THE parish of Clara may be en fete in the run up to what could be a history making All-Ireland club intermediate hurling final in Croke Park on Sunday, but the players cannot get involved in the excitement.
The players are heading to Croke Park on a mission......to win what would be the first All-Ireland title for the club.
“Now that we are in the final, we want to win,” insisted Clara manager, Robert Shortall. “There is a lot of excitement about the game, which is great and understandable. The fun is for everyone else. The business of the match is our responsibility.
“St Gabriel’s are not heading to Croke Park for a party. They want to win, and they will take some stopping. We will have to be our guard.”
The manager revealed that the Kilkenny champions didn’t celebrate wildly after what was a terrific All-Ireland semi-final win over Silvermines (Tipperary), which went to extra times.
A few of the players went out on the town alright. Others didn’t because they were simply exhausted, and others headed back to college. The general view in the camp was that a lot had been achieved, but much more remained to be done.
Celebration time hadn’t arrived yet!
Keep touch sharp
The tough semi-final took a lot, physically and mentally, out of the players so Clara adopted the ‘easy does it’ approach during training last week. They had a light indoor session on the Tuesday night after the match, and then it was back to hurling and skills work on the Friday and Sunday.
“We haven’t gone hard on the players,” Mr Shortall explained. “It is more about resting and keeping the touch sharp rather than pushing anyone at this stage.
“We did a reasonable amount over Christmas, but you can’t prepare for what we went through in the semi-final. You run on reserves at the end of a game as tough and physically demanding as that. You rely on natural talent. It was that kind of game. Everyone emptied the tank.
“It was a great effort, and victory brought huge personal satisfaction for all.”
Keep the players sharp and getting them to take plenty of rest was the approach in the run up to Sunday’s showdown.
“Clara playing in an All-Ireland final has a nice sound to it,” Mr Shortall continued. “The real target for the year was to get back senior in Kilkenny. That is there to look forward to. In the Leinster club championship we went through the games as they came.
“Over Christmas then we took stock of things and the feeling was that a chance like this in the All-Ireland series might never come our way ever again, so you want to do. That feeling grew even stronger after the last match. The lads showed terrific fight. They want to drive on now.”
A decent team
Clara, he explained, know they are a decent team and they want to enjoy the hurling journey they are on. But they are leaving nothing to chance.
“I went into the Silvermines dressing-room after the semi-final, and their spirits were on the ground,” the manager explaianed. “That could easily have been us, or it could be us yet. That wasn’t nice to see, but it was a remindered of how cruel sport can be. It is not something you would like to experience.”
Everyone in the Clara club bought into this championship, he insisted.
“The players get it that winning is up to them,” he said. “The players shouldn’t sell themselves short. There could be a criticism levelled at this group of players in the past that when it came to mental strength and coming through tough games we failed to get over the line at times.
“We are not being carried away now. I am conscious, and the lads are conscious, that they will face bigger challenges than they have in the year just gone. At the same time winning is a habit. It builds confidence. Their confidence and belief are growing all the time.
“Hopefully that is something they can maintain going forward. This is the only thing that can occupy the minds now....that the game on Sunday.
“Sure, there are big challenges further down the line. But for now there is an All-Ireland to be won. For me and all the lads hurling life is about Sunday. If they could win on Sunday it could be a platform from which to drive on later in the season.”