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'There's a lot attached to the game - we've girls still hurting over that to be honest'

Laurie Ryan and Clare hope to put the hurt of their 2016 All-Ireland intermediate final loss to bed against Kildare today.

MEMORIES OF THE 2016 TG4 All-Ireland intermediate final come flooding back.

laurie Clare captain Laurie Ryan.

Thick and fast, they’re not the best. A one-point defeat in Croke Park, it ended in absolute heartbreak for Clare. So close but yet so far, it was disappointment like no other.

Laurie Ryan was captain that day as she led her troops into battle against Kildare. She’s still captain almost two years later, and as we look out on the same turf at the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland championship launch, you can still hear the pain in her voice as she recalls the day itself.

The reason for the re-visit is simple: the two sides are in the same group for the revamped round-robin stages of the championhsip. Clare, Kildare, Down and Wexford make up a very challenging Group 3. And the 2016 All-Ireland finalists meet once again today.

“I suppose there’s a lot attached to that game,” Ryan, who plays her club football with The Banner, explains. “We’ve a few girls that would have been playing here, still hurting over that to be honest.

“Our old manager Neil Moynihan, his brother is over them and he would have stood in as a manager for us when we played our All-Ireland semi-final that year.

“There’s a lot attached to that game really. There’ll be a lot on the line for both teams that day. We both have a point to prove. It’s tough for them coming back down to intermediate after going up (to senior).

Laurie Ryan with Noelle Early In action that day in September 2016. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“They lost a lot of players but they’re rebuilding and they still have a very strong team. We know that we have a tough task ahead of us there again.”

How sweet it would be to put those bad memories to bed as they face off once again in championship (throw-in 3.30pm, Kinnegad), the 24-year-old defender smiles.

Bouncing back from that loss has been tough, there’s no doubt about it. As often happens after a landmark day, some long-serving players hung up their inter-county boots while younger players were left to fill the void.

There was a lot of transition, but that’s not a bad thing all the same.

“Some teams react very well to it, some teams don’t,” the defender continues, when asked about the aftermath.

“In fairness to our girls, they did react fairly well but we had a few retirements which really put us back a bit. We kind of nearly had to rebuild the squad again last year.

“If you were to look at it, about seven of our team starting last year started in that minor B All-Ireland final (Clare beat Meath) last year as well. That’s a huge number and a huge turnover.

intermediate At the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland championship launch.

“We had a squad of 19 I think up here in Croke Park (in 2016) and nine or 10 of them stepped away. We kind of had to rebuild again and we’re back in a good place now and hoping to push on.

“We have that mix of youth and experience back again and hopefully that will pay off now.”

She’s confident and upbeat as she speaks about the recent changes to the set-up.

Their Lidl Ladies National League Division 2 campaign this year is one they’d probably rather forget. Six defeats, one win, but they managed to stay in the second tier. “Everyone’s put that to the back of their mind,” she says, adding that they learned a lot from the squad through it and are drawing from the positives.

A change of management has really lifted the spirits, with veteran Clare defender Martin McMahon coming into the fold as a coach. Another plus is the fact that while other years the Banner seem to lose players around this stage with travelling and the likes, this year, they’re picking them up.

All of this has had a hugely positive impact and their summer has been going to plan so far. They beat Limerick on a scoreline of 7-15 to 1-3 a few weeks back, acting as a Munster decider of sorts with silverware on the line.

The Shannonsiders are in the junior grade but because the other four Munster sides — Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Tipperary — are senior, the provincial council organised that they play off.

“It was great to get that game,” she says. “It’s a long time to go from league to championship without having a competitive game.

“Even getting the preparations right and the girls getting used to playing a match for a trophy, or something on the line. It was a nice start.

“For our younger girls, they want to win and when they heard that (there was silverware on the line) it motivates them a bit more. A lot of us have never won anything with Clare so it was nice in that sense.

“At the same time, you want to be competing with the best in our level and division. Limerick, fair play to them, it was never going to be easy coming up and playing a team above them.

Niamh O'Dea Fellow Clare star Niamh O'Dea. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They were a very good team, but it was nice to get a cup at the end of the day.”

From there, they beat Down on a scoreline of 2-17 to 1-9 in their All-Ireland championship opener two weeks ago. Ryan was influential on that occasion, as was attacking ace Niamh O’Dea who finished with an incredible tally of 2-8.

As the University of Limerick PHD candidate said at the time of our conversation, which was the week before that clash:

“We’re hoping that what we’ve done in training will really show off now when we go out and play championship.

“We’re hopeful and really looking forward to the test put in front of us over the next few weeks. Everyone’s looking forward to it.

champo group shot At the photocall for the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland championship launch.

“You have to win two matches to get out of it, at least. It’s going to be really, really tough.”

Tough, but in a good sense. One win down, and they’re looking good facing into their next two outings. Watch this space.

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Emma Duffy

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