Despite the team’s average age standing at a sprightly 24, Clonmel Commercials manager Charlie McKeever reckons this campaign could well represent their last opportunity to add a second Munster Club football crown to the provincial title they snatched four years ago.
The Tipperary champions head for Willie Clancy country and a difficult semi-final against a Miltown-Malbay side bidding to reach the decider for the second year in succession.
Munster football final appearances of any kind are rarely secured without first having to overcome either a Cork or Kerry outfit, but with Nemo Rangers and Austin Stacks out of sight for the moment, both Miltown-Malbay and their guests this weekend will be determined to take advantage of a somewhat favourable draw to secure a return to the decider.
In the case of Commercials, they are appearing in their first Munster semi-final since that remarkable and historic journey in the winter of 2015. Who could ever forget — least of all, Nemo — Michael Quinlivan’s Munster final game-winning goal two minutes into second-half stoppages, a strike which saw Clonmel become the first Tipperary side to annex the Munster senior club football title.
Commercials returned to provincial waters in 2017, but were shown the exit door by Dr Crokes. Sunday, so, marks the beginning of their third Munster campaign in five years. This group, according to McKeever, won’t get many more opportunities to reach a provincial decider.
“A Munster final is a place we thought we would have been back to before now,” admitted the Clonmel manager. “In the four years since the final win of 2015, we’ve lost two county semis by a point. Moyle Rovers beat us last year with a goal from the last kick of the game. Two years before that, we lost to an exceptionally good Loughmore-Castleiney team. The boys are aware of how important this opportunity is. A club the size of Commercials, with what happened before with this group, would need to get there (a provincial final), really. This is maybe their last opportunity to get there because teams do fall apart later on in years. I hope they’ll keep their focus on Sunday and we’ll see what happens after that.”
“I won’t say we overachieved in 2015, but we were probably a little bit naive when we won it because we hadn’t been in Munster for a period of time and the group was very young. The average age was around 20. The average age is now 24. We are not as naive on this journey or as wide-eyed about it. We know what the journey is and what is at the end of it. We have to try and get there.”
Their passage to the Munster final four years ago was secured when thumping Miltown-Malbay 1-13 to 0-3 in the penultimate round, a result McKeever cites as irrelevant ahead of Sunday’s meeting. Certainly, the Clonmel team doesn’t bear identical resemblance to the class of 2015.
Goalkeeper Michael O’Reilly, who saw game-time for the Tipp seniors this spring, didn’t feature four years ago; there’s an all-new full-back line in Danny Madigan, Liam Ryan, and Cathal McGeever; Padraic Looram has gone from impact sub to regular starter; Jack Kennedy is now joined in the team by his brothers, Conal and Colman, while 18-year old Sean O’Connor, a new addition at corner-forward, is the youngest member of the team.
“Four years ago was a trip into the unknown for both teams. Bear in mind that in the previous round we had played Newcastle West and were dead with three or four minutes to go, down by three points. Miltown-Malbay didn’t turn up that day to Clonmel. But I’ve seen Miltown-Malbay over the last few years. Donie Buckley has his fingerprints all over them, having been there for a period of time. David Geaney is the current trainer with them. He’s a friend of mine and an exceptionally good coach. They are in a good place. They’ve been down this road before. We are both eyeing a Munster final spot. We would both feel we are ready for that.”