*Cronan Dillon. 

ADVANCING TO THE knockout stages of the Clare SHC on scoring difference was treated as a second bite of the cherry for Crusheen who are now sixty minutes away from lifting the Canon Hamilton for the third time in their history.

Cronan Dillon was full-back on the teams of 2010 and 2011 when Crusheen last won the senior championship, he’s now in the role of selector.

Pitted in a competitive group with Clonlara, Sixmilebridge and O’Callaghans Mills, it took scoring difference to decide who would join top of the table Clonlara in advancing to the quarter-finals, via a new ruling it was the scoring difference of the teams tied on points so each team’s game with Clonlara was not in the equation thus allowing Crusheen and not Sixmilebridge to qualify.

Largely thanks to how tuned in Crusheen Vice Chairman Kieran O’Donnell was with the rulings, the club were quick on the case following their third round loss to Clonlara to remind County Board officials that it was them that would progress.

Reflecting on this, Cronan recounted, “It is well documented what happened at the time, this new rule got us through, players one minute thought they were out of the championship and the next minute they were in. A players meeting was had the next day, we had our own chat with them after the Clonlara match, told them there was a second bite of the cherry and that we were not a bad team, we know what we have to work on and put a plan in action for a month to get as ripe as we could for the match against Newmarket. A lot of it is when you’re hurlers and at a young age, they were obviously young but they needed the experience of Cusack Park, I remember telling them afterwards that they had it under their belt and that there are certain things you have to do when you are in in transition as a player and that is one of them, now just go out and hurl, I won’t say it was as simple as that but it is a lot of the part”.

Contesting the county final is not a place Crusheen expected to be in. He said, “it’s been well documented now that we didn’t think we’d be getting there at the start of the year, the focus was game by game and it stayed that way until we got to a quarter-final, lads started to pick up a bit of confidence and we snuck into a semi-final and we’re in a final now so we’ll see how that goes”.

Encouraged by Michael Browne to form part of a management team, Cronan explained why he decided to get on board. “When we met earlier on in the year in the Community Centre, the management team with the players, most of us put up our hand and said jokingly enough that it was the last thing on our minds. Michael Browne came up with the idea that if we couldn’t get a manager solely that we’d try put a management team in place to share the workload, it was something that appealed to all of us because everyone is busy and is doing their own thing so when it came to sharing the workload we said we’d do it because of the interest we have in the club and the love of the game, all that came into the final decision I made anyway”.

Aged forty six, Cronan was an active member of the club’s Junior A side last season but has found the commitments in the senior management make it more difficult to stay playing. “With everything that came on stream from being involved with the senior team there is an awful lot of time that goes into it, a young family at home and then I was involved with U8 camogie which is another night in the week so it takes up three to four nights overall”.

Along with the U8 camogie role, Dillon has been involved with teams in the club at U16, minor and U21 in both hurling and ladies football. He was a selector during James Carrig’s three year stint as Crusheen senior manager.

There is no doubt according to Cronan that the time management put in is much greater than he did when lining out as a player for the club. “It is totally different, when you’re playing you go out and focus on winning your game, what management are trying to tell you, how you react on the field when things happen and how you read situations in front of you. When you’re involved in management it is about studying those players that are playing, the opposition you are coming up against and trying to find weaknesses, trying to solidify ideas you have with your own players and have a consistency of ideas that over a period of time the players will realise you’re trying to do something that is consistent and there is confusion in what you are trying to do. There is a lot more on the thought process, you are able to think away from the game whereas when you’re out there you have to think while it is happening”.

Similarly, there are differences to being a colleague of Browne’s as opposed to one of his players. “Michael has the same principles, obviously when you’re a player under Michael there might be a fear of there in that if you’re asked to do something you know you have to do it, then again he is a gentleman to the players, he had a great way of getting across to players and talking to players, he wants to look out for players, he has been there and done it. Working with him in management, it is just the detail and the planning, covering every aspect, he can delegate to make sure we’re all doing our fair share but we enjoy it. Like every other management team in the county we’re trying to do the best we can for the team we’re involved with”.

Over the past decade, he also did a spell as a referee and is not opposed to taking up the whistle in the future. “I enjoyed it for the length of time I was in it, it suited me for a while but you’d be doing a nice bit of travelling around the county, then you’d be coming home, with young kids at home my oldest is six and then I’ve two more underneath so it was taking its toll and I was still playing with the club, one thing about me whether it is junior level or whatever I’d still like to make training when I’m involved, I was starting to get an injury here or there so I started to pull back from it a small bit”.

Working as a team leader with Topform in Gort, he admitted that he can’t take the praise for getting ex Galway hurler Aidan Harte in as coach. “He is very positive, he is a role model straight away for the lads in that he is 35 but not much older than the lads, some of them are older than him on the team, some of them are younger but there isn’t much of a gap. Like any plan you make, there’s aims and objectives, he follows that stuff through, he is consistent, when he has a plan it is try get it to come off, there is not a lot I can say negative about Aidan to be honest”.

Renewing rivlaries with Clonlara is a chance for Crusheen to make amends for their 0-22 1-10 loss in August. “To us it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we know we are playing Clonlara, it’s just making it a small bit spicy for people around the county but it is irrelevant for us that we are meeting Clonlara again, after that it is a battle between two teams and whoever comes out in front on the day”.

Since then, Crusheen have dispatched of the challenges of Newmarket-on-Fergus and Scariff comprehensively. “We aim to start well and we were lucky to start well, you need a bit of luck in games, we got a few goals, they say goals win games and when they get you off to a good start then it is easy for players especially the ones to drive on so it does help”.

On what specific areas they need to improve on from their meeting two years ago, Cronan stated, “Without giving away State secrets it is hard to know where to start because we didn’t get out of the gates at all on the same day. We have to get a good start and hopefully the players because of the confidence that has come about from the last two games and the way they have performed, if they can start well, continue that way and get us to half time to regroup and see how we go after that”.

Such strong starts as they have produced in their last two outings are consequences of “a variety of things. It can be the fact that the players have settled in before a game that they are not as nervous, the way the warm-up is done has to suit everyone on the team, some players are happy once they got a touch of a ball before a game and another players wants to get in a physical challenge before the game. After that, it is up to the players, you have to go out at it from the start, you can’t stand up so we would have to credit them for that, they didn’t get the scores they got from standing up admiring the opposition”.

Although their route to the final may be more complicated than his previous experience of the decider in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014, the fact is regardless that just like those occasions, only sixty minutes stand between them and the title of becoming county champions. “If you watch The Sunday Game, I know it is inter-county and people will say it is a higher level but there’s an awful lot of detail and analysis going into a game but really and truly there’s two teams in a final and no one else in the county final, both teams have a chance of winning it, there will be an element of luck in it, things will happen that you don’t expect, there will be players that you expect to play well that might not and the opposite way around, these are things I’ve experienced over the years as a player. When it comes down to it, it is the team that doesn’t let the occasion get to them and uses a bit of experience to make vital decisions at vital times, small bits of cuteness here and there, they will be the ones to get over the line and obviously hunger is a massive thing, you need a level of ability but if you don’t have a unit that is hungry I’m talking about a panel and not fifteen and all planning towards the same end, you will find weaknesses that would be my experience of it anyway”.

Maturity among the players is a big asset in their preparations, he noted. “You have to have a level of maturity among the players, we have that, we’ve a nice spread of ages from lads under twenty to the far side of twenty five, to the early thirties to the likes of Gerry and them lads. They have the knowledge, they will pass it on, they are a huge help, they may say a few words at a training session which can be as helpful as what a manager can say, all you can do is give them advice, you can’t spend twenty four hours a day watching them to make sure they are avoiding this comment or that comment but you can give them advice. The lads from the start of the year we talked about standards and not to be coming back giving out about this or that at the end of the year, they’ve been like sponges when it comes to soaking up knowledge and information about the game and preparation around it like trying to stay injury free. I don’t think they’re naïve enough to go against our advice at this stage but definitely the older lads are great to be handing down their own experience”.

Those experienced heads have helped to set the example in their knockout outings in terms of their application, work-rate and desire. “It’s like anything, there is talk and there is action, those players have done it and all they can do after that is pass on the knowledge by talking and advising, it is up to the players beneath them to take up the mantle and do the same, every player is different, you have players with different level of skill ability that might not get stuck in and players that will get stuck in that might not have that level of ability, it is done on the way you manage your team and how you play against opposition”.

Replicating the adrenaline experienced by a player is hard to match but Cronan admitted the excitement levels he has for games remains very high. “It’s funny, I was saying to Gearoid O’Donnell that I left work one Thursday evening before the Scariff game and I was talking to one of the lads at work telling them we were in a county semi-final and telling him I was more excited than I ever was as a player, the excitement is still there and it is great to see the parish still involved from a place we didn’t think we were going to in a county final. The excitement of winning a quarter-final and seeing the team in front of you trying to improve, with players there is a certain age and a ceiling, you’d be hoping they haven’t reached the ceiling yet”.

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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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