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11th Jun 2022

How West Clare twins crossed codes to become hurlers and footballers

Niall McIntyre

There have been weekends before and, the way things are going, there will be weekends again when the Clearys have to split up.

Caroline will go to the football and Gerry will go to the hurling. The phones will be at the ready and, to keep each other informed, they’ll be sending updates across.

It’s the best way to do it really when, in the unique position that they’re in, there’s one son playing for the Clare hurlers and another playing for the footballers. There may be more buzz, so far this year, surrounding the hurlers but the footballers have been tipping along nicely too and one thing you must remember is that this – the wild-west of Clare – is without a shadow of a doubt football country.

Conor Cleary comes from football country but he plays full back for the Clare hurlers.

And that’s what makes Conor Cleary’s exploits as a hurler all the more remarkable.

“He’s probably in the top five or six footballers in the county,” Former Miltown-Malbay football manager David O’Brien says about the full back for the Clare senior hurling team.

“Conor’s more of a forward or a midfielder in football and he’s very, very skilful. I’d say Colm Collins is depressed every time he sees him because he wishes he has him!”

Eoin is Conor’s twin brother and, as a west Clare man, he’s gone down the more conventional route of becoming a Gaelic footballer, full-stop. After all, his uncle Dermot Coughlan was a part of Clare’s famous Munster title winning team in ’92 while Dermot’s sons Enda and Dermot junior have also played football for Clare.

“Eoin and Conor’s mother Caroline would have played to a high level with Kilmurry Ibrickane too,” adds O’Brien, who assures us that for Eoin, the hurling vs football debate is fairly straight-forward, case closed.

But Gerry always encouraged them to play both and that was how, all those years ago, they first made the 20 minute trip from Miltown Malbay into Kilmaley, where Conor Clancy – All-Ireland winning hurler in ’95 and ’97 – is the manager now.

“Eoin wasn’t a bad hurler,” Clancy says. “If you talk to him about it, he probably wouldn’t consider himself as much of a hurler now. But he just focused more on the football…”

David O’Brien has a very different take on that one.

“You couldn’t let that lad near a hurley,” the Miltown Malbay man says with a laugh.

But Conor, quite clearly, was the opposite. Clancy has been managing Kilmaley for the last while and since he took over, and as long as he’s been known him, Conor Cleary is a hurler that has blown him away.

“Even for us,” Clancy says, “he’s involved with the county, but he’s still been at half of our sessions. So if he’s not training with Clare, he’ll be out. I remember there in February, we were just back and it was a shocking bad morning at 8.00, but Conor was the first guy through the gate. He’s easy coach, great work-ethic, brilliant trainer.

“Full back is the role he’s been given for Clare because they were short there, but Conor is equally as good at five or six. I think he can play anywhere in the backs, even at midfield. He’s a lot better hurler than some people give him credit for. He’s doing a man-marking role at the moment, but he can hurl as good as anyone if he was given that role.

“But, regardless, all year, he’s been one of Clare’s most consistent performers. You just know every day going out that he’ll stand up, and that you can count on him. I think he’s under-estimated to a large extent because he’s a tremendous hurler. He can catch ball as well as anyone but and, for me anyway, he’s a complete role model of a player.”

They’ll be counting on him again next weekend, when they take on Wexford or Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter final just like the footballers will be relying on Eoin on Saturday against Roscommon.

“Eoin has been very strong for Clare the last while,” O’Brien says, “He’s consistently been very good for them and he’s a big, big leader for them. He has great speed, a smashing left foot and he’s one of their main men.”

“It was always straight-forward for Eoin,” adds O’Brien. He always loved football, Conor did too, in fairness, they were two of the best players on the Clare minor football team back in the day.

“But I suppose Conor got into the hurling and when he went to St Flannan’s then and was in school with Tony Kelly, Jack Browne and all these boys and that just took off. We don’t mind too much because he’s still brilliant for Miltown-Malbay every year anyway.”

And thankfully, it’s all very straight-forward this weekend. All roads lead to Croke Park…