St Josephs Miltown prepare for their first Clare SFC Final in twenty four years and as the entire town braces itself for Sunday, manager Michael Neylon remains calm even with several obstacles in their path.
Their resilience has certainly been tested thus far with injuries to key players Seanie Malone and Conor Cleary coming as big blows as their attempts to claim Jack Daly intensified, similarly the side have shown great resolve to pull through in games even with the loss of players due to the black cards.
Accounting and taxation expert, Michael Neylon has updated The Clare Herald on the injuries and estimates that neither will be able to play the full sixty minutes. “Conor and Seanie are working very hard at the moment, it’s hard to say. There is a chance that they will appear, maybe Seanie more so than Conor, Seanie is probably a little more advanced in his rehab programme. Conor is certainly fighting against time at this stage but he is doing everything possible at this stage to get back”.
A decision will be made later in the week to determine if either of the pair will feature at some stage but Neylon regretfully announces that neither looks set to play for the full sixty minutes.
“The first thing you would need to assess is the injury, once the injury is fully recovered you have to look at the match fitness and that’s a big ask to ask somebody who has been out of action for four or five weeks or longer to come into a full high-tempo game for sixty minutes, it’s something we’ll assess much closer to the time but it’s a big ask of the boys. They have been working on their fitness, they’ve done everything they possibly can”.
At the beginning of the year, Miltown had no specific aim only to build on recent years, 2014 saw them reach the quarter-finals. Michael adds “Both the players and management, we talked a lot about the graph at the beginning of the year that we wanted to move the graph upwards and that was our focus, it was step by step, we didn’t really pick a point in the sky where we wanted to get to, we wanted to keep on improving and that’s what we’ve tried to do, game by game as the year has gone on”.
Since their six point semi-final win over St Breckans three weeks, training has gone up another notch and Neylon is very pleased that the intensity continues to increase in their preparations.
“As you would expect it’s been going very, the lads have upped the intensity, each game we have played all year the standard has gone up, the tempo has gone up in the matches and we’ve tried to achieve that in training afterwards. It’s no different since the semi-final, the guys have worked hard, they’ve trained hard and it’s a matter of this stage of their approach, the more technical details of the game that we’ll work on over the next couple of days”.
On Sunday, the club’s 1990 County Championship winning panel will be honoured on the twenty fifth anniversary of their success. The presence of this bunch of men will be no hindrance according to their current manager and he says it may possibly held to remind them of the club’s tradition.
“If anything it may remind them of our tradition if that counts for something it certainly isn’t going to be a hindrance to us. We’re also very much aware that it is a sixty minute match which really has little to do with the past and it’s going to come down to which team is hungrier on the day to go out and play good football, so in that regard it’s nice for everyone to be reminded of the feats of the past but it’s still going to come down to sixty minutes on the day”.
Neylon highlights the spectacle that is the Clare SFC Final and whoever reacts to it as key on Sunday. “There’s a match to be played here but there is also an occasion which is new to both sides. I feel there is very little difference between the two teams, it’s a fifty fifty game and I think it’s going to come down to how both sets of players react on the day to the situation and I know it’s a cliché but it realty on this occasion I think comes down to ‘on the day’ and which players react very favourably to the situation”.
A selector to the Clare Senior Footballers under Mick O’Dwyer, Michael is very wary of the threat Cooraclare will bring both in defence and attack.
“Cooraclare are certainly very good defensively, they also have huge ability in attack, they manage to convert their defence very quickly to attack so you want to make sure whatever opportunities we do get no matter how defensive the team is they’re probably going to be some opportunities that do come up that we would make the most of the chances that we do get. I wouldn’t buy into that they’re very defensive, they are very capable and excellent defenders but they do attack, they’ve an excellent combination very much like ourselves and I think it’s going to be an up and down game whereby it’s going to be score by score, you’re looking for guys to put up their hand and maybe it’s a bit of long distance shooting or taking on a man and seeing what opportunities we can create”.
Winning the Intermediate Championship at the first time of asking and subsequent seasons have played a crucial role in the development of this team according to Neylon.
“Over the course of the last three years there has been steady progress. I would have thought at the beginning of the year that the club had as good a chance as any of the other teams of making progress and that’s always a factor in a group of players or a management committing themselves wholeheartedly to a campaign, we would have felt that the graph has certainly gone up over the last few years and that if we could manage to keep that momentum going then we could be there or there abouts”.
Having guided this side to Cusack Cup glory in 2010, their first in fifteen years, Michael is well aware of the past and present Miltown teams. Minors Cormac Murray and Sean Malone were both introduced in their semi-final outing, added to that is several experienced players. While the Miltown man is unsure at this moment what the perfect mix between youth and experience is, he says he should be closer to knowing the answer on Sunday evening.
“I don’t know what the perfect mix is to be honest with you. It certainly is a mix, we have experience and we have some really young guys aswell and we’ve a nice few lads in between so we have a mixture of guys who have given a lot of service and guys who are just coming in bringing huge enthusiasm to it. It seems to be working well at the moment, both groups are feeding off each other, they’re learning from one another, the enthusiasm of the young guys is helping some of the older guys and the young guys are feeding off the experience and learning from the guys that have been there a while. Cooraclare are very similar in this regard so Sunday will tell which of us has the ideal mix”.
A member of the defeated 1991 panel, Michael missed out on the final with a broken leg while a year previous he was Stateside as St Josephs secured Jack Daly. The taste of defeat at that level has taught him a few lesssons ahead of this weekend’s crunch game.
“You do, you try to learn, I was injured for that year with a broken leg but I was with the guys for the whole duration of the campaign and you see the pluses and the minuses. You try to when you win a match it looks like everything has been done right when you don’t you maybe question a lot of things and the 1991 final we were beaten by Doonbeg and maybe we’d question certain things in the lead-up, you’d try to take that bit of experience and use it in a positive way. We’re lucky enough that Peadar Cleary is involved in our management who has been involved in three County Finals and Martin Guerin likewise. We’d be using their experience to help us aswell”.
Having taken over from David O’Brien at the beginning of the year, the UL graduate has yet to contemplate what the win would mean to him but is more interested in what the players get out of it. “I haven’t really looked at it like that. When you’re involved with the team, you’re looking at it from the point of view of the players and trying to achieve their aims. When it comes to games like this it certainly is about the players and not about the manager or management. We all share in the success and it certainly would mean a lot but it would mean an awful lot to the players involved on Sunday if they can achieve their goals”.