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*John Conlon and Mike Casey in battle. Photograph: Martin Connolly

Stuart Holly, Editor of The Clare Echo says Clare’s hurling followers baying for blood should get a grip.

Weekly readers of The Clare Echo will have noted by now that the editor’s opinion gets a very rare outing. Truth be told, I’m not a fan – better to let the news speak for itself.

However this week I’m making an exception for the Clare hurlers and management, who have been thrown under a big, stinking double decker bus. It’s very easy to kick someone while they’re down and unfortunately, sections of the public and – maybe less predictably – of the local media have been good at it this week.

Behaving like a vengeful, scorned ex-wife.

For Donal Moloney, Gerry O’Connor and the Clare players collectively, this is undoubtedly their lowest point since October 2016 when they took the reins, full of hope that they might bring Clare to the promised land just as they had done with the U21s three times in a row. They almost did it last year and to a man, we all observed with pride the journey that the Clare senior hurlers brought us on. I’m sure, I’m not the only one who heard the expression “them lads owe us nothing” thrown about outside Croke Park and Semple Stadium during the heat wave of last year. But talk is cheap and 2019 is a new year.

Following two heavy defeats in two weeks in which Clare were steamrolled, the Banner has been lowered to the ground and stamping on it has become a blood sport. Much like the destiny of a losing Roman gladiator being decided by the baying crowds and the thumbs-down of their emperor, a septic element has crept into a small minority of supporters who have a misguided sense of flippant lordship over the Clare hurling set-up.

The editor of a long-running local newspaper in Clare – I’m talking about Peter O’Connell of The Clare Champion – had his say in last week’s edition of that newspaper following a poor showing by the Banner against Tipperary at Cusack Park. Under the headline, ‘Managers and players let their county down’, he wrote, “For Clare to redeem themselves, the players need to take control. If by now they haven’t forcibly had it out with each other as a group, they will embarrass themselves and their county again on Sunday.”

Not hard to read between the lines here – he believes these young men are an embarrassment to themselves and our county. A panel of young athletes, and a backroom team, who put in hours and hours of commitment for the cause of representing their family, neighbours, friends, and GAA people across the county. They put themselves and their reputations on the line to serve as summer entertainment for many people they do not know personally, who they happen to share a geographic location with. All of this for nothing but a love of the game and no pay cheque.

Mr O’Connell followed that article up with a tweet on Sunday before the dust had settled on another walloping, this time at the hands of Limerick, suggesting that the management step down with immediate effect. He has since deleted that tweet but left up another one saying he would “ideally” like them to be replaced by former Clare captain and manager Anthony Daly. A colleague of Peter’s referred to Clare’s display as “farcical”. To giddily call for the immediate resignation of the management team who have given up so much of their lives – unpaid, believe it or not – to coach an amateur sporting team? Get a grip, lads. Notably, balanced analysis came from Anthony Daly himself in his article with The Irish Examiner on Monday.

While I’m a huge Clare hurling supporter, rugby is my game and another O’Connell, with the first name Paul, is a man of great balance. More than once he has spoken about reacting to public criticism (and equally hype). His view on it is that a team is never as good as they’re hyped up to be and never as bad as they’re made out to be when they fall under the public microscope.

To state the obvious here; nobody is hurting more than the Clare hurlers and backroom team. Clare senior hurling’s communications officer, Mark Dunphy addressed recent online commentary about the Clare players and management as “way over the top” while Mark O’Donnell, a former member of their backroom team, labelled the personal abuse thrown at amateur sports people who commit 30+ hours per week for Clare hurling as “disgusting”, adding that our local media and broadcasters “should be ashamed of themselves”. And they should.

Mike Casey and Shane O’Donnell leap in the air. Photograph: Martin Connolly

What I personally find most unfair is the lack of integrity shown by those baying for blood. They could take a leaf out of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s book, perfectly illustrated by an article by Malachy Clerkin which recounted the “mid-winter frenzy” that followed Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland win.

“Shane O’Donnell’s life was everyone’s but his own…Everyone and his mother wanted a piece of O’Donnell at the time, to the point where he didn’t want to leave the house and couldn’t face the thought of having to deal with people. But the one voice that pierced the babel belonged to Donal Moloney. They huddled in the corner of a hotel in Cork away from the noise and talked about life and hurling and everything and nothing.

“The process of re-engaging with life as he knew it started there and then. ‘He’s more than just a hurling manager,’ O’Donnell told The Irish Times when he recounted the story. Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have had countless conversations like that with the Clare players over the past decade. Some of them, like Conor McGrath, Conor Ryan, Pat O’Connor, they’ve had under their wing since they were 13. They’ve watched them grow into men, decide on where their lives would go outside of hurling and find their way in the game all the while.”

It appears, here are two men who care about the fortunes of their players and truly understand the pressures of inter-county hurling. So why now, is it socially acceptable for supporters and commentators to publicly belittle them? Because of two heavy defeats?

Donal Moloney said this week, “Genuine fans will recognise it when players have been through a tough time, they’ll respond by providing them with good support.”

If Clare fall short this weekend, fine, but let the management team fall with the grace and respect they deserve. But until then, don’t cut them down. They have a battle on their hands at Cusack Park and I believe they utterly deserve that chance to show what fight is left.

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