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The Miltown Malbay twin brothers aiming to fly two Clare senior flags this summer

Eoin Cleary plays for the footballers tomorrow, his twin brother Conor for the hurlers next week.

Conor and Eoin Cleary aim to leave their mark with Clare.
Conor and Eoin Cleary aim to leave their mark with Clare.
Image: INPHO

FOR THE CLEARY family from Miltown Malbay in west Clare, the 2017 championship road starts tomorrow.

It commences with football in Cusack Park, moves on to hurling in Thurles on Sunday week and after those opening Munster assignments have concluded, they will hope for a long summer where the dual mandate is pursued.

Limerick are the opposition on both fronts, Eoin stationed close to goal as one of the Clare footballers chiefs marksmen and his twin brother Conor part of the Clare hurling rearguard, likely to be taking up a half-back role.

“It’s brilliant for us, we get to see each other in these games and we can give advice to each other,” says Eoin.

“When I see him do well, it rubs off well on me, it gives me good energy as well. I can feed off that.

“There’s a few fixtures clashes but my mother goes to the football and my father goes to the hurling. That’s what they’re into.

“Last year my mother went to Kildare when we went up (in the football league) and my father was in Ennis that day when they beat Tipperary in the national league quarter-final.

“They get a lot of trips away.It’s brilliant for them, they get a lot of exposure to these games.”

Seamus Harnedy and Conor Cleary Conor Cleary (right) in action for Clare against Cork's Seamus Harnedy Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

They come from the heartland of Clare football in the west of the county. In 2015 Eoin kicked 0-4 as local club St Joseph’s ended an exhausting 25-year wait for a county senior title.

Conor only missed out due to a fractured ankle sustained in a game that summer with Kilmaley, a hurling club just over 20 minutes drive from their home.

“My father loves hurling really. He just decided to bring us over to Kilmaley and following on from that he decided to bring us to St Flannan’s college, which is renowned for hurling.

“Conor got a taste for it then and he just really stuck at it. I’d see him belting the ball off the wall every single night because I suppose he hadn’t the start that other lads had.

“He knew he had to put in a big effort and without question, he puts a massive effort into his hurling. I think in fairness to my father, there’s a lot of credit due to him for that. He’s a very capable footballer as well.”

Eoin stuck with the football, a self-described ‘hatchet man’ when he played hurling.

Conor Cleary (second left) at the Munster senior football championship launch. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I played a bit of hurling up to minor level. My last game was a club game with Kilmaley, it was the infamous Anthony Daly incident. We won by a point actually so it was a nice way to bow out.

“I remember getting the paper next day and a minor A final was the headline in some papers and I was thinking, ‘this is nuts’.

“I’d have never made it as a hurler. I was more of a hatchet man really!”

The football hasn’t served him too badly. When Clare composed one of the most uplifting tales from last summer’s championship, Cleary was instrumental in their journey to a historic first quarter-final.

He contributed 0-24 over the course of six games as Clare sliced their way through the qualifiers, sending Laois, Sligo and Roscommon packing.

Eoin Cleary celebrates at the final whistle Conor Cleary celebrates Clare's win over Laois last summer Source: INPHO

“That’s what you want again. It’s like any addiction, you get a feel for it and you want more.

“We want to be near the (likes of) Kerry and Dublin again. We want to be at that top tier, at that top level.

“That’s the reason we train and we give up our lives for this. We’d love to get the opportunity to get as far as we did last year.”

When Cleary reflects on their progress last year, he finds it all the more striking when considering that expectations had plummeted after an underwhelming season in 2015.

“I remember after 2015, it was a very poor year. We barely stayed up in Division 3 and we had two very disappointing losses and we were out of the championship very early.

“The following year then it was a struggle to get lads to training at the start. Some guys went to America, some guys opted out, they felt they didn’t want to give the commitment.

“I remember one member, who shall remain nameless, remarked to me, ‘Why should you train for whatever amount of months of the year to get hammered by Cork or Kerry?’

“I remember thinking that guy is no good to you anyway. That was the reality. Then those guys that didn’t commit in 2016 came back this year because they saw these guys are successful, we want to be part of this.

“Now this year we’re at a level where we’re closer to the likes of Cork and Kerry. You’ve got a good crop of guys there who are committed and have the right attitude. It just shows what you can do with these kind of guys.”

The league ended with a string of losses but Division 2 football still awaits them next year. The win over Cork was seismic and now Clare must meet the rising expectations after last summer’s heroics.

“Cork are a team we’d consider to be at the very top bracket so to beat a team like that in a first time in my time as a Clare footballer was really uplifting.

“It was a good experience but we were disappointed not to push on a bit further. Of course there is a bit of pressure because we got to a very high level last year.

“We’re no longer going to be a surprise package. We’re going to have to deal with that expectation and hopefully we will.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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