Cork U20s will be favourites but mindful of how hard Clare pushed the minors in last year’s Munster championship

Cork U20s will be favourites but mindful of how hard Clare pushed the minors in last year’s Munster championship

Clare’s Oisin Looney celebrates his goal against Waterford. Tomorrow, they welcome the Cork U20s for the Munster semi-final. Picture: Eamon Ward

IT may have been just following a trend or wishful thinking behind trying to jump on a similar initiative, but former Clare GAA chairman Michael McDonagh recently expressed hope that the county board would follow Cork’s lead by issuing a commemorative jersey to mark one of Clare’s most high-profile victims of the War of Independence.

McDonagh believes that Paddy Hennessy from Miltown-Malbay should be honoured in the same way that Cork have honoured Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney, both of whom died in 1920 while holding the office of Lord Mayor of Cork.

Having a special jersey commissioned and worn by Clare teams, along with a plaque marking his death, is something McDonagh intends to bring to the next county board meeting.

Tracey Kennedy, chairperson, Cork County Board, and Kevin O'Donovan, CEO, at the launch of the new Cork GAA jersey. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Tracey Kennedy, chairperson, Cork County Board, and Kevin O'Donovan, CEO, at the launch of the new Cork GAA jersey. Picture: Denis Minihane.

It’s also a century since Hennessy’s death and that anniversary is occurring in April. The 30-year-old was one of three men killed by a force of military and police in Miltown-Malbay after they opened fire on a group of Irish Volunteers celebrating the release of Republican prisoners.

Hennessy played in three Munster senior finals for Clare — 1912, 1916, and 1917. After losing the 1916 final to Cork by one point, Clare returned the following year and hammered Cork in the decider by 18 points, before being narrowly beaten in the All-Ireland final by Wexford.

Hennessy Memorial Park in Miltown is named after him. “Paddy Hennessy is Clare’s Michael Hogan,” said McDonagh last week.

The locals have always been extremely proud of the heritage and the connection with the GAA club. For most of the last century, Miltown had secondary county-ground status, but they often felt that the county board didn’t honour that status by granting them enough games.

Ten years ago, Clare rattled a really good Cork team in the Munster minor football championship. When the counties met again in the 2011 championship, Cork won narrowly in Páirc Uí Rinn. Clare advanced through the back-door to meet Cork again in the Munster semi-final and many of the locals in west Clare wanted that match played in Miltown-Malbay, and not in Cusack Park.

“I certainly believe that Clare would have a better chance if they played Cork here,” said John Reidy from Miltown-Malbay in an interview in the Clare Champion newspaper. “For a start, Clare would get a bigger crowd here in the west.”

Cork subsequently hammered Clare in that semi-final in Cusack Park. With the footballing stronghold in the west of the county, the Clare footballing public has often believed that Clare are harder to beat in the heartland.

Clare never won a Munster U21 football title but one of the biggest shocks in the history of the U21 championship occurred in 2007 when Clare turned over Kerry. Clare only won by three points but it should have been far more because they kicked 16 wides. Clare were subsequently beaten by Tipperary, who were hammered by Cork in the Munster final.

That game against Kerry in 2007 was played in Kilmihil, in west Clare, on a Saturday afternoon, but most of Clare’s underage football matches are still played in Cusack Park. With midweek games now in the U20 championship, similar to the U21 championship in recent years, Clare can play their home games in west Clare because of floodlit venues in Miltown and Cooraclare.

Miltown is never an easy venue to play in, primarily because of the strong westerly breeze always blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean less than a mile away. The renowned Spanish Point beach, which takes its name from the unfortunate Spanish Armada shipwrecks of 1588, is just a short stroll from Hennessy Memorial Park.

Football has always heavily defined the culture and identity in that pocket on the western seaboard. Miltown-Malbay is also the current stronghold of Clare football, having won the last two Clare senior titles, and three of the last five.

Last Thursday evening, Clare hammered Waterford in the opening round of the Munster U20 football championship in Miltown-Malbay on a scoreline of 3-14 to 0-6. Tomorrow evening, Cork will make that long trek west to Miltown for the Munster semi-final.

The venue is never a decisive factor. When Cork met Clare in the 2016 U21 championship in Cooraclare, Cork smashed their opponents by 15 points.

A number of this Cork team garnered massive experience from last year’s U20 All-Ireland run but they will still be conscious of the threat Clare are capable of posing, especially in a venue where they’re comfortable, both with the surroundings and with the wild elements.

Cork will be hot favourites but they’ll also be mindful of how hard Clare pushed Cork in last year’s Munster minor championship. Shane Meehan, who Cork struggled to handle in that game, caused significant damage again last Thursday against Waterford, scoring 2-2.

This is a young Clare team. Emmet McMahon and Cillian Rouine are on the senior panel but there are only six remaining from last year’s U20 panel that lost to Waterford by one point in the Munster quarter-final, which was Waterford’s first victory in the competition in 13 years.

Clare’s U20 pre-season preparation was mixed. They reached the O’Connor Cup final before losing out to Offaly.

“It put us on edge and the atmosphere in the camp changed totally after that game,” said manager Michael Neylon last week. “We look like we are in good shape now.”

Clare are, while playing in Miltown-Malbay is another boost to their chances. And Clare, especially the supporters, always feel more comfortable playing in their footballing heartland.

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