‘We wouldn’t be here unless we believed we could beat Kerry’ – Sweeney relishes chance at Munster glory

*Alan Sweeney bursts out of the Clare defence. Photo: Gerard O’Neill

There is still a strong sense of regret among Clare’s senior footballers that they did not do themselves justice in the 2023 Munster Final against Kerry. This weekend they have a chance to make amends.

Admittedly, there is a huge turnover in the pool of players who donned saffron and blue at the TUS Gaelic Grounds last May and who will take the field at Cusack Park on Sunday for the provincial decider.

Alan Sweeney was part of the Clare panel last season, although he did not get any game time in the 5-14 0-15 defeat to Kerry. He is among those determined the province will give a better account of itself in the Munster Final.

He explained: “There’s a great buzz in training, there’s a good bounce there, as a group we’re really looking forward to it. A lot of this group was there last year, on the day we felt we hadn’t done that. do ourselves justice, we really try to keep the spirits up and the boys put a good game plan in place, we work hard every training to get the little things right.”

Fullback Sweeney told The Clare Echo: ‘We felt we hadn’t done ourselves justice, hopefully we’ve learned something, we’ll see on Sunday, but it’s the added bonus of having the final at Cusack Park, which is some extra is special. No one in living memory remembers Clare playing a Munster final at Cusack Park. However, it is very important from our point of view that we do not get involved in this occasion, but I do not think that will be a problem. Many of us were there last year, we experienced it, we are going to play a game and we are really looking forward to it.”

Clare’s players would not give the required commitment to inter-county unless they believed they could do enough to win silverware, Sweeney insisted. ‘You meet guys from outside and you talk about this and that, we wouldn’t be here unless we believed, why go out on the road for forty minutes every night if we didn’t believe we could beat Kerry Of course everyone from the outside will have their opinion have, but that’s fine. There’s no better place to do that than Cusack Park, where all our friends, family and club players support us, that’s what we strive for.”

Testing himself against one of the best teams in the country in Ennis is an opportunity to savour, the Doolin man outlined. “There was a lot of talk at the start of the year about the guys leaving and of course some of the guys we would have worked with for a few years, but we’ve shown in the league that there are plenty of different leaders there. who have risen at different times and we need new leaders to step up on Sunday. There will be guys who get jobs who are some of the best forwards in the game, but that’s why we train and why we do it. you want to play against these guys and there’s no better place to do that than in our own backyard with a big Clare crowd in there.”

He continued: “We were happy enough with our league campaign, we went to Down for the last day and a few things didn’t go our way so we went back to the drawing board, we went to Waterford, they had a fantastic win over Tipperary and we know a lot of those Tipp lads have got a Munster medal that we don’t have, that’s what we’re trying to achieve next Sunday, we went down and got the win, the preparation has been excellent since then “lads are fighting for positions for matchday twenty-six, for the first fifteen and for the five substitutes to be on the pitch to finish it off”.

One of his colleagues, a greenkeeper at Lahinch Golf Club, is former Clare captain Alan Clohessy, who led the county into contention for the 2012 Munster Final against Cork. “It’s non-stop football at the golf club with all the lads there, luckily it’s Clare at the moment, but when the club championship starts things get a bit hairy. There are a few more boys playing, but I’m working more with the Ennistymon boys, it could be exciting.”

Sweeney was added to the province’s seniors panel in 2017, along with Cillian Brennan and Darragh Bohannon, and recalls his colleague Clohessy’s advice on valuing your time at inter-provincial level. “I had done one or two years and he said, ‘You’ve done seven or eight and you don’t know it’, here we are and you have to enjoy it, the time and effort that goes into it is impossible to say that it will last forever, every year has its own story in terms of dedication, we have to give everything and it is really fun.”

At U21 level, Alan was central to the Clare side, defeated by Kerry in the Munster quarter-final 1-17 2-8 in 2017. He recalled: “we lost to them by six points in the U21 at Austin Stack Park, the same Kerry team was full of all the lads that are there now, we have a lot of lads who played Sigerson with them in UL and NUIG, they will tell you themselves that we have players that are just as good, it just goes there because you get it on the field, that is the plan for next Sunday.”

Current panellists Éinne O’Connor, Cillian Brennan, Darren Nagle and Darragh Bohannon also featured in that U21 side, along with ex-squad members Keelan Sexton, Killian Roche, Cian O’Dea and Seán O’Donoghue.

At center back in the St Breckan side, who played in the Clare SFC final last year, clarity is sought as to where exactly Alan comes from and is quickly put to bed. ‘If my father heard I was from Lisdoonvarna there would be a riot in the stands, I would say. Strictly Doolin, but things are going great there at the moment so we won’t split it at this time.”

His father Pat is one of Alan’s strongest supporters at club and county level. “It’s like all our dads, they’re very passionate, we have a core group that follows us around the country. Clare Football wouldn’t be known for having the largest following in the world, but we have a core group that follows us. we’re all over the country, we have league games in Northern Ireland every year and we’ve got a few hundred that go there and they’re as passionate as anyone, we hope to make them all proud next Sunday, and everyone else that coming with”.

For seven of his eight seasons at Inter-County, Alan had Colm Collins as his manager. Mark Fitzgerald has revived the role, he said. “Everyone who was part of Colm Collins’ set-up has nothing but admiration for what he did and the belief he put in us as a group. Mark immediately brought a bit of freshness and you immediately get a kick out of a group when you do that. Another thing is we talked about the guys who stepped away who were a huge core of this group, but we brought in a lot of young guys and young guys breed freedom, they’re not afraid of anything, the guys have a game plan in place, we trained very hard and we took it game by game for the league, we We made it all the way to Newry and if we had won we would have reached a league final and we would have been promoted so the biggest thing he brought is the freshness and the young boys, young boys would do anything for you, they will train and do whatever you ask them to do because they don’t know anything else”.

Another change during his time on the panel was the increasing number of St. Breckan players involved. The count now stands at five, together with Joe McGann, Jamie Stack, Cian Burke and Tristan O’Callaghan. “There is an extra incentive to bring in your own guys. I was the only one from my club for a long time, they all asked me at the beginning: ‘You are crazy when you go in, why are you doing it’, but then you step in and get a feeling for it you don’t want to leave , you make great friends through inter-county, it’s a great lifestyle, you train hard and then you go around the country competing with some of the best teams in Ireland, what more could you want and what other place could you want next Sunday we’ll be in a dogfight at Cusack Park.”