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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
©INPHO/James Crombie Flanagan: hoping to collect his second U21 hurling medal this evening.
# U21 Hurling
Back-to-back U21 titles 'the only focus' for Clare's rising stars
Fourteen of Clare’s U21 squad have also been involved in the Banner’s senior set-up this season.

DREAMS OF LIFTING Liam MacCarthy can wait, insists Paul Flanagan as he prepares to lead champions Clare into this evening’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling final.

Flanagan was on the bench last weekend as the Banner snatched a last-gasp draw against Cork and forced the senior final to a replay on 28 September.

The Ballyea youngster is one of 14 rising stars who have split their time training with Davy Fitzgerald’s squad while also focusing on defending Clare’s underage crown.

David McInerney, Colm Galvin, Podge Collins and Tony Kelly all started in Croke Park while Seadna Morey, Shane O’Donnell and Peter Duggan joined Flanagan among the substitutes.

“Obviously it was a very busy week moving from one All-Ireland to the other but it’s brilliant,” he said.

That’s all you’d want to be playing at this time of the year. It’s great to be in two All-Ireland finals and we’re just looking forward to the next one.

“Over the summer it’s been that way all of the time. You’ve just been going from one set-up into the other and it’s grand. You play the match on Sunday and you’d be back in training on the Tuesday night with the other set-up or whichever way it’s working.

“You just recover as quickly as you can and get ready for that game. It’s brilliant to be playing the big games week in week out.”

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Captain’s call: Flanagan and Antrim skipper Jackson McGreevy in Dublin earlier this week (INPHO/James Crombie)

U21 boss Gerry O’Connor this week described this Clare side as “the most creative and innovative set of players” himself and joint manager Donal Moloney have ever worked with, and Flanagan is quick to repay the compliment to those who have nurtured them along the way.

“I came up along the way in development squads from U14. We were the second or third year.

“I think it’s the culmination of a few things really: the set-up of the development squads and you’ve different coaches around the county who have had a serious influence.

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“You’ve had coaches in Cratloe, in our own parish of Ballyea, in both schools and clubs who’ve had significant influence on the group of players that has come through.

Together with that with the development squads moving on to minor and the quality of coaches, the quality of management that has come through, it has worked that way. It’s the culmination of a few things coming together.

Wielding this embarrassment of riches, Clare go into this evening’s final as 1/66 favourites to defend their U21 title and clinch back-to-back success at the grade.

But underdogs Antrim overcame similar odds when they shocked Wexford in the semis last month and, even with a senior final looming large on the horizon, Flanagan knows that they can’t be caught with their eye off the ball.

“The U21 has been extremely important in our development – you’ve so many players coming through from the U21s to the seniors – and we want to keep it that way. It’s our only focus really this week.”

An underdog story: how Antrim went from 7 players at training to an All-Ireland U21 final

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