BRIAN Cody’s Kilkenny charges, the recently crowned NHL champions and Liam MacCarthy Cup holders, will be in Clara this Sunday evening, May 20, as will recently installed GAA President Liam O’Neill, for an eagerly anticipated challenge game against Ollie Baker’s Offaly to mark the official opening of Clara GAA’s new facilities at Pairc Proinsias (throw-in is 6.30pm.).
2011 All-Ireland SHC Final referee and Clara’s very own Brian Gavin will take charge of the attractive fixture which is a key game in Offaly’s preparations for their June 2 Leinster SHC opener against Wexford in O’Connor Park.
And of course Gavin will be hoping there is no encore of last September when before 81,214 spectators at Croke Park he inadvertently became a ‘trend’ setter on Twitter and a YouTube sensation after he was accidentally struck on the bridge of the nose by Tommy Walsh's flying hurley when he attempted to defuse a heated flare-up involving a number of players in front of Hill 16.
Kilkenny’s mercurial defender Walsh, who is expected to line out in Clara, said of the 20th minute incident against Tipperary that saw play halted for four minutes as the referee, in charge of his first senior showdown, received medical attention for a bloody nose, "I know a few Offaly lads there from the Railway Cup and they are all hardy lads. Brian Gavin is no different."
Afterwards Gavin, who also refereed the All-Ireland minor and U-21 Final replays of 2004 and ’06, respectively, revealed, "It was just a freak of nature - one of those things that we might never see again. Lads are holding lads' arms and lads' hurls, I suppose. It might have been a high hurl, but Tommy was trying to break away and these things happen.
"Maybe I learned a lesson too. I'd gone in bit quick. I used to be slagged for not being up with play. You can't win. I got a fierce shock though and was worried there might be internal bleeding but the doctors were brilliant."
Gavin won’t be wearing a helmet for Sunday’s encounter and he is expecting no blood to be spilled on this occasion either. “Everyone is looking forward to welcoming Brian Cody and the Kilkenny players to Clara and it should be a great game as both counties finalise their pre-championship preparations. There is a great hurling tradition in Clara since the formation of the club.”
Kilkenny’s injury headaches are well documented. Michael Fennelly and JJ Delaney went off injured during their NHL final demolition of JBM’s Cork at Semple Stadium, while Richie Power, Henry Shefflin, Michael Rice and Aidan Fogarty also missed that game. Ballyhale Shamrocks legend Shefflin didn’t feature at all during the NHL but as the championship looms and with him on the mend, King Henry could make his return at Clara.
With the first round of games completed in the domestic SHC, Ollie Baker and his selectors Paudge Mulhare & Mark Corrigan, will be keen to get their squad back together and perform well against the ‘Cats’. Joe Brady, Derek Molloy, Rory Hanniffy and Michael Verney were hampered by injury during the NHL and after the disappointment of not qualifying for the NHL Division 1B Final, Baker will be looking to make the most of this joust with Kilkenny. Chris McDonald and Shane Dooley will be also involved in SFC action with their clubs next weekend.
Brian Gavin explained, “The Clara GAA committee has put in an enormous amount of work ahead of the official opening and everyone is welcome to come along and join in the celebrations. There will be something to cater for all ages as the game will be preceded by a Family Fun Day.”
GAA President Liam O’Neill will perform the official opening of the magnificent new facilities at 6pm and this will be preceded by a senior football challenge game and a series of underage games in both codes as the club feels it is imperative that their young, up and coming stars get the opportunity to share centre stage on this red letter day.
Alongside the new pitch development on the Kilbeggan Road, ball stoppers, perimeter fencing (sponsored by the club’s main sponsor Baggott’s) and a ball wall have been erected as Clara embellishes its reputation as one the most progressive clubs in the county. Clara was the first club in Offaly to contest both County Senior Hurling and Football finals in the same year 1923.
The oldest GAA club in Leinster (outside Dublin, founded on December 15, 1884), Clara first brought a pitch at Pairc Proinsias in 1996 and in 2007 they purchased additional land when they purchased the former Convent building and grounds.
They have now developed two full sized pitches at the complex, one a sand based pitch that will be their main playing pitch and another training pitch that is suitable for games and has floodlights.
They also have three smaller pitches, suitable for underage games and they have the scope to develop a third full size pitch if required.
Clara are also in the process of converting to rooms in the old convent into dressing rooms and these will be ready for the official opening - The Convent also houses the clubs office, a dining room and meeting rooms.
Musical entertainment on what is an historic day for the club will be performed by the acclaimed Clara Town Band and the Clara Ballad Group who won an All-Ireland Scor title recently.