Having won this year’s All-Ireland senior and U21 hurling double, and with Sixmilebridge in Sunday’s Munster Club final, Clare hurling is on the crest of a wave.
On the sidelines too, however, Clare is proving hugely influential.
All three teams above are managed by one of their own (two in the case of the U21s, Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney joint managers, Davy Fitzgerald in charge of the seniors, John O’Meara over Sixmilebridge), but Clare’s influence goes beyond that.
At inter-county level this year, Anthony Daly managed Dublin to its first Leinster title since 1960 while Ollie Baker was over the Offaly side that scored four goals against Kilkenny in the Leinster championship, exposing the first cracks in the then-reigning league and All-Ireland champions.
At club level, having once guided the fortunes of Tipperary champions Toomevara in 1993 when they beat his own club, Sixmilebridge, in the final, Seán Stack will on Sunday be in charge of Limerick kingpins Na Piarsaigh, again facing his old club.
In fact when looking at the Clare influence at club level, Limerick is the perfect place to start. Eight times in the last nine years the eventual Limerick county champions have had a Clare manager, groundbreaking seasons at that. Adare won its first three-in-a-row (2007/08/09, Ger O’Loughlin); Garryspillane won its first senior title (2005, Tony Considine); Considine then went on to coach the team Garryspillane beat in that final, Kilmallock, guiding them to their first title since 1994 (2010) and repeating that feat in 2012; in 2011, Seán Stack led Na Piarsaigh to its first senior crown, then added to that with a Munster title a few months later.
So what is it about Clare, where did this all start? With the team of the 90s, from which emerged Fitzgerald, Daly, Baker and O’Loughlin? No, says Ger Loughnane, manager of that side — it goes back a generation before that again. “You often hear of a school that produced a whole pile of teachers because they were influenced by aparticular teacher — or a few teachers — they had in that school. This actually started in Clare back in the 70s, the team that won two National League titles. We saw the way Fr Harry (Bohan) prepared the team then, how players should be handled, how everything should be done in as professional a way as possible — and this was 40 years ago. He set the standard for us, we all learned from that.”
There are plenty of teams though where players get that example, where they see the right things being done. In Harry Bohan, however, in Loughnane himself afterwards, the Clare players got more than just example — they got inspiration.
“It instilled in us a desire to get involved in management, a feeling that you could contribute — off the top of my head, I can think of Seamus Durack, Seán Stack, Seán Hehir; Pat O’Connor spent a few years with clubs in Galway, Colm Honan has donemajor work at club level, so has Johnny Callanan, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a few. I’d say the same thing happened in the 90s. There’s a massive gang from that panel who have become involved in management. It’s not just at county level either, it’s maybe even more important to get involved at club level, whether inside or outside your own county. Though there was a 20-year gap between those two teams, we all brought the same approach in terms of organisation, preparation, a professional approach really. They’ve done absolutely massive work for hurling in general, not just in Clare. They have contributed to a new professionalism in every club and county they’ve been involved with.”
It’s not over yet either, he reckons. That same idealism is being instilled into this group of players by Davy Fitzgerald. “The greatest thrill I get is to see how that ethos carried on in such a very positive way, to see so many quality leaders emerging, taking over teams at both club and county level. Apart from the ex-players, you have fantastic people involved at club level. There was a time when Clare clubs looked outside Clare for their managers — no Clare club would dream of bringing in a manager from outside the county now, such is the pool of talent. I’m optimistic about this team, not just because of what they’re doing on the field but because of how they carry themselves off it.
“They’re exceptional, individually and collectively. You have a feeling that if things go right, if they stay focused, they might even surpass anything either of the other teams have achieved to date.”
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