*Donal Tuohy. Photograph: Martin Connolly
In the ten years that he has been on the Clare senior hurling panel, Donal Tuohy has noted a change in his contribution to the squad and how the importance of puckouts has escalated, this Sunday he is hoping glory away days in Waterford will be repeated as the Munster championship commences.
29th July 2009 may not ring a bell but the date is quite significant in the Clare hurling story. Lest you forget, it was when Clare won the U21 Munster hurling final for the first time defeating Waterford 2-17 2-12 at Fraher Field, Dungarvan. The summer wouldn’t end there for John Minouge’s side and they went on to capture the All-Ireland title at the expense of Kilkenny.
Tuohy, John Conlon and Patrick O’Connor are the last three standing from that July Dungarvan day. This success brought a much needed glimmer of hope back to the game within the county and would provide inspiration for a younger brigade containing Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, David McInerney, Colm Galvin and Aaron Cunningham coming up behind them.
Although he is in agreement regarding the magnitude of their U21 success over Waterford, Donal is not concerned about Sunday’s location. “I don’t think the venue is going to have a huge bearing from our point of view, we just have to focus on our performance and be consistent. Playing an away game is a different aspect in terms of the crowd but we need to focus on making sure we’re right”.
Mike McNamara was the manager responsible for bringing the Crusheen netminder into the senior squad, he joined at the same time as clubmate Cian Dillon whose inter-county retirement in January would put an end to many shared journeys between the duo. Gerry O’Grady and Paddy Vaughan were the club’s representatives on the county panel prior to their addition and were later joined for a spell by Cathal Dillon. Ross Hayes is now part of the extended panel and his addition ties in with the changing of a guard that has led to more responsibility being pushed in Donal’s direction.
“When you join initially you’re coming in as a young player trying to learn your trade in there and trying to make a mark straight away but there’s a lot of established players there. A group of us came in at the same time, a lot of us were given our chance in 2010. The age profile has changed now, it’s changed so much that the younger players are taking up leadership roles anyway so it’s not too much of a factor if you’re at a certain age, the leadership is spread throughout the panel”.
Conor McGrath, Conor Cleary, Jamie Shanahan, Ian Galvin and Darragh Corry are all unavailable for Sunday’s tie but according to the 29 year old the news confirming their absence did not dampen the mood within the Banner setup. “We’ve had a large panel from the start of the year and the majority of guys are still training and are still fit so we’re happy with that. A lot of guys were given game time in the Munster League and played very well, guys were then given a chance in the National League, in the recent Clare Cup matches and training matches guys have shown good form. We are happy that we’ve built a strong panel from the start of the year and it has given guys experience”.
Cleary’s suspension means Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor will have to start a different centre back for the first time in a competitive match this year which Tuohy insisted is not an issue. “The way the game has gone guys are flexible enough to play in a lot of positions in the back line, guys have experience playing in different positions throughout the Munster and National League, lads were tried there last year too. It’s just the way the game has gone, you’re not stuck into one actual position, the way positioning and forward movement is now, you have to be comfortable regardless of position, so I don’t think that’s an issue for us going forward, it’s not really about individuals, we obviously have a core of players in key positions but I think at the same time guys are very comfortable playing in most positions”.
Donal himself started five of Clare’s six league games this year, 2018 saw him given the number one jersey in all six outings while the year previous a rotation policy existed with two games each for him, Patrick Kelly and Andrew Fahey. The figures underline that the NUIG graduate is Moloney and O’Connor’s preferred choice between the posts.
His appearances have fluctuated over the years with various managements but over time, the Dell employee has observed how greater emphasis has been placed on the value of puckouts. “Initially when I joined the panel, your key components were shot stopping, being as solid as you could in general play and then puckouts was something you took into account after that. Now the way it’s gone, it’s very similar to football where possession is everything and the whole aspect of puckouts has taken a new dimension in the last three to four years. It’s probably the number one aspect now as well as all the other components of goalkeeping, it has been taken to a new level altogether”.
After securing a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals last year, Donal revealed there was huge pressure on Clare to qualify for the last four. Speaking to The Clare Echo, he outlined they can still feel the expectation to deliver this year.
“I think there is pressure regardless of any match that’s coming through, I think that was a different scenario because we had already progressed through Munster so that pressure was off us to a certain extent, we had lost a couple of All-Ireland quarter-finals so that’s why we needed to make progress from that point of view. Every match now is more or less like a Munster Final now, we need to be performing at our absolute capability. We can’t afford to look long term with our matches that we have now, all of our focus 100 percent is on May 12th, after that is irrelevant to me because we can’t afford to be looking past that now. First and foremost for us is giving our absolute maximum performance against Waterford”.