Sport Hurling

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Conlon believes great expectations can keep Banner flag flying high

MUNSTER U-21 HC Final

Clare v Tipperary, Semple Stadium,

7.30, C McAllister (Cork)

BIG finals and high stakes are fast becoming second nature to rising Clare star John Conlon.

The talented 20-year-old played in two successive Clare SHC deciders for his club Clonlara in 2008 and 2009 and in the same years, he contested Munster U-21 deciders with the county.

The Banner County suffered heartbreak in 2008 against Tipperary in a controversial Ennis decider, but bounced back last year with a memorable victory over Waterford.

That win handed Clare a first Bord Gáis Energy Munster U-21 title and, not content with that, they went on to clinch the All-Ireland crown by defeating Kilkenny.

Conlon played a key role in that victory and earlier this year, he shot the winning point in a memorable Fitzgibbon Cup final as hosts NUI Galway edged out Waterford IT.

Conlon's latest taste of the big time arrives in Thurles this evening (7.30) when Clare look to create a fresh piece of history.

The Munster minor and U-21 trophies have never resided in the county at the same time before, but, following the first minor success since 1989 recently, that situation can be rectified at Semple Stadium.

And Conlon has revealed there is a new mindset flooding through the Clare underage ranks, where hope has been replaced by expectation.

The powerful half-forward said: "Tomorrow night we're going in confident. Many Clare teams go down hoping to win -- we're expecting to win, which is a great thing. That's the confidence instilled in the team from the management.

"We're ruthless and that streak has come into us. You see with Kilkenny, when they're up they'll keep beating you. That's the level everyone else has to get to," he added.

Conlon, however, has urged patience from the county's supporters who are craving a meaningful breakthrough at senior level.

A day before Clare won the Munster minor title, the seniors suffered a crushing defeat to Dublin at Croke Park, but Conlon has warned that progress will take time.

He said: "At senior level we're really young. We have to build and we're not going to do that overnight. You're not going to get 21 and 22-year-olds and expect them to run out at Croke Park and be superstars straight away. It's a big step up."

Tipperary and Clare meet this evening in the U-21 ranks for the first time since the controversial end to the 2008 final at Cusack Park, when a late '65', converted by Pa Bourke, clinched the crown for Tipp.

Clare were angered when goalkeeper Donal Touhy was penalised for pucking the ball from outside his small square and Bourke popped over the resultant award.

Conlon reflected: "It was one of the lowest things in Clare's history -- one of the lowest moments of my career. These things push you on. Tomorrow night -- we will be looking to make up for it. Where better than in Thurles, in front of the Tipp crowd?"

Verdict: Tipperary

Jackie Cahill

Irish Independent

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