SOMEWHERE in their clan history, Michael and Conor Gleeson have a common ancestor, are still brothers in blood; this Sunday, however, in the Tipperary senior hurling final, they will be on opposite sides, generals in opposing camps.
Michael is manager of hot favourites and reigning champions, Thurles Sarsfields; Conor, Boherlahan native and former Tipperary captain, is coach and selector with underdogs Clonoulty-Rossmore. Contrasting challenges facing both men, but interestingly, both will end up doing the same thing; for Michael, in his third season as manager, there’s the job of ensuring that there is no complacency among his charges, so the dangers posed by Clonoulty will have to be pointed out, talked up; for Conor, well, you can’t have your men being intimidated before the battle, can you, so what do you do? You point to your own strengths, of course.
First, Michael: “Two years ago we played Clonoulty in a county semi-final and we could have lost, but salvaged a draw; in the replay it went to a draw again, then extra-time – that’s how close it was. Many of our lads would know their lads very well from playing against them a lot at underage, but they played WITH some of them as well, with Thurles CBS. They know the talent on this Clonoulty team, so keeping them grounded isn’t going to be any problem at all.”
Then, Conor: “How to beat them (Sars) – that’s a six-marker, isn’t it? When I went to Clonoulty a couple of years ago we thought it was going to take a few years to make the breakthrough – the average age of the team is only about 23. Now we find ourselves in a county final, only the fifth ever appearance in one by the club. It’s a fantastic occasion for the whole parish, hurling is a second religion out there. We’re up against it, we know that, Sars and Toome have been the best two teams in Tipperary for a long time, and the success of Tipperary this year, the number of players Sars had involved (defenders Mickey Cahill and Padraic Maher, Pa Bourke and hurler-of-the-year Lar Corbett), highlights that even more, but we have our own ideas on how to combat those great players.”
Clonoulty, you see, have some fine players of their own, not least another Tipp panellist Timmy Hammersley, along with the mercurial John O’Neill, scorer of five superb points in the semi-final win over Kildangan. “He’s a young player, unlucky maybe not to have been part of the Tipp senior setup, never mind being on the Tipperary U-21 panel this year. Then you have John O’Keeffe in midfield, another Tipp U-21 player — he got some great scores in their campaign during the year, another player that has shown over the last few games for us that he deserves a look with Tipperary. Whatever new manager comes in there, they will have to have a look at some new players, and Clonoulty have several. There’s a fantastic underage setup in the club, I think they’ve contested every underage divisional final in the west this year.”
Two teams, one the odds-on favourite, the other a huge underdog (Clonoulty can be had at massive odds of 4/1), but each, says the manager of one, the coach of the other, actually with a real chance. However, there can be only one winner, so, which branch of the Gleeson clan will be celebrating come Sunday evening?
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