IN any hurling team, regardless of grade, the half-back line is the foundation – a truism.
This is Ger O’Loughlin’s first year at the helm in Clare and he took over a team in turmoil, one that had failed to win a single competitive game in 2009 until their last, a relegation playoff that subsequently proved meaningless when relegation was put on hold for three years. In that same season, however, Clare won its first All-Ireland U21 title, and on that team Ger began his rebuilding process. A few weeks ago, in every line of the Clare side that put up a great fight before losing to a late flurry of points against hot favourites Waterford in the Munster semi-final, there was a member of that U21 team – bar one: the half-back line.
Since making his debut in the Munster semi-final against Tipperary in 2005, Diarmuid McMahon has been an ever-present on the Clare team. He was centre-forward then but now, like his famous first-cousin, he mans the central pivot. Alongside McMahon, two 25-yr-olds, Brendan Bugler and Patrick Donnellan from the Whitegate and O’Callaghan’s Mills clubs respectively.
Hardly an aged line, by any means, but the oldest and the most experienced. “Well, that’s not too difficult,” says Donnellan. “There aren’t too many experienced players around, young lads everywhere else.
“Diarmuid is a very good hurler, very versatile, could play anywhere. He’s skilful, he’s big, he’s strong, a good athlete but a good wristy hurler also, and well able to read games. Bugs (Bugler) is the same age as myself and we came up through the ranks together; it helps too that we play on the same line, so we have that bit of understanding – the communication is always good. He’s another fine hurler, playing well; very physical, good under the high ball. There’s a good old friendship there as well between the three of us.”
Donnellan knows Clare must not have a repeat of the last 10 minutes against Waterford, when their scores dried up and the Déise picked off the four points that separated the teams.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few years now – Cork a couple of years ago, Tipp maybe the last two years,” admits Donnellan.
“We’re trying to become a bit more consistent but that seems to be something that’s cropping up again and again, not finishing out games strongly. Maybe it was to do with lack of experience, a changing team, but we have to learn to follow through.
“We’re marking those fellas in training and they’re flying all around the place, full of running, full of ideas, not afraid to try things, and that’s great; when you have that kind of freshness coming into a panel it gives it a new impetus.
“I know they’re only young, but we’re going to need that from them again, and maybe more; it’s up to them to keep on maturing, put the scores on the board for us.”
The latest challenge now for this new Clare team, Dublin in Croke Park this Saturday evening. “It would have been nice to have got a home draw, but it’s good to be going to Croke Park anyway, we’re all looking forward to that. Nice that it will be a big day with the Dublin footballers playing as well (against Tipperary in the qualifiers), there should be a big crowd, good atmosphere.”
They’re going to be out-shouted in the stand, but they’re also coming up against a Dublin team smarting from their beating at the hands of Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final.
“They’re a solid team, a team you have to keep a watch on the whole time; if your man gets away from you at all you’re in trouble, they can do damage. Our defence is going to have to be really on our toes, try to keep them on as tight a rein as possible. We’re a fit team, plenty legs, we’ll try to impose our own game on them – we’re hoping we’re ready.”
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