Saturday 24 March 2018

Banner skipper Cleary eager to follow in footsteps of 'hero' McMahon

Conor Cleary
Conor Cleary

Jackie Cahill

Clare's double All-Ireland winning centre-back Seanie McMahon was an icon for Conor Cleary when he was growing up.

Since he was a child, Cleary has wanted to be just like McMahon and so far, he's heading very much in the right direction.

Cleary claimed a Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 medal last year, having broken onto the panel in 2013 as an unused sub.

The Kilmaley man is now the team captain - as well as a senior panellist - and tomorrow evening at a packed Cusack Park, the towering centre-back hopes to inspire the Banner to a fourth successive Munster U-21 crown.

And in a coaching role under manager Donal Moloney, McMahon - Liam MacCarthy Cup winner in 1995 and '97 - is playing his part ahead of the clash with Limerick in Ennis.

Cleary said: "He was a hero of mine growing up, I wanted to be Seanie McMahon since I was five or six years old. To see how down to earth he is, it's just like chatting to anyone but to see what he's done, it's crazy.

"He works all over the field. He knows what backs don't want and what forwards want so he's just an excellent man to have on board."

Clare sent out a statement of intent with a gritty semi-final defeat of star-studded Waterford.

That win has fuelled hope that Clare can claim provincial silverware again before aiming for a fourth successive All-Ireland crown - but Cleary is eager to dampen down expectations.

He said: "It was a great win but we know it was only a semi-final. Unless you actually win a title, that's when a team is recognised.

"A lot us wouldn't read papers, wouldn't be on social media or listening to what anybody would be saying.

"I'm on Twitter but I just keep to the soccer things. I wouldn't be clicking into articles about Clare hurling or anything!"

Hailing from the football hotbed of Miltown Malbay in west Clare, Cleary explains that it was his parents who helped to foster his interest in both codes.

He said: "My mother and father always pushed myself and my brother Eoin to play both sports.

"I remember when I was watching hurling games when I was younger, they'd say 'we'll bring you over to Kilmaley' and they did.

"Eoin stuck with the football but I kept up the hurling because going to St Flannan's too was a big thing. It's hurling morning, noon and night there."

At St Flannan's, Cleary captained the football team but he also hurled alongside Clare stars Tony Kelly, Jack Browne and Peter Duggan.

Irish Independent

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