Brendan Bugler has described Clare’s Munster hurling championship record as ‘cat’ and insisted it’s ‘shit or burst’ time as they begin their latest campaign.
The 2013 All-Ireland champions face Limerick on Sunday and are desperate to begin their summer with a win for the first time in four years.
Clare’s last three games in the provincial championship have been defeats to Waterford (2016), Limerick (2015) and Cork (2014) while their last final appearance was in 2008.
It is almost 20 years since they actually won the title outright, in 1998, and experienced half-back Bugler said it is an itch they are determined to scratch this year.
Asked if the poor Munster record is hanging over Clare, Bugler nodded.
“It is, being hones, it’s been cat, like,” he said. “One Munster final, and that back in 2008, and our record since then has been cat. It’s not like we have gone into the first-round or the Munster semi-finals not hoping to turn up.
“It just hasn’t happened for whatever reason but we all love the Munster championship in Clare.
“From watching the teams while growing up, the big crowds at the games, it’s a medal that we really want to get. There are no excuses any more. We had an excuse in 2014 because of the (All-Ireland) hangover from 2013.
“Then we were decimated by injuries in 2015 and last year it was nearly too close to the league final but there are no excuses at all now. It’s shit or burst at this stage.”
The sense of underachievement extends to Clare’s general championship record since that All-Ireland breakthrough under Davy Fitzgerald four years ago.
It seemed, at the time, a matter of when and not if Clare would repeat the feat with such a talented young team but they’ve played 10 championship games since and lost six.
The only All-Ireland contender they’ve beaten in that period was, ironically, Limerick in 2016.
Bugler acknowledged they haven’t been good enough and are wary of being labelled a flash in the pan.
“You don’t want to be seen as a team who are one-hit wonders or anything like that,” he said. “You want to back it up. None of us, apart from Patrick Donnellan, have ever played in a Munster final as well. He’s the only lad on the panel who has played in that, in 2008, and that is a motivation in itself.
“Munster final day is a massive day on the GAA calendar and none of us have had the opportunity to run out onto the field. I think that would put the hair standing on the back of your neck if you got that opportunity.”
It could be suggested that, subconsciously, some Clare players felt they’d reached their career peak in 2013 and stuggled to replicate the intensity and determination.
Bugler says that’s well off, for him personally, and revealed a conversation he had with 1990s legend and St Flannan’s teaching colleague Jamesie O’Connor.
“The fact that you’ve been there and that we’ve had the success we had in 2013 means you want it all the more,” said Bugler. “Personally, when you’re kind of coming towards the end, you want to experience that just once more.
“I remember even talking to Jamesie in the staff room and saying, ‘Jaysus, it’s that one more’ and he said, ‘sure that’s what we were all after, that one more big win’. That’s motivation enough.”
Clare narrowly avoided relegation from Division 1A of the Allianz League, beating Dublin in a play-off to stay up. Everything has been geared towards the championship though and Bugler promised their gameplan under new joint managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor will be notably different to last season, when Fitzgerald was in charge.
“I think towards the latter stages of last year we might have become a small bit predictable in that, okay, we’d been winning in the league and we won a couple of games in the qualifiers by a playing a (sweeper) system but I think teams just copped onto it a little bit. This year, we’re less regimental I suppose.
“I definitely think Donal and Gerry have brought their own stamp to the thing.
“You’ll see it on Sunday, I think there’ll be a different dynamic to us this year.”
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