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‘He said, “Don’t you ever decline a call from me again’’’ – Clare’s Ikem Ugwueru on saying no to Colm Collins


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But – and this is the thing Ugwueru looks back on now and laughs at the innocence of it – he didn’t know who Colm Collins was.

The second time was a bit more awkward. Thanks again, he said, but no thanks again. Things to do. Rugby to play. All the best.

The third time – more of the same. Football with Éire Óg. Rugby with Shannon. That was the way it was and that, to be frank about it, was how Ugwueru liked it.

The fourth? Well, look, there are only so many times you can say no to someone.

So Ugwueru did what most of us probably would have done by the third call, maybe even the second – he didn’t answer.

“I knew he was going to ask me again,” Ugwueru laughs now. “And I didn’t want to say no again, so I just said I’d ignore him.

“Then when I did come in the year after, he reminded me of the call. ‘Did you get that call off me the last time?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Don’t you ever decline a call from me again’. So I never did!”

Colm being the Godfather of Clare football – and a man who has never refused a call in his life – this was undeniably a smart move.

“Obviously, I knew of Colm, but I didn’t know him personally,” he recalls. “So I really didn’t know who I was saying ‘no’ to. So then the lads were saying, ‘Colm is ringing your phone. You have to accept it one of these days’.

“Obviously, I did accept it and playing under him was class. He always saw potential in me, even if I didn’t see it in myself.

“Same as my coach with Éire Óg, Paul Madden. He saw potential in me too, but I didn’t see it. I was playing rugby.

“They were like, if you give this a full crack, you never know where this might go. Then I decided to give it a full shot and here we are now.”

Where we are now is a couple of days shy of a Munster final, Clare’s second in a row. They have survived the removal of their Godfather. They have thrived despite the absence of many of his most trusted soldiers.

A curious phenomenon. It had been observed, in the form of repeated praise, that Clare and Collins were more or less extracting the maximum from themselves – their playing pool, their resources, etc.

Yet they haven’t missed a beat since he, and so many important players, went at the end of last year.

“After every year, you know which players are going to leave,” Ugwueru notes. “Then some might decide during the club season that they might leave too. Some of those decisions were made close to when we were starting back, but that’s OK, too.

“People have lives outside football. Some have kids, some were concentrating on work. Some were just getting too run down by it, which is fair enough, like.

“But once we were hearing this, fellas like myself, Emmet McMahon, Alan Sweeney, Aaron Griffin, we have to realise it’s our time to carry this team forward. You can’t always be relying on the older lads to carry the team forward.”

So the rugby is parked, for the moment anyway. It’s not quite past tense.

There are familial connections. His sister, Chisom Ugwueru, scored a hat-trick of tries during UL Bohemian’s 48-38 win over Railway Union in the Women’s AIL final at the Aviva last weekend.

Still, it would be easy to get lost in the excitement of the moment. A second Munster final and a second season crashing shoulders with the aristocracy in the All-Ireland round-robin series? There are Clare footballers who soldiered for a decade without ever getting so much of a sighting of that mountaintop.

Asked whether he misses the rugby at all, Ugwueru admits: “Ah, I do a little bit because I’m still in contact with Shannon RFC and the senior boys. I see them play every week and I still follow their season. I would have made a lot of friends on the team and still talk to them, so obviously, it’s in the back of my head, but right now, it’s just all football.”

Last year, Kerry ransacked Clare for five goals in the Gaelic Grounds. This year, in Ennis, they are forewarned.

“Seeing them on TV and playing them in person is a completely different thing,” Ugwueru points out.

“So it was a learning curve for me and it was only my second time playing Kerry. I’d played them in the McGrath Cup before, but it was my first time playing them in the championship and to be fair to them, they are one of the top teams for a reason.

“But I feel like we kind of let the occasion get the better of us and we were kind of afraid of what Kerry would do to us and didn’t really worry about our own game. That’s just a player thing. It happens sometimes and I feel like this time we won’t focus on too much outside noise and just ourselves.”​

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