By Niall Gartland
IT’S already been a season to remember for Clonduff camog Claire Kearney, and Saturday’s All-Ireland final against James Stephens, should it go according to plan, would well and truly be the icing on the cake.
Kearney, a native of Cushendall, played her part for Antrim Seconds as they claimed the All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship with a memorable victory over Armagh in Croke Park back in August.
That game coincided with a sweltering summer’s day, and the weather couldn’t have been much different during Clonduff’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Clanmaurice last weekend, which was played in freezing conditions.
So Kearney is set to play in Croke Park for the second time this year when she lines out against James Stephens this weekend, and she’s still pinching herself after what’s been a dream season in every respect.
“At the start of 2022 I didn’t think it was going to be like this, so what myself and my teammates have achieved has been class. I never would’ve thought I’d have got to play in Croke Park in my life, let alone twice in a short period of time so I’m not going to complain about it.
“When we played back in August it was a beautiful day, and it’s not like that now but it’ll be class to be back. I’m glad to have had that experience behind me – even if it was just the one time, at least I know what to expect, that shock factor is gone now and that should only help.”
This is Kearney’s second season lining out with the girls from Hilltown, having been persuaded to join the club by another Cushendall native, Jack Carson last year, who was managing Clonduff at the time. There were a couple of other connections – Clonduff star Sara Louise Graffin is married to well-known Cushendall hurler Arron Graffin, while Claire’s relative Ciaran Kearney resides in Hilltown.
Her decision to join Clonduff has worked out extremely well and playing alongside some of the province’s most celebrated camogs, such as Sara Louise, her sister Fionnuala and Paula O’Hagan has been hugely rewarding.
“Obviously I knew about the girls before, they were already role models but playing alongside them has been fantastic as they’re so supportive.
“They’re such big characters on the team which is why they were such a miss to us when they were unavailable last year – it’s not just their playing ability that makes them stand out, they’re a continuous support on the pitch and are constantly talking and keeping you right. They drive everyone on and they’re so approachable if you need anything at all.”
It’s been a busy year across club and county, and Clonduff have only had a week to prepare as they bid to win their second All-Ireland Intermediate title in four years. Sacrifices have had to be made, but Kearney says it’s been completely worth it.
“All the girls have made a lot of sacrifices this year as it’s just been non-stop really. My friends have texted me saying are we ever going to see you, because it’s been constant between training and matches. It’s totally worth it whenever you’re successful – it’s definitely worthwhile when you reap the rewards.”