In his first year as manager of the Clare Ladies Football Intermediate side Neil Moynihan finds himself sixty minutes away from guiding them to All-Ireland glory.
Ten months on from his first interaction with the players, Neil highlights their improvement in this time as key in getting to the final. Initially he didn’t expect that their season would last as long.
When asked if he thought Clare would still be playing in the third week of September based on his first meeting with them, he replied “If I was to answer it honestly probably not I wouldn’t have thought so from the very first day I came in but the improvement the girls have shown day by day especially after the Limerick game that was the big turning point for me, winning a game so convincingly against Limerick. I started to believe and map out a plan to get to the All-Ireland Final but again it came down to the workrate and the effort of the girls, they’ve just been superb all year, flat out with training all the time giving it one hundred percent and they’re where they want to be now”.
Neil has been involved in coaching Ladies Football for the past twelve years with college teams in NUIG and GMIT plus a stint with the Galway minors. The Moynihan name is synonymous with the sport, he reveals what enticed him to the position of Clare Intermediate manager.
“One hundred percent the challenge, I understood the results Clare had had the year before, losing to Cavan 4-25 0-05, losing to Donegal 5-19 1-03 or something like that and with those poor results I saw a huge challenge and it’s something I really wanted to take, I wanted to take a team that seemed to be in the barron spell and try and get them back to their glory days so that’s what enticed me to it and I’m glad it’s kind of worked out”.
With a panel of just twenty one players it is no surprise to discover that Neil is training a tight-knit bunch of committed Clare women. He describes the girls as “a family” but a group that knew they would get nothing easy under his watch. “One thing for me as a coach and a manager is that everyone earns their right to put on a Clare jersey and get to where they are, I don’t like giving out freebies I don’t like handing a soft jersey to someone that mightn’t earn it, the one thing about this panel and the twenty one girls everyone that’s here is here on merit, they deserve where they are and that’s probably why they’re in an All-Ireland Final at the moment because of hard work”.
A native of Newbridge in Galway, Neil is adamant that Clare have reached this stage because they’ve put in the hard graft. “When girls get on the same wavelength as you they do get a lot more satisfaction out of victories and wins and you could see it in the games the way they celebrated the Tipp and Tyrone game and the satisfaction they had about clocking up a big score against Limerick. It’s everything they deserve at the moment, we’re ten months training, these girls have been here since start to finish going through the hard runs back in LIT and down in Shannon, the only reason we’re here is because those girls put in the workrate from start to finish”.
Kildare are the opposition on Sunday in Croke Park. The Clare boss has his homework done on the Lilywhites who he states play a similar running game to his own side, attackers such as Maria Moolick, Noelle Early, Michaela McKenna and Ellen Dowling need to be monitored to limit the scoring threat of last year’s beaten finalists. “Kildare are there on merit just like we are and they were there last year, they’re looking to put a wrong right from last year losing an All-Ireland final so hopefully we can spoil the party for them”.
Key to Clare’s progress is their ability to learn and adapt. They had a nasty habit of fading out of games in the second half which proved costly particularly in the Munster Final defeat to Tipperary. Moynihan explains that the issue has been looked at and recent results have shown they have amended it.
During his encounter with the girls Neil describes what areas he felt needed most improvement. “When I stepped in, the lack of workrate to be honest, there didn’t seem to be much hard work or graft done and it was very hard to take them out of the mode that they were usually in and get them into that mode when you need to earn everything to achieve, taking them out of that was tough and I liked in fairness seeing that they did have the basic skills off, the basic kicking, basic defending, they had all the basics of workrate it was just to take them on to the next level”.
As a young up and coming manager a win on Sunday would do wonders for Neil’s managerial and coaching reputation. He’s hopeful it will be an unforgettable outing. “Personally it’s just satisfaction in the job, I got into coaching and managing because I like to get the best out of the players, I like to see them do well, a lot of times they wouldn’t see that straight off but in the long run they usually do, I tend to say to the girls ‘if you win an All-Ireland it’s a memory for life’ and that’s what it will be for me, a memory for life”.