Clare don't fear Croke Park – McMahon
Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30
He is one of only a handful of Clare footballers who have ever played there before, but Banner vice-captain Martin McMahon says they won't be intimidated by the 'Croke Park factor' in tomorrow's Division 4 final.
The Kilmurry-Ibrickane defender, and his club and county team-mates Shane Hickey and Enda Coughlan, have played on the vaunted sod once before – in the 2010 All-Ireland club final against St Galls.
Michael O'Shea and Rory Donnelly, who were part of the Clare team who beat Sligo there in the inaugural Tommy Murphy Cup final 10 years ago, are the only others to have played at GAA headquarters.
"It is the highlight of any player's career, I'll never forget running out there on Paddy's Day, there was some atmosphere," McMahon recalls.
"Unfortunately we were brought down to earth pretty quickly," he adds ruefully of his club's defeat by St Galls on that fateful visit.
But he doesn't feel his team-mates will be intimidated by their rare visit to the field of dreams.
"The lads are fairly level-headed and I honestly don't think the surroundings will affect them. It's still a field and two goal-posts, like every other pitch we've played on."
McMahon (27) is more familiar with the capital than many of his team-mates as he spent four years there, teaching woodwork and construction studies in a city-centre secondary school in North Brunswick Street.
Moving to a school in Newport this season has made his life a lot easier and securing promotion has already lifted a monkey off Clare's back.
"We were always the bridesmaids, we finished third in Division 4 three times in the last four years," he explains of the Banner's agonisingly close brushes with promotion in 2010, 2012 and '13.
"Every year we needed results to go our way on the last day of the season and they never did, that's why it is so great to finally win promotion."
Tomorrow's opponents were their only blip so far. Clare conceded three goals to Tipp, who also missed a penalty, in Thurles in the fourth round.
"They've been racking up high scores all season, two of them are in the top-10 scorers in the country," McMahon notes of Conor Sweeney top-scoring in the entire four divisions with 5-41 and Barry Grogan's 5-22 earning him ninth spot so far.
"It was a very open game and unfortunately when they got the goals we sort of abandoned our original game-plan. That's one lesson we learned: stick to your game-plan."
McMahon credits Clare's breakthrough to "a combination of factors. Obviously a new management comes in with new ideas which is always a help, it's given us a new lease of life," he says of Colm Collins taking over the reins from Mick O'Dwyer.
"But a lot of it is down to the players themselves. We all just decided to go full tilt at it this year and it certainly shows.
"When we played London there was a team photo and we were looking at it and realised that we've lost 12 players between one thing and another.
"But the lads who have come in to replace them have done well. We've got a really strong panel and, if someone is out injured, whoever has been coming in for him has been just as good."
With the hurlers beaten in last weekend's NHL semi-finals, it is Clare's footballers who are now vying for the county's first silverware of the season and McMahon senses that the Banner army will be very much behind them.
"There's been a lot of interest in the game from west Clare, which is our football heartland, but with Colm (Collins) coming from Cratloe there's also big interest in east Clare and it feels like a lot of people are supporting us."