Sunday’s Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick is the game Clare have “targeted all year”, says Banner co-manager Gerry O’Connor.
“The way I’d describe it, we’ve broken the season into three distinct phases. We’ve made no secret of that since the start of the year.
“Phase one was the Munster League, we were just basically getting on first-name terms with our panel. Phase two was the National League. Phase three [the championship] has been what we’ve targeted all year.
“Ultimately, we’ll be judged as a group and as a management team — as a team — on June 4.
“If that brings extra pressure, then so be it, that’s what we bought into. We have to give a performance first and foremost. That’s what we’ve been doing since the end of the league, focusing on scheduling our training, tailoring our training to ensure we give a top-class performance.”
It’s a debut senior season for O’Connor and his co-manager Donal Moloney. The pair have enjoyed plenty of U21 success with Clare. There are sharp differences between the grades, says O’Connor.
“The number of games, certainly. At U21, you might have four games of really competitive action in a good year; another year you might have five. That would be getting to the All-Ireland in that grade in September. We had something like 10 matches in a 12 to 13-week period with the seniors earlier this year, when you consider the Munster League and the National League. That was a huge change, just in terms of the logistics, and arranging all of that.
“The second difference is the physicality. There is just no comparison between U21 and senior. You’d feel that you have an U21 team reasonably well prepared, with a lot of gym and strength-and-conditioning work, but nothing will prepare you for the level of physicality we experienced in [Division] 1A.
“Those were the two biggest differences I’d have noticed.
“We’re only learning this game ourselves. We’ve had relative success at underage, but it’s a different ball game, transferring that to senior. You’re managing a team, a group of people, a management team, there’s a lot of administrative work going on that you wouldn’t appreciate until you got into the job.”
O’Connor gives a frank appraisal of Clare’s season to date.
“How we’d assess it: At times, we played really good hurling, probably for all the Kilkenny game, part of the Tipperary game, significant parts of the Waterford game — which we probably felt we were unlucky to lose — and then really poorly the first day, against Cork, and in parts of the Dublin game.
“In the relegation play-off against Dublin, that was probably the first time those guys had been in a real pressurised situation all year and, to be fair to them, they reacted really well in the second half. They came out and gave a really good performance, but ultimately what we’ve been trying to do in the four to six weeks since that game is try to iron out those inconsistencies,” he said, adding that victory would be a big prize for Clare and Limerick, alike.
“It’s huge for both teams and, once that draw was made, both Clare and Limerick would have targeted that game as a huge opportunity to progress to a Munster final and then to progress, at worst, to an All-Ireland quarter-final.
“That’s the way most people would logically look at it, but our focus over the last few weeks has been on looking at the issues we can control: Our training schedule, our nutrition, our strength-and-conditioning programme, and on preparing our guys.
“The [Clare] record is what it is. We wouldn’t be dwelling too much on the past, we’re focused on what’s going to happen in 2017, and on June 4, in particular.”
O’Connor dismisses the general perception that Clare are favourites to win Sunday’s game.
“What’s favouritism in a Clare-Limerick derby?
“Two things about Limerick: Unfortunately, Paul Kinnerk is with those guys, so he’ll be intimately aware of what Clare are doing, and of the style of play Donal [Moloney] and myself favour, and he’s a top-class coach in his own right, so Limerick are going to be excellently prepared.
“It’s a derby and form goes out the window. In any game I’ve been involved with against Limerick, at minor or U21, it didn’t matter who was favourite in anyone’s eyes, it came down to the team which was the best prepared and most focused on the day.”
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