Clara eyes on Leinster prize as fairytale run continues
BY noon yesterday, Clara chairman Jimmy Coogan had already watched the video of Sunday's county final again, perhaps just to make sure his club's scarcely believable run had finished as he had dreamt.
Clara's remarkable story starts with disappointment, but on Sunday they completed a Kilkenny senior league and championship double. Two years ago, Tommy Walsh and Tullaroan put them down to intermediate, a defeat that sparked a run of 21 wins and a draw in 23 games.
That charge yielded six trophies from the six competitions they entered in a dizzying 24 months.
"It came down to a few small things, that's the difference in a game like that," Coogan said, having watched the DVD back.
"For years, we couldn't get over the line. We lost so many games by a point or two but it started to fall for us recently.
"We got relegated and the lads decided to come back and give it one more go and see where it would get them."
Their success since then means there has hardly been a break. The 2012 season only ended last February when they were crowned All-Ireland club IHC champions, but the players were straight back into it.
Manager Robert Shortall had already indicated his intention to move on and Michael Purcell was drafted in to carry on his good work. Tipperary native Purcell was highly regarded for his work in Rower-Inistioge, who claimed intermediate and minor Roinn A honours in the last two weekends.
In a year that Coogan expected to be about consolidation in the senior ranks, their momentum lifted them higher than he could have imagined.
"We had the change of management and we thought that staying up would be the aim. We felt we should never have been relegated two years ago," he said.
The players never missed a beat, however. There was still the core of the team that had secured the intermediate title in 2007, the year when the club won their first minor Roinn A title.
Others had recovered from serious setbacks to help Clara's charge. Captain Austin Murphy sustained a leg injury while playing rugby that was so serious it threatened his ability to walk freely and he was advised that hurling again was out of the question.
Keith Hogan could only look on as his brother Brian collected honours with O'Loughlin Gaels and Kilkenny. But, having joined Clara as a youngster, he had his day in the sun – landing some crucial points when things looked to be going against his side to ensure the Hogan household is now adorned with senior medals with two clubs.
David Langton was Kilkenny U-21 captain back in 2009 when they were beaten in the final by Clare, and is regularly called into the senior side's in-house games, but he has never been a full member of Brian Cody's side. There are suggestions now that he could finally make the breakthrough.
While Langton was unable to get into the Cats set-up, Conor Phelan was forced to walk away from it after a scan revealed a heart problem that inter-county hurling might have exacerbated.
"Austin came up to me after the intermediate All-Ireland and said he wanted to captain Clara this year and win a senior medal with them. They are a great group. They look after each other," said Coogan.
"It was only when I was in the dressing-room at half-time in the final that I saw how good they were. A lot of people might have expected Carrickshock to push on. But they never lost focus, never stopped trying for each other."
The last two days have been dedicated to celebrating a milestone for the club but it's by no means the end of the journey.
"The manager wants them to celebrate. And rightly so, the players deserve it. But he also said he wants them back at training on Wednesday night," said Coogan,
"Oulart-The Ballagh are a good team and they have had an extra week to prepare, so that's an advantage, but our lads will give it everything."
Clara's story continues.