Gilligan: Clare have the raw talent to build on All-Ireland
Clare hurling stalwart Niall Gilligan insists that his county must build on this year's All-Ireland success by maintaining their high standards.
Clare won their first title since 1997 -- a team of which Gilligan was a major part -- and he has no doubts this side have what it takes to be a force for many years to come.
"Clare are well capable of keeping up this high standard," he said. "A lot of these lads came through minor and U-21 and they've known nothing other than winning.
"They don't have any fears or inhibitions. They definitely showed that when they got to Croke Park."
Clare avoided both Kilkenny and Tipperary in this year's championship on their way to their fourth ever All-Ireland title and Gilligan says that Davy Fitzgerald's biggest task is now keeping the other hurling powers at bay.
"Kilkenny have been able to set and maintain high standards for years. Davy has great competition for places now whereas last year there was a core of 17 or 18 very good players who he could call on.
"With a few more of these younger lads coming through, he can build a really strong panel. To have everyone pushing each other on in training is vital.
"I'm sure Kilkenny and Tipperary will be back trying to knock Clare off their perch but Clare are up there now and they need to strive to keep themselves there."
Gilligan acknowledges there are similarities with the 1995 and '97 winning teams but the major difference is that this current Clare side have built their success on a strong underage system.
Clare's success in 1995 brought to an end an 81-year wait for an All-Ireland title but Gilligan admitted: "The teams in 1995 and '97 didn't have the background underage success that this team has.
"In my time there was a huge psychological barrier that had to be broken down but these lads have built it up in what they've achieved in minor and U-21."
For Gilligan, managing expectations within the county will be a crucial factor in Clare's bid to retain their title next year but on the back of this year's U-21 Munster and All-Ireland double, he says there is no shortage of talent.
"Clare have won three of the last five All-Ireland titles at U-21 level. Next year's U-21 team will be favourites to win it again so you're aiming for four titles in six years. It looks like there's a great crop of talent there.
"If the senior team can gradually introduce a new and exciting hurler every year, it would keep Clare in a very strong position for a while yet."