Donal Moloney: Clare’s little fish can now swim with the best

A first Munster final appearance in nine years in search of a first title in 19, Clare’s provincial record is distinctly humble.

But then their size must be considered. Davy Fitzgerald spoke of the county being “little fish”.

When expectation rose, he attempted to curb it by citing their modest collection of four All-Ireland senior titles.

One of his successors Donal Moloney too knows that tradition is not something Clare can bank on. At the same time, as they shape up for Sunday’s clash with Cork he appreciates the iron is hot and it’s time to strike.

“It will be a tough championship to win but I think that from Clare’s perspective, our record through the 1990s probably led people to believe we would be up there at the top table but through the 2000s, we didn’t do well in Munster.

“We as a county probably tend to go in cycles. If you go back through our history, there is a certain pattern there. It’s been every 20 years or so. For a county which is a very strong hurling county, you have to remember our playing numbers are not huge.

“To win any championship, to be consistently at the top level, irrespective of preparations, you have to really have top quality players, players who can differentiate themselves and be the game-winners.

"And as a county we have not always had those. That has been a challenge for us. There are a lot of people around the county who are trying to fix that. There is huge work going on at underage structures but having said that, that x-factor talent, irrespective of structures, isn’t always there.”

Moloney, though, is unequivocal when asked if Clare now possess that type of player.

“Yes. Absolutely. They have had it since their under-age days, they showed it in 2013. People probably give out about their championship record over the last few years but history will show that Davy won the National League and the All-Ireland.

"There aren’t too many other counties in those three or four seasons that have won as many titles. Kilkenny, obviously. But that is a pretty decent record. We have game-winners who contributed to that.”

Moloney grew up watching Clare come up short against the great Cork team of the late 1970s. Those back-to-back defeats in 1977 and ’78 never soured him, though.

“That was a magical time because Clare really hadn’t done a lot for a period before that.

“The following in the county at the time was incredible and the hope going to the Munster final at the time, especially the second one, when everything looked to be right, and we got overturned. Unfortunately, they came up against a Cork team who were probably the best in the country at the time, they were going for three in a row.

“I remember struggling to see the game. There was no stand in Thurles at the time, other than the old stand. I was standing on my toes, trying to get hoisted onto people’s shoulders to try and see the actual match.”

Moloney points to the advantage of having Dónal Óg Cusack in the Clare corner this weekend, but it’s not just for Cusack’s knowledge of his native county.

“I worked with Dónal Óg for some time, first meeting him back in 2004. He has brought a huge amount to Clare. It was great foresight on Davy’s behalf to bring him in last year because he brings focus on skill development that I think is really important, a critical part of the game.

"He really values that because of the teams he was part of were renowned for their skill and their touch. He sees that as the difference between a team going up a level.

“We had heard that a lot of what Dónal Óg did last year was very well received in terms of the management and the players. We would have known that. We would have seen an improvement in the U21 players in terms of their skillset, so from that perspective, having someone like that, from having the experience of working with him last year, that was really, really important.

“He is the ultimate professional. He has a grá for this job now. He has a grá for the county. Dónal Óg is one of those guys who immerses himself, whether it was his work for the GPA, as a goalkeeper for Cork, or all the different projects he has been involved in, whether 11-a-side (Super 11s) in America or whatever.

"He is a guy of great resources and capability. He has immersed himself in our set-up. He is great fun to work with as well. He has a great dry wit, great humour which is very helpful at times.”


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