Clare begin the defence of their Allianz National Hurling League title this Saturday when they travel to Cork.
Four points was the difference when the sides met two weeks ago in the Munster Senior Hurling League, while there is no great onus when it comes to the pre-season tournament, this weekend Clare will be hoping to get off to a winning start when the Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor era properly kicks into gear.
Having established himself as a regular for the side last season, Conor Cleary will once more be determined to receive as much game time under the new regime. His time representing the county at U21 level means he’s no stranger to either Moloney or O’Connor.
“More than half the panel would have worked with them at under 21 level, a lot of lads would have known them already. Then a lot of lads that didn’t have them would have great respect for them for what they did at under 21 level. Everything is going well at the moment. To have Donal Óg there from last year too is great. It brings a lot of continuity from last year. It is great to have him onboard again.”
After a break of one year, the Miltown man is back in NUIG and has been centre back and captain of the Galway College’s Fitzgibbon Cup team who host this year’s competiton. Of his hectic schedule, Cleary says “It is busy, but it is great, though, because you have lots of games. As a player, that is what you want to be doing: playing games. You’ve games week after week so it is great to be involved in them.”
Last year saw the Banner County win promotion from Division 1B of the Allianz National Hurling League while they also bridged a thirty eight year gap by winning the League outright.
Speaking at the launch of the Fitzgibbon Cup, Conor highlighted that their upcoming run of games could serve as a springboard for the championship. “We would be targeting the League just as much as we did last year. It was great to win the League last year, hopefully we can build on it this year to put together a good League and then Championship.”
He won’t be the only Cleary wearing the saffron and blue during the League as his twin brother Eoin will be flying the flag for the county footballers. Conor is full of praise for the work Colm Collins has done since taking on the role of senior football manager and is delighted to see the progress they have made in recent seasons. “In fairness to Colm Collins when he came in they all say it is a very professional set-up.
“They need for nothing, they have really made massive strides. When you look at it now they are in Division Two and you see them as that sort of team, but they were in Division Four only two or three years ago. They have made massive strides, they would be one of the top 12 teams in the country now. That is great for Clare football and it is great for the two teams to be going well, it is a strong sporting county.”