By John Harrington (GAA.ie)
So impressive were Clonmel Commercials when defeating Nemo Rangers in the AIB Munster Club SFC quarter-final, that they were immediately installed as favourites to win the province outright.
It wasn’t just the style they played with when overcoming a fancied Nemo team by seven points, it was the maturity they displayed too that really impressed.
The core of this team won a Munster title in 2015. Seven years later players like Michael Quinlivan, Jason Lonergan, Seamus Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, and Kevin Fahy are very much in their prime and it was very evident in that win over Nemo.
They were tactically and technically superb, and performed with a unity of purpose and game intelligence that comes from playing together for so many years.
All that being said, Sunday’s Munster semi-final against Newcastle West is a potential banana skin if they haven’t come back down to earth after the high of taking apart Nemo Rangers.
The Limerick champions are a strong team in their own right and you can be sure they sensed an opportunity for themselves when news came through that provincial favourites Nemo had been knocked out.
“I said it the minute we beat Nemo that evening to the players that every other club left in the Munster Championship will now see this an opportunity for them to win it,” says Clonmel Commercials manager, Tommy Morrissey.
“That’s what we’ve done, we’ve opened the door wide. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone else as well. If I was in the Newcastle West dressing-room that’s the way i’d be looking at it, that it’s an opportunity to get to a Munster Final.
“While people will have us favourites on the back of the Nemo performance, to me it’s an even game. It’s a battle. Newcastle West pushed Nemo very close a couple of years ago, they have back to back county titles, they have some extremely good footballers including a couple who have been nominated for All-Stars in the last couple of years.
“They’re a team that we certainly won’t be taking lightly, I can guarantee you that.
“It’s natural that the players will get a lot of deserved praise for the win against Nemo because they did play well.
“Thankfully we have a lot of experience in the dressing room. You have Seamus Kennedy, Michael Quinlivan, Jack Kennedy, Colman Kennedy, these fellas, saying, ‘lads, there’s nothing won yet, we’ve done nothing really, all we’ve done is play it the way we feel we can play’.
“We have to live up to those standards we set against Nemo now and realise that if things don’t go as well the next day and our backs are against the wall we have to be able to dig in as well.”
When you get to the latter stages of your career and you know you only have a certain amount of years left, talented players get very hard-nosed about what more they want to achieve while they still can.
You get the feeling many of the current Commercials team are very much in the headspace right now.
They’re a gifted generation who have won six county titles and one Munster title in the last 11 years, but if they could win another provincial title it would really cement their legacy.
Their ranks have been strengthened by the addition of talented young players like Sean O’Connor, Tadhg Condon, James Morris, Peter McGarry, and Cian Smith, so this is arguably the strongest panel Commercials have ever had.
“There’s no point in underplaying things or downgrading it in any way. I said it from when this group of players were underage, that there’s big things to come from this group,” admits Morrissey of the talent in their rnaks.
“Yes, we delivered a Munster in 2015 and got to a Final again in ’19 when we didn’t perform to the level we’re capable of. But I still feel that this group is capable of competing at the very highest level in club championship.
“I’m just delighted they have the opportunity to show people around the country how good they can play.
“But, again, the spotlight is on them now and they have to embrace that and be able to say, right, let’s go again. Because there’s no point in just being a shrinking violet either. You need to be able to say, right, we can play to those levels and keep it up.”
This Commercials team plays a nice brand of football that combines an ability to mix up running the ball from deep positions to angling long deliveries in to target-man Sean O’Connor.
Perhaps just as importantly considering the season we’re now in, they’re also a physically abrasive side who complement that skill with no little grit if that’s what’s required on any given day.
“If you have the ability to play an open brand of football and a game where you can mix it between a running game and also direct passing in to your forwards, that’s what you do,” says Morrissey.
“We have the ability whether its from our goalkeeper Michael (O’Reilly) to Seamus (Kennedy) at full-back. And then right through the younger lads who are all very comfortable with the ball in their hand and with foot-passing.
“We’re a team that want to utilise that. We’re not in any way trying to set up negatively or disrupt the other team that way. We want to open teams up which is what we’ve been trying to do.
“A lot of people were telling us before the county final that Upperchurch were a big, physical team but what stood out to me that day at the parade when the two teams were walking around was that we were very much at a level par or else above Upperchurch in some areas. That stood out.
“Even the likes of James Morris, a young guy of 19, he was on an S&C programme with the Tipp U-20 hurlers last year, he’s playing freshers college hurling now, and these young lads are physically ready for the demands of senior football and not out of place at all for the likes of this weather when you need to mix it.
“You’re right, heavy ground ultimately means that things slow up a bit and you’re more inclined to get the hits at this time of the year, but that’s not something we’re concerned about at all.”
They’re not getting too carried away by the win over Nemo nor looking beyond the considerable challenge posed by Newcastle West this weekend, but opportunity knocks for this Clonmel Commercials team and they’re determined to seize it.
“We’re not looking beyond Sunday at all,” says Morrissey, “but when we sat down as a group of players at the start of the year we had a couple of review meetings as the year has gone during the summer and then after the county final we always had clear targets.
“We’re not a team that just wants to potter along and see where it gets us. Our target is strong, we want to be competing at the top of club football around the country. To do that you have to be able to beat the Nemos, able to beat the Newcastle Wests, and keep going.
“And have the good days when you can play really well and football goes your way like the day against Nemo but also come through the battles like we had against Upperchurch and Moyle Rovers.
“When you know there’s going to be tough games and you have to dig in. I feel as a group we’re capable of both which is important.”