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Antrim must beware of wounded foes Clare on a landmark day for Corrigan Park, says Darren Gleeson

Clare will have full focus on Corrigan Park trip, warns boss

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Top stuff: Antrim’s Stephen Rooney celebrates winning the Joe McDonagh Cup. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Top stuff: Antrim’s Stephen Rooney celebrates winning the Joe McDonagh Cup. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

On way: Clare’s Tony Kelly. Credit: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

On way: Clare’s Tony Kelly. Credit: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Pat Fitzgerald. Credit: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Pat Fitzgerald. Credit: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

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Top stuff: Antrim’s Stephen Rooney celebrates winning the Joe McDonagh Cup. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Sure, it would have been nice to welcome big-time hurling back to Belfast in a sparkling new Casement Park. But in these times of plague and a messy stand-off between various GAA factions over the funding of the project, Antrim have had to make do and mend to host their own teams.

Making do and mending, however, doesn’t do justice to the work that has gone on with Corrigan Park over the last few years.

The home of the St John’s club that sends out over 30 teams across football, hurling, camogie and ladies’ football has undergone a major revamp, and a brand new stand is being officially handed over this weekend in time for the visit of Clare for their Division 1B National Hurling League meeting with Antrim tomorrow.

That there will be no throaty voices from Belfast and the Glens roaring on their boys is a deep pity. As Antrim manager Darren Gleeson pointed out earlier in the week, the shopping centres and beer gardens of Belfast will be packed while the shouts and calls of players will echo around a virtually empty ground.

Corrigan Park itself has a rich history. In 1943, the county hurlers beat Galway and then Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter and semi-finals here to reach their first All-Ireland final.

A year later, they actually hosted the All-Ireland camogie final, and did likewise in 1946 and 1947, becoming the unofficial home of the prestige camogie games of the time.

A few decades later, club member Andy McCallin, father of Antrim’s only football All-Star, young Andy, in 1971 struck on an idea to host the ‘Top Four Tournament’ of club champions in Ulster. It was later developed and morphed into the Ulster Club Championship.

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In recent years and with Casement Park no further on, it has once again become the de facto home of the county senior teams.

It is a role the club have relished. The current club chairman is Collie Donnelly, who was the most recent Antrim chairman before current incumbent Ciaran McCavana.

On Thursday evening, they brought all their stewards there for a run-through ahead of tomorrow’s game. The county hurlers trained at the venue last Saturday and the county footballers paid a visit on Monday.

Clare come with a lot of noise surrounding the panel. Since Brian Lohan took over as manager, there has been an overwhelming stench coming between management and administration in the county.

Once upon a time, Lohan was the Clare full-back that won All-Ireland titles in 1995 and 1997. He is one of just four Clare players to make over 50 Championship appearances and recognised as one of the most talented and feared full-backs of his generation.

Just behind him was that fireball of activity, Davy Fitzgerald in goal. But Davy’s father Pat has been county secretary for decades and the relationship between him and Lohan has been extremely strained.

Lohan and Davy no longer talk, no longer shake hands if they meet each other on the sidelines.

When they faced each other in Round Two of the qualifiers last year, Clare knocked out Fitzgerald’s Wexford by seven points.

Fitzgerald was magnanimous in the wake of defeat, but online abuse of him and his father is now subject of a criminal case.

Some weeks ago in that direct style of his, former Clare captain and manager Anthony Daly had a blast at how things were done in his Irish Examiner column.

“Lohan has faced one obstacle after the next since applying for the senior job,” he noted.

“The long-term viewpoint of the executive of the Clare county board is so narrow that they can hardly even see out the window.”

Inside team bubbles, however, life is different. Antrim manager Gleeson believes the Clare squad and management will not have their focus taken off the task.

“A lot of players don’t even know what is going on. You are just so focused on what you are doing. You just become insular into what your team goals are and that would be irrelevant to them coming onto the field. Completely irrelevant,” he said.

“I know a lot of the lads involved with Clare. I would be down around Shannon a good bit and you would know what is going on.

"Clare would be fully focused on having a big year. They got a big result last year against Wexford and just didn’t carry it through against Waterford.

“But they are a handful.” 

Time will tell. 


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