Clare will return to Croke Park for the first time since 2018 next month when they take on Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Following some promising but inconsistent performances during the Brian Lohan era, the Banner have finally clicked and will go into their next encounter with a weight of expectation they have not felt in quite some time.
Despite the pressure from outside parties increasing as the season reaches its climax, Clare’s Tony Kelly is relishing the prospect of taking to the pitch at GAA headquarters.
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“It’s massive, huge,” Kelly told the Irish Independent. “We haven’t played there often. Peter Duggan was saying coming down on the bus that he’s only played there once, a few of us only played there before two or three times, four times max, and that was a massive reward,” the 2013 Hurler of the Year said.
“It’s a huge reward to get to Croker and get to that last four, that’s kind of at the start of the year, regardless of winning provincials, that’s exactly where you want to be, and we’re delighted to be there and we’re just over the moon to dig that one out.”
For long periods of Saturday’s quarter-final clash with Wexford, it looked as though the Munster finalists season was about to be brought to an abrupt end as the Yellowbellies took control of a competitive encounter.
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However, Clare responded and despite not playing to their full potential, they advanced to the last four.
The Ballyea clubman savoured the nature of the victory in the immediate aftermath in Thurles.
“They’re the best wins,” Kelly exclaimed. “It was said at half-time, ‘These are the ones that you have to grind out’.
“It’s grand playing well and winning, any team that gets a good performance is usually there to win it. It’s when you’re maybe not at your best or not at your peak, just to grind it out and chip away.
“I know we got a goal there in the end with Shan (Aron Shanagher), which was a massive score for us, but a lot of it was points; we just kept the scoreboard ticking over coming down the home stretch, which was huge.”
While he failed to hide his obvious delight at the outcome, the 28-year-old didn’t shy away from calling out the underperformance by his side.
“It was the easy things that we’d normally be good at, the execution was just poor, poor shooting, poor options, sloppy passing. The work-rate was there and thankfully it was because in that first half, we were probably lucky to go in level at half-time,” he said.
“Coming down the home straight, I thought we really upped it and our hurling really improved and our bench brought us great energy as well.”