Sport Hurling

Monday 23 April 2018

Conlon confident young blood can build a winning legacy to rewrite history

John Conlon wants to build on the All-Ireland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
John Conlon wants to build on the All-Ireland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

John Conlon turned 25 in January, young enough still to embrace the bright future mapped out for the Clare hurlers, but old enough to remember the way it was.

It took Conlon an eighth game well into his fourth season as a senior inter-county hurler to be on the right side of a championship result – their qualifier win over Anthony Daly's Dublin in Ennis was the first time most of the current team experienced winning at that level.

Last year's Munster quarter-final win over Waterford was his first in the province. He has been to a league semi-final once, but never a final.

If the All-Ireland champions have other things on their mind ahead of tomorrow's league semi-final with Tipperary, it's not evident in their robust wing-forward.

Conlon is in minesweeping mode. He wants this Clare team to hoover up everything in front of them now.

"Every day we go out, I think back. It took me seven or eight games to win a championship match," he recalled.

"I was three years or four years on the panel and we won nothing. They were the bad days and now we have great days.

"I remember them, but a few of the younger lads... Tony Kelly and all the lads that have come in, Colm Galvin... they don't realise the bad days that we did have and they never experienced them.

"They never experienced them underage either. I always think of those days and that will push me to be the best I can be and push the older lads on the panel. We'd be always reminding the younger lads, and so would Davy (Fitzgerald), that we don't want to go back down there, we want to stay at the top and that's our big goal.

"Even the Waterford Crystal... you only have so long to play as many big games. We were only saying the other day, there are seven or eight big games to get yourself right for in the year if you want to win an All-Ireland and Munster. We're just taking it one game at a time and trying to win everything.

"You wouldn't go out on the field if you didn't want to win. If you're going playing a game of table tennis with someone, or a game of pool, you want to win it. That's just the common nature and the beast that we are, the people that we are."

The scar on the bridge of Conlon's nose, courtesy of a training collision with Sean Collins during the week, is like an emblem of the way he plays.

Conlon is Clare's attacking bulwark, the totem around which the rest of the "little lads" spin.

He understands his place among them and appreciates what they bring.

"They're just full of energy. They're constantly messing in the dressing-room. They're just bundles of fun really. They bring enjoyment to their hurling, they're constantly moving," he says.

"You turn around as a wing-forward and you pick up a ball and you could see Podge (Collins) on one side of the field and then you'd see him on the other side of the field in two seconds. He makes things tick and that's the good thing about the little lads. They're full of energy, they're flying around everywhere and my part in the team is to win the possession and break up the ball for these guys."

Much of what Clare strive to achieve now is predicated on attitude, how they defuse the tension attached to winning big games. Conlon recalls the mood in Clonlara, on the border between Clare and Limerick where he lives, in the build up to last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

"You wouldn't have even thought there was a game going on in Clare," he says. "But you'd arrive into Limerick and flags were everywhere. Walking into butchers and they'd say to you 'you play for Clare? Ah they're going to hammer ye!' Lads that probably didn't even look at a hurling game...

"Into Clare then and there wasn't a flag out. We just knew... you're amateur players, it has to go into your psyche. We were looking forward to that game and very comfortable that there wasn't much pressure on us and all the pressure was on Limerick.

"Look, the big thing Davy is always telling us, there's no one dying, no one is sick, everyone's full of health and that we go out and enjoy ourselves and express ourselves.

"That's the big thing that's shining through in the last year. The foundations are laid now and there's great potential there but we must utilise that potential into the future and stay at the top. Really just going out and just expressing ourselves and having fun."

Irish Independent

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