Sunday 4 December 2016

Christy O'Connor: 'Phenomenal' David McInerney following in the footsteps of his father

'Phenomenal' David McInerney is key cog in Clare machine

Christy O'Connor

Published 22/05/2015 | 02:30

Clare hurler David McInerney
Clare hurler David McInerney

A week after the 2013 All-Ireland final, one of the Clare players sent a tweet to David McInerney. He had heard a story about McInerney and the player wanted to confirm it. 'Any truth in the rumour u milked 100 cows on the morning of the (All-Ireland) semi-final # herding.'

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McInerney never replied to the tweet, which suggested there were some granules of truth in the story. There were, to a point. His father Jim had gone to Dublin on the Saturday so his son milked the herd that evening. He got up the following morning, went to Dublin and hurled up a storm.

McInerney has never been afraid of hard work. His father has often remarked that dosing cattle, wrestling with bullocks and heifers, was better than any amount of weight training in the gym.

"David is cut from the same stone as his father," says Philip Brennan, former Clare goalkeeper, and a Tulla clubmate of McInerney's. "A hard man. A tough operator. A super fella."

The colt has been true to the sire.

"The first day I saw David coming in for minor trials, it looked like Jim coming in the gate," says Donal Moloney, Clare's joint-manager for all the recent minor and U-21 successes. "David walked exactly like him."

Throughout his life, David has consistently traced the same footsteps as his father. Jim won gold medals for sprinting at the All-Ireland Community Games. Decades later, David managed the same feat.

After years of great service with Clare, Jim finally bagged his All-Ireland medal in 1995. David won his in 2013.

So many of the current Clare generation of players were inspired by the team of the '90s but McInerney's inspiration was in his blood.

"If ever I needed any advice on hurling or anything in general, it was always my father that I looked to," David once said. "There are other great players that played for Clare too that I looked up to, but my dad was the biggest influence."

A ball of raw power, McInerney has developed into the real deal. Although he won an All Star in 2013, he doesn't have the high profile as some of the other Clare players. Among the wider hurling public, he doesn't carry the same marquee status attached to Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath or Shane O'Donnell.

Yet the respect he has earned within the game is vast.

Fantastic

"Along with Tony Kelly," says Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy, "David McInerney is one of the best players in the game. An absolutely fantastic hurler. A superb player."

After Kelly and McGrath, McInerney is Clare's most talented and complete player. He has everything: skill, vision, athleticism, power, class.

His pace and athleticism, though, set him apart. He has such natural power that he doesn't need to lift as many weights as other players. When the Clare players did a fitness test two weeks ago, McInerney's levels were off the charts. Some of his scores were similar to Premier League players.

"Athletically, he is phenomenal," says Brian Lohan. "He has a turn of pace that just gets him out of so much trouble. It also means he can play in any defensive position. When you add in his hurling, first touch and intelligence, David is an awesome player."

That vast range to McInerney's game was clear in this year's Fitzgibbon Cup. Lohan was UL manager and he selected McInerney at centre-back. In the semi-final against LIT, he scored three inspirational long-range points.

In extra-time of the following day's final, when both sides were out on their feet, McInerney charged deep into WIT territory on a 60-metre solo run and set up Stephen Bennett for a goal UL desperately needed.

He only entered UL as a student this year. The squad was already stacked with decorated veterans of the inter-county game but Lohan made McInerney captain.

"David has an exceptionally strong mind," says Lohan. "He's a natural leader. He was the guy driving everything. He was the guy communicating with everybody on the panel. He was making suggestions, getting things done. On top of everything, he has this charisma that not everyone has. He is just a brilliant fella."

Within the Clare squad, he is not as vocal as other players but McInerney has always been regarded as a silent leader, a player who commands total respect when he speaks.

At a critical stage of the 2013 season, he made a powerful contribution that the older players often refer to as a decisive moment in that summer.

McInerney was still establishing himself on the team that year but the force of his will and character was starting to emerge.

"He has a great intelligence behind him," says Moloney. "In team environments, his insights and observations are huge. He really leads by example on the field. He is such an exciting guy to watch in action."

When Tulla won the county senior championship in 2007, McInerney was the water-boy for the team his father managed. Now, he is their spiritual leader. Brennan has played alongside him in the forwards and McInerney's value is reflected by his presence as much as his talent.

"He's brilliant to analyse a game as it develops," says Brennan. "If the team isn't playing the right way, or doing the right things with the ball, he will point it out straight away on the field.

"David has that Paul O'Connell-esque ability to influence a match, or to alter its direction through leadership. He has that strong mindset that separates the top players from everyone else."

He had the breeding behind him to make that impact but McInerney didn't stand out as a minor. On the Clare team that reached the 2010 All-Ireland minor final, he had minimal impact - he came off the bench in the final defeat to Kilkenny.

At that stage, McInerney was carving out a name for himself as a forward. He fired the first flare up in the sky in the 2010 senior club championship when scoring seven points against Whitegate from corner-forward.

He was still relatively small and light but he physically developed at a rapid rate over the following year.

In February 2012, the Clare U-21s played a second-string senior side in a challenge match and management decided to try McInerney out full-back. They needed a No 3 and they felt he might fit the profile. He gave an exhibition. McInerney had finally found his niche.

Accomplished

"As soon as we put him in there, you could see he was at home," says Moloney. "He immediately looked very accomplished in the position. He was quick off the mark, good feet, good in the air, a great striker, great vision, and an unflappable temperament.

"He also had great awareness. He's a very clever and capable guy."

He made his senior championship debut against Waterford in 2013. Maurice Shanahan had him in big bother early on but McInerney finally got to grips with him. Once he got traction, he took off. He ended that season as an All Star and U-21 Hurler of the Year.

Despite his success, McInerney is still the same person he always was: decent, personable, engaging, warm, friendly, extremely humble. Like so many of these young Clare players, he is confident, classy, highly skilled, highly ambitious but grounded and down to earth.

"He comes from great people," says Lohan. "His mother Patricia is a lovely woman too. David is a really good-natured guy. An absolute pleasure to deal with. An absolute gentleman."

On Sunday, the madness starts all over again. Clare and Limerick is one of the biggest derby games in hurling. Thurles will be rattling like a boiling tin on another eternal summer Sunday, a day for strong minds and strong men.

A day David McInerney was made for.

Irish Independent

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