Wednesday 21 March 2018

Munster 'minnows' making bigger waves

Footballers of Clare and Tipperary refusing to be blinded by the lights of hurling juggernauts

Colin O’Riordan is one of the brightest prospects in any county right now
Colin O’Riordan is one of the brightest prospects in any county right now
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If Colm Collins ever decides on a career change, recruitment is an option he might consider.

The Clare football manager, architect of promotion to Division 3 of the Allianz League last year and such progressive performances against Kerry in the Munster championship and Kildare in the qualifiers, has been steadily building a squad to advance those efforts in 2015.

The availability of his own sons, Podge and Sean, was one thing but the growing appeal of the Clare footballers has also enticed two more 2013 hurling All-Ireland winners, Cathal McInerney and Liam Markham, to subscribe exclusively to their effort.

Markham lost his place on the hurling squad ahead of last year's championship, but McInerney was a real plus when he crossed over, a sign of the better equality and foothold that Clare football has been gaining under their Cratloe manager that not even the great Mick O'Dwyer could generate when he spent a year there in 2012.

On top of that there is the success in getting a former Dublin All-Ireland winner to commit to the county of his parents. Pat Burke was part of Dublin's squad in 2011 and has been making quite an impact since linking up late last year; fellow Dub Shane McGrath had already been in place for the previous two years.

The attraction that a Dublin-based schoolteacher, born and raised in the capital but of strong Clare parentage, would have to make such a journey west for a county with no strong tradition of success, after experiencing dizzy heights with Dublin, underlines the movement in Clare football over the last 12 months.

In neighbouring Tipperary, football's greater equality is gaining notice too. Colin O'Riordan's continued commitment to the footballers is the most obvious sign that the foundations laid by provincial and All-Ireland underage success in recent years are firmer and deeper than might have been expected.

O'Riordan is one of the brightest prospects in any county right now but he is also a talented hurler and, in the wake of Tipp's exit from the football championship to Galway last summer, he was quickly added to the hurling squad for the rest of the summer.

Such an overture was clearly designed with an eye to the future, to get him in to experience hurling at elite level with exposure to the biggest days in Croke Park.


But O'Riordan's head hasn't been turned sufficiently to lure him away from the footballers, and that has to be an equally powerful statement as the Collins brothers and McInerney sticking to their guns in Clare.

From beneath the shadows of two of the current giants of hurling, the Clare and Tipperary footballers are confidently holding their own. Add in Waterford's McGrath Cup success last month and a trend is developing.

At a time when you might have expected the poor relations in either county to make themselves scarce and toe the line they have been thriving and, even if results didn't completely reflect that, performances most certainly did last weekend.

Tipp were within seconds of earning a valuable draw in the Athletic Grounds against Armagh, manager Peter Creedon's ire at referee David Coldrick over the amount of injury-time allowed quite pointed.

Clare's intent last weekend was reflected in the number of players they started against Wexford in their opening game who had also started their last championship game against Kildare. In all there were 11, the most of any of the 31 other counties involved.

Collins makes no secret of his desire to drive standards further with back-to-back promotions prioritised.

"Progress in the counties that aren't traditionally successful depends on progress in the leagues first and foremost," he stresses. "The higher standard you play, the better you get. That's why it is so important.

"There is no hiding from it. Obviously from a week to week basis you are always trying to improve and get a better performance, but promotion is what we are after, and we feel that if we keep working at what we are improving on, we can do that."

Withdrawal from the McGrath Cup clearly served them well.

Collins is adamant that there was no issue with the Munster Council over their move, replicating what they did 12 months ago as part of a protest with the three other counties affected by the 2013 decision of the provincial body to seed that year's Munster finalists Kerry and Cork.

This time there was no protest, just a carefully planned strategy to prepare for the opening two rounds of the league.

"I don't think Munster Council did have any beef with it. We were at pains to point out that and prior to making the decision we consulted and said if it was going to be seen as a insult, we're not going to do it," he explains.

"It's just that we felt last year that our preparation went well and that our focus was totally on improvement and getting our play right rather than getting a result in the McGrath Cup, and we wanted to continue with that. It looks a great idea now because we win our first game, but if we didn't?"

Could it be a pre-cursor for other counties to withdraw from these January competitions?

"We're certainly not going to make that statement. If they are going to compress the season into the same calendar year, one of the consequences will be those pre-season competitions," he suggests.


Collins feels Clare's resurgence and the improvement in other counties around the province is down to players no longer thinking purely in terms of geographical barriers.

"Just because a guy is born in west Clare and not born in Donegal or Kerry it doesn't stop him being as good a player as a fella in any of those counties," he says.

"There is a fallacy out there that there are no players in these counties. The players are there. We have the players in Clare.

"There is no mistake about it, and from what I have seen they are there in other counties. You take Shane Ahearne in Waterford, what a talent. Mike Quinlivan in Tipperary and Ian Ryan in Limerick - these are serious footballers.

"In the past you may have players who wouldn't buy into the culture and didn't spend time practising.

"They are having the ball turned over on the pitch and people are suggesting they are not as good as other teams, but of course they are not as good as a guy who has spent hours and hours practising. That's all that has happened. It's nothing to do with counties."

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport