Clare’s intermediate ladies football begin their 2017 campaign this Sunday as they welcome Waterford to Carron in the opening round of the Lidl National Football League Division 2.
Neil Moynihan is now in his second year as manager of the Banner County, he led the side to the All-Ireland final last September where they came up short against Kildare. Since then they have been rocked by the departures of Louise Henchy who has retired from inter-county football, Niamh Keane, Emma O’Driscoll, Eva O’Dea, Laura Egan and Caoimhe Harvey who have opted out for the year while Aoife Keane is focusing on camogie.
There are eleven new panellists this year, namely Eimear O’Connor, Roisin Looney, Tara Kelly, Lizzy Roche, Caitriona Callinan, Sarah Hastings, Anna Courtney, Nicole O’Doherty, Amanda Mulcair, Becky Madigan and Aine Browne. Over half of these are minor footballers.
Further additions have been made from last year, that being to Moynihan’s management setup. Gary Sweeney, a winner of an All-Ireland U21 medal with Galway is the side’s nutritionist while he also be tucking into the role of defensive coach, Mayo duo Conor Finn and Sean Boyle are taking charge of the strength and conditioning while Cooraclare man David O’Brien is coming on board as selector, Paul Mannion continues in the same role from last year.
Moynihan has had plenty of time for reflection since their one point September 25th defeat to Kildare in the All-Ireland decider. By taking the approach of looking back in order to move forward, the Galway native feels that it was better Clare lost that game.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on the girls from last year, it’s a completely different team, it is a bit of a transition period and on hindsight with the players we have available at the moment it’s probably the best thing that we didn’t win the All-Ireland because if we won the All-Ireland went up and had the players retired and young players come in it would be a very difficult time up in senior. At least we’re down here now ready to give intermediate and division two another crack, give plenty of game-time to the new players and hopefully they’ll buy into it and start a long career in Clare ladies football”.
It’s a young county team with an average age between twenty one and twenty two. Speaking on Sideline View, Neil highlighted how difficult a start these young players have in the 2017 League. “The start is incredibly tough, we have the four senior teams starting off, Waterford at home, Cavan away, Laois at home and Westmeath away, they’re four incredibly tough games and to get a result out of them is going to be tough. If we do get any result out of them four games I’ll be incredibly proud of the girls because you’re talking a lot of sixteen and seventeen year old girls coming in and taking places of very experienced players so if they can close the gap on these teams that early I’d be very happy”.
He will give players an opportunity to impress in the league and admits they may have peaked too soon last season. “I would have felt pressure because I would have been unknown in Clare and I wanted to make a good impression. Now that I’m known I’m taking a different approach and we’re hoping to peak in championship. I felt last year between the quarter-final, semi-final and final our performances depleted and that could have been down to being tired and not being used to the long season so we’re going to pace ourselves more this year”.
Of their objectives for the year, Neil said “Like last year I didn’t put targets on ourselves and I’m probably going to do a pretty similar thing this year, I haven’t really mapped out exact target I want the girls to hit but as I said to them ‘if we get to a league semi-final they’ll have a lot lighter training for them three weeks’ rather than if we didn’t make the semi-final. They’ll be motivated to make the semi-final but at the same time I want to get as much girls game time in the league and get them prepared better for championship so trying to keep a bigger panel than last year rather than going into an All-Ireland Final with only nineteen players that was a huge ask for the girls and want to be in a better position come championship”.
Waterford travel to the home of the GAA’s founder, Micháel Cusack in Carron for Sunday’s 2pm tie if the hosts can get a result their boss will be very happy. “They’ve some excellent footballers, a lot of things we’ll have to look out for like not giving away frees and 45s when they have a player like Marie Delahunty who will slot frees from anywhere. They also have the threat inside of Aileen Wall with her pace so we’ll have our hands full but when Clare play Waterford it’s always a good game, it’s always an entertaining game and it’s always a good game for a spectator to turn up and watch. If we can sneak a result this early on, I’d be very happy”.