The All Ireland club hurling title has come west of the Shannon to Galway on 10 occasions since 1971. Tomorrow (St Patrick’s Day ) Clarenbridge are aiming to make that 11.
Hopefully late tomorrow evening the Tommy Moore Cup will be sitting proudly in the Clarenbridge clubhouse for the first time, and the club will be the 2010/2011 All Ireland champions.
Clarenbridge have been in this position before. In 2002 they faced Birr from Offaly and lost, and they do not want to experience that again. Yet this is their first visit to headquarters as the 2002 final was played in Semple Stadium when Croke Park was being refurbished.
Team captain Paul Callinan, who lines out at corner back tomorrow, is level headed and realistic in his assessment of what lies ahead.
“Obviously it would be fantastic to win and that is what we all want. But there is a huge battle ahead for us and a lot of good hurling to be played for that to happen. O’Loughlin Gaels will be very difficult opponents and we know that we will have to produce a top-class performance to beat them.
“I was very young in 2002, but I know the lads who played in that final feel they did not do themselves justice. That is something we cannot allow to happen tomorrow. We need to do the simple things right. Stick to our game plan and play to the final whistle. If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance of being successful.”
Callinan, who is only 22, may have seemed an unusual choice for captain at the start of 2010, but he is a hugely committed Clarenbridge man.
Based in Dublin as a property assessor, he has been commuting from the capital on a regular basis over the past year.
“Thankfully Kevin Conlon and myself have been able to travel together which breaks the journey and we did some training with St Jude’s too. However, when you arrive home and see how committed everyone is to the cause, it makes the effort worthwhile. We are very well prepared by Michéal [Donoghue] and the lads and they are totally professional in their outlook. Michéal is a brilliant communicator and nothing is left to fester or cause any hassle.
Clarenbridge’s mantra throughout the year has been to stand together, regardless of where they find themselves in a game and that has stood them in good stead.
“We believe in ourselves as individuals and as a team and that is what has helped us out of some tight scrapes to get to this final. And now that we are here, we want to finish off the journey.
Younger players like Callinan, Barry Daly, Eoin Forde and Eanna Murphy have learnt a lot in the past few seasons, he says. However the youngsters are complemented by some very experienced players. Six of the team that lost the All Ireland in 2002 are starting tomorrow, Liam Donoghue, Jamie Cannon, Paul Coen, David Forde, and Mark and Alan Kerins. Manager Micheal Donoghue (twin brother of goalkeeper Liam ) was the captain nine years ago, while Donal Walsh, a selector in 2001/2002, is still part of the management team.
“There is a very good mix and the mood is very positive.”
The Leinster champions have some big name players like Martin Comerford, Mark Bergin, Brian Hogan and Brian Dowling and they impressed in both the Leinster championship and their win in the semi-final over Loughgiel Shamrocks. They are favourites with the bookies and no Kilkenny team is easily beaten.
However, Callinan is not fazed by any of that.
“Winning an All Ireland club title is never going to be easy. We don’t expect it to be easy and we are ready for the game. We have prepared as well as is humanly possible and no stone has been left unturned in order to be in top shape for St Patrick’s Day. If that is good enough, fantastic, and if it is not, so be it.
“We will be giving it our absolute best shot and it would be a massive thrill and honour to win an All-Ireland club title. Hopefully it works out for us.”