by Therese O’Callaghan
It is a big day for Clare on Saturday as they head to Nowlan Park to face the All-Ireland and National League champions. The game will throw-in before the Kilkenny v Limerick Round 1 All-Ireland Hurling Championship qualifier.
Facing the best team in the country, and in their own back yard, will be a huge test of character for Trish O’Grady’s youthful side. We saw how the crowd got behind the Cats in Thurles last August when they defeated Galway after extra-time in the All-Ireland Semi-Final.
Last year wasn’t easy for Clare, things just didn’t go their way. It was a learning curve for the younger players, and their cause wasn’t helped either by injuries to key personnel – Máire McGrath, Chloe Morey, Denise Lynch, Laura McMahon, Orlaith Duggan and Carol O'Leary.
By comparison, they have a much healthier squad for this campaign, and they are also boosted by the fact that dual player Niamh O’Dea is concentrating solely on Camogie. There is no doubt the talent is there and the work is being done, but it is going to take time. The average age of the panel is 19, with only eight aged 23 or over.
All teams go through transition, and Clare lost a great leader in Deirdre Murphy when she retired. Claire McMahon too. Denise Lynch as well, however Lynch has come on board as a selector to join O’Grady and her management team, in what they say is year two of a four/five-year plan.
The opening round defeat to Dublin was a disappointing result for them, 3-11 to 1-14. They regrouped against Waterford (2-19 to 3-9) with Chloe Morey in terrific form. A haul of 15 points for the Sixmilebridge player earned her the Player of the Match accolade.
The mix of youth and experience is beginning to blend. The likes of Morey, O'Leary, Duggan and Róisín McMahon lead the way, while newcomers Ciara Grogan, Amy Barrett, Ciara Doyle and Áine O'Loughlin all shone throughout this year’s All-Ireland Minor championship, with O'Loughlin grabbing no fewer than nine goals.
O’Grady introduced a number of young players in 2016 and continued the trend this season. It was a baptism of fire for many of them in their first foray into adult competition 12 months ago, the hope now is that experience will stand to them.
The hosts, meanwhile, have one championship outing under their belt, a 2-15 to 0-6 away victory over Waterford. They are without Edwina Keane and Kelly-Ann Doyle who are battling long-term injuries.
Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship, Kilkenny v Clare, Nowlan Park, Saturday July 1st, 5pm. Referee: Owen Elliott (Antrim) – Double-header with Round 1 All-Ireland Hurling Championship between Kilkenny v Limerick at 7.00pm
Clare Panel: Lauren Solon, Amy Barrett, Máire McGrath, Carol O’Leary, Laura McMahon, Clare Hehir, Róisín McMahon, Orlaith Duggan, Ciara Grogan, Aoibhean Duggan, Aoife Keane, Chloe Morey, Orla Devitt, Áine O’Loughlin, Niamh O’Dea, Ciara McCarthy, Sarah Loughnane, Andrea O’Keeffe, Emma O’Connell, Zoe McInerney, Saoirse Glynn, Rachel Kelly, Vera Loughnane, Aoibhean Malone, Chloe Devitt, Amy Keating, Deana Considine, Regan Conway, Ciara Doyle, Doireann Murphy, Emma Kennedy.
Kilkenny Panel: Emma Kavanagh, Catherine Foley, Davina Tobin, Collette Dormer, Claire Phelan, Anne Dalton, Grace Walsh, Meighan Farrell, Anna Farrell, Julianne Malone, Katie Power, Denise Gaule, Shelly Farrell, Miriam Walsh, Michelle Quilty, Anne-Marie Lennon, Jacqui Frisby, Michelle Teehan, Jenny Reddy, Jenny Clifford, Laura Murphy, Miriam Frisby, Danielle Morrissey, Grace O'Donnell, Stacey Quirke, Aoife Doyle, Róisín Phelan, Sarah Ann Quinlan, Sarah Crowley, Sarah Kent
For all of this weekend's fixture details click here