Honan hopes to end memorable year on a high

HE’S HARD to miss. Darach Honan folds his 6’6” frame into a chair in a UCC canteen and looks ahead to tomorrow’s Clare county hurling final.

It’s been a long year but there’s plenty of enthusiasm for the clash of his Clonlara side with near neighbours Cratloe.

“Ah, we’re looking forward to it,” says Honan, “It’s a great day for Clonlara, and I’d know all the Cratloe lads as well, we’d be friendly enough. Both teams are very young, so it should be a good final. I suppose we wouldn’t be as well known as a few of the other clubs in Clare who’ve won Munster club championships and so on over the last few years, but we’re on the way. We’ve both been doing well in the last couple of years.”

Honan’s father Colm starred on the Banner sides which won NHL titles in the 70s, and if Honan Jr wasn’t around to cheer that fine Clare team, he was a keen supporter of the side which made the breakthrough in the 90s. Even if that led to some acrimony in the Honan household...

“I remember 1995, when I was five, giving out to my father because he wouldn’t bring me to the All-Ireland final,” says Honan with a laugh. “But two years after that he brought me. He was training the minors, and they won, so I was close to the action.”

This season Honan was even closer to the action as a key member of Clare’s U21 All-Ireland-winning side.

“It was a badly-needed win,” says Honan. “We hadn’t won any silverware for a while and the seniors didn’t go well last season. The public got behind us and after we’d won the final it was unbelievable, the welcome home they gave us.”

That was hardly surprising after Clare’s controversial exit in the previous year’s Munster championship decider, when an umpire called the referee’s attention to a puck-out which was taken outside the small parallelogram. The resultant 65 gave Tipperary the title.

“I wouldn’t have said there was pressure to win because of the way last year ended. But there was certainly a bigger will to achieve. We had lads in America who’d been away were back, and we were determined to do better.”

They did, with Honan’s two goals against Waterford helping them to a provincial title. That set up one of the games of the year against Galway in the semi-final.

“You’d be aware it was a good game as it was going on, some of the scores from both teams were outstanding.

“The tempo of the game was what stood out for me, if you scored they were gone back down the field for their own score. It was definitely one of the best games I ever played in. In fairness to the management, they brought us back down to earth after that, and we had to go back to our own clubs after that game. The fact that we were playing Kilkenny kept us on the ground, too. We weren’t afraid of them — we’d played them in a challenge at the start of the year and drew so we knew we were up there. Waterford and Galway were both very good teams as well.”

Although winning the Munster title was the big aim after the disappointment of 2008, Honan namechecks Cormac O’Donovan’s winning point in the All-Ireland final as a season highlight. He’s keen to see the U21 championship retained, despite the odd noise about its removal; why not, when he has another two seasons at the grade.

“One of the main reasons I thought the U21 games were so memorable was that they were knock-out. There’s talk of a champions league format but I wouldn’t agree with that at all — knock-out is far better. When all is said and done it’s only four games to win an All-Ireland, that’s not too bad.”

But first things first: the clash with those near neighbours. “We had six players on the Clare U21 panel, and one player who was on last year’s panel. Cratloe had three, so that gives you an idea of the strength of both clubs. You’d be thinking these are two clubs coming through strongly in Clare for the next few years, we’re just hoping we can do the business.”

* Tomorrow: Clare SHC final: Clonlara v Cratloe, Ennis, 3pm.

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