurles with confidence that our team would give them a different test than they had seen previously. As history will record, a superb performance all over the field, with a dozen getting on the scoresheet for the second game in a row, combined with a meaner-than-Scrooge defence who kept their opponents to fifteen scores for the third game in a row, resulted in a final score line of Clare 2:22 Galway 4:11. Cue scenes of great jubilation on Thurles sacred sod”.

2023 was “a strong year of revenue growth,” the Naomh Eoin clubman noted. He flagged, “costs incurred in preparing our teams, putting games development staff in place and having the administrative resources required to support that extra activity, are all rising year-on-year. Our bottom-line of an excess income over expenditure of approx. €270k was commendable, especially without any gains from the Win a House campaign being booked to FY 2023. The profits we will earn from a successful close-out of that fundraiser around the years-end, will put us in a strong position to further develop our facility in Caherlohan”.

Concluding his address, Keating commented, “At this time of year, we are reminded of loved-ones that we lost during the year, and I would like to express condolences on behalf of the County Committee to all involved in Clare GAA who suffered bereavements during the year. Our friend and long-time Auditor to the Board, Tony Fitzpatrick from Sixmilebridge, sadly lost his long battle with cancer just weeks after attending last year’s Convention. Tony had always been available at the end of the phone to provide advice and regularly attended these meetings to assist our Treasurers to answer any queries arising from the annual accounts. I know that Nora, Barry, Oisin and Lorcan and his extended family were very appreciative of the support and love shown by the GAA family after his passing”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

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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