Banner's young guns ahead of schedule: Bugler
TIMING, as Brendan Bugler might attest, is everything, particularly for a species as rare as himself: a current Clare senior hurler in his late 20s.
Take, for example, the Banner's three championship exits prior to Davy Fitzgerald's arrival and his flushing of the scene with teenagers.
In 2011, Galway beat them by 17 points. A year before, Anthony Daly's Dublin put them out by 13, Clare's last appearance in Croke Park. And in 2010, it was Galway again, this time by 'just' 10 points, a succession of losses bound to have unsteadying effects on a county and any player's confidence.
"It's one thing losing by a point or two," Bugler admits, "but when you're being hammered out the gate, it can leave you disillusioned sometimes.
"It was nice to get one over on Galway (in this year's All-Ireland quarter-final) after they had hammered us two years ago."
So to say Clare needed this blast of youth, from two separate All-Ireland U-21-winning teams, is to underestimate in the extreme.
"You see these young lads come along, win two Munsters (minors), unlucky not to win an All-Ireland minor and then win an All-Ireland U-21," Bugler explains.
"I suppose they made the transition a little sooner than people thought. I knew it would happen. I just had to wait, bide my time and wait for it to happen."
At 28, Bugler isn't exactly applying for his travel pass but in comparison to many who he now counts as his Clare senior comrades, he is positively prehistoric.
Yet for all their verve and vigour in their baptismal season and Fitzgerald's policy of youth, youth and more youth, it was Bugler who was awarded an All Star last year, unarguably Clare's best player.
"Young hurlers who have had that little bit of success, when they come into a set-up, they bring that bit of freshness," he explains.
"They're not afraid to tackle hard and they're not afraid of the older lads, which is a good thing.
That it is Limerick – Clare's conquerors last year – who stand between them and an All-Ireland final is, according to Bugler, immaterial.
"It doesn't matter who it is. It's an All-Ireland semi-final," he insists. "For supporters and neutrals it's going to be a great occasion.
"You have to detach yourself from the hype. You have to hide away in your own little bubble," he adds. "But it's going to be a great day."