*Darren O’Neill. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

QUALIFYING FOR THE MUNSTER FINAL AND ALL-IRELAND series guarantees Clare’s footballers “four massive games”, midfielder Darren O’Neill has said.

Already Clare are one of the second seeds in the All-Ireland series and if they overcome Kerry they will become one of the first seeds in the race for the Sam Maguire. Sixteen teams will compete in the All-Ireland SFC and will be split into four groups of four.

Having the opportunity to compete in this competition rather than the Tailteann Cup has given a big lift to the Clare players, O’Neill admitted. “We were having a quick chat there and we’re guaranteed four massive games, there was a lot on the line so it means a lot to us to have those four big games coming up”.

Although he was named in the starting fifteen for Saturday’s semi-final win over Limerick, injury prohibited his involvement to a thirty minute spell in the second half. “I am struggling a bit with injury, hopefully everything will clear up for me and I’ll get a good run at it,” he said.

O’Neill is battling with the experienced Cathal O’Connor and Shannon Gaels’ Darragh Bohannon for the two midfield spots. He told The Clare Echo that the competition between the three of them is welcomed, “It is really healthy, we’ve a lot of respect for each other, whoever the two of us selected are the third man will be ready to come on and give us a hand out, I’ve been on the subs bench and I’m happy to come on and do what’s needed, the two lads would be the same if it was the other way around”.

This competitive nature is replicated across the panel, the Ennis man flagged. “There’s forty lads and everyone of them are bursting their backside at training, it’s not about any one individual”.

A two-time Clare SFC winner with Éire Óg, Darren was one of seven players from the club to feature in the three point win over Limerick, all five of Colm Collins’ substitutions were from the Ennis club. “I think Manus (Doherty) let us down for all seven being on the pitch!! We won’t say much to him because he has been flying it all year,” he quipped.

Advancing to a first Munster final in eleven years is a step in the right direction for the county, Darren said. “I was on the panel in 2012 but I left just before championship, this is my first Munster final. I started playing in 2011, it’s an unbelievable feeling, it’s more like relief than anything there at the final whistle, we’re really looking forward to”.

His impact from the bench against Cork was crucial to Clare stepping forward. Reflecting on his performance against the Rebels, O’Neill added, “I’ve seen the reports and everything but that is just a sub’s job, I was out for so long that I was itching to get on, I was twitching up in the stand but it comes with the territory when you’re out for six weeks and miss a lot of the league, I was really looking forward to getting back so I just showed that when I came on, I was buzzing with energy”.

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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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