*Clare’s Keelan Sexton. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

ON MULTIPLE SPORTING FRONTS, Keelan Sexton has achieved a lot but Sunday will be his first time lining out in the Clare colours in a Munster final.

In the boxing ring, Sexton won five national titles, three while fighting out of West Clare Boxing Club and two out of Ennis Boxing Club. This led to him making national teams and compete in international tournaments, he represented Ireland in the Schoolboy Championships winning a bronze medal there and gold at the North European Championships at senior level. His grandfather, Martin Burke boxed in London for a period in the 1960s and 1970s.

A talented soccer player, Keelan shone with Moneypoint AFC, represented his county in the Kennedy Cup and looked like he could be featuring in the League of Ireland when Bohemians expressed an interest.

County colours were also donned by Sexton for Clare at underage hurling level while he claimed an U15 championship medal with Inagh/Kilnamona.

Gaelic football is his greatest passion, he joined the county senior football panel in 2015 when he was still representing the Clare minors, indeed he was their captain that year. At club level with Kilmurry Ibrickane, he was three senior championships to his name.

At just twenty five years old, he has achieved quite a lot but taking down the Kingdom to claim a Munster senior football title would likely top it all.

Speaking following Clare’s first win over Cork in twenty six years, retired county footballer David Tubridy stated that Keelan would be key to Clare’s championship aspirations. The Doonbeg man has been proved correct to date as Sexton kicked what proved to be the winning goal in their semi-final clash with Limerick while his lightning form was also crucial to the memorable victory against the Rebels.

Despite all his success, Sunday will be his first time playing a Munster final for Clare. “It’s my first final in a Clare senior jersey and actually it’s my first one in any Clare jersey when I think about it. It’s a good buzz and we are where we want to be, we set ourselves a goal a few weeks ago to be in this position, it’s nice to have gone out and do the two jobs we needed to do, we’re here now and we’re just delighted,” Keelan told The Clare Echo.

How Clare have bounced back with a punch from the disappointment of their six season stay in Division 2 of the Allianz National Football League ending, has been impressive. “We really reset our values, we took some time out to think about the league, review it, it’s in the rear view mirror now, we’re obviously disappointed with the end result but there was some good performances in there and you can take positives from everything just like the last two games. If you were focused on every outcome of the journey, you’d collapse after losing one game, that’s the nature of the way football has gone with the new format, you’ve to lick your wounds and get going again”.

Facing Kerry will show Clare where they really are, the Mullagh native affirmed. “They are the All-Ireland champions and this is where we want to be, there is no Clare player here who was doing the hard slog in winter that wanted to be playing in the Tailteann Cup with respect to it, this is where we wanted to be, we’ve Kerry in the Munster final, they are All-Ireland champions and have won Munster numerous times but it is where we want to be and it will be a measure of where we’re at”.

He continued, “How many All Stars are inside in their full-back line, that is what you want to be marking and playing against to see if you are as good as you think you are, I’m looking forward to the challenge and I think everyone in our dressing room is as well”.

Sexton was among the 30,000 in the Gaelic Grounds for Clare’s win over Limerick in the Munster hurling championship and was seen congratulating his small ball counterparts at the final whistle. He is of the view that Clare can compete as a dual-county. “Look at the U20s game the other night, they probably should have won it in normal time and they will be disappointed, then Kerry went out and did a demolition job against Cork, the standard of Clare football is getting better and that is testament to the work going on at underage and ground level, all the clubs around the county embracing it and putting that bit of effort into it which is massive. Why can’t Clare be a dual-county? It was great to see the hurlers win on Saturday, wouldn’t it be great to get another big win in the Gaelic Grounds and have a buzz around the place, all credit is due to the structures in place at Clare GAA, the quality of player coming in is phenomenal”.

That Clare’s U20s brought Kerry to extra time shows “the gap is closing at underage level where there was normally a larger gap, it’s the reality of what it was, Kerry are very dominant at underage but if we can get four or five lads from that team in with us and another four or five next year you will keep getting the quality upwards, that is what it’s all about, it is a growth mindset. A good U20 footballer doesn’t always make a good senior which is something that is well known but it is great to see lads competing at that level and dominating”.

Keelan flagged how his teammates such as Daniel Walsh, Emmet McMahon, Ikem Ugwueru, Aaron Griffin and Brian McNamara showed with UL in the Sigerson Cup how Clare footballers are just as good as their counterparts in Kerry. He felt that in past meetings with the Kingdom, Clare are possibly guilty of showing too much respect.

“I think maybe there was a bit too much respect in that sense, the thing about Kerry is if you sit off them, they are going to put on a show, that is just the nature of the beast, they have some quality footballers and great players all over the pitch and on the bench, it’s more respect than anything but you can’t have that in your head going in there, from our point of view we’ve played them a lot, we’ve given them a lot of good runs and ran them close numerous times at home, lads are playing with these lads up along, I’ve played with a couple of them in college, the lads this year played with them in UL and the Clare lads are standing out on those teams just as much as the Kerry lads. The main thing about Kerry is they do the simple things brilliantly, to compete with them you have to be as good as them, to beat them you have to be better them on the day”.

Football finals with Kilmurry Ibrickane are almost annual occasions for Keelan but with Clare this will be, it shouldn’t faze them he maintained. “This group is well sheltered, there’s a lot of lads with level heads here, there’s a lot of guys who come from very successful clubs and lads that are used to going well in Division 2 football playing big games where you’re playing big games, I think the Derry game last year we under-performed and we’re disappointed with that but the buzz and nature of it, I think lads are used to that now, at the end of the day this is a game and there’s more big games coming down the line, whatever seed you are you will be playing quality games so I think lads are well settled”.

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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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