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Kilkenny's Claire Phelan hungry for more days in the sun

There was definitely a raised eyebrow or two among camogie cognoscenti when the results of the opening round of the Very Camogie Leagues came through.

While Tipperary beating Division 1A champions Galway was unexpected, the defeat of All-Ireland kingpins Kilkenny by Clare the same weekend was the real shock.

In a quirk of fate, the scheduling algorithm had put the two big guns up against one another for the second round and it was Brian Dowling's crew that fell short once more to leave them pointless, more or less out of contention for overall honours already.

They accounted for fellow basement dwellers Dublin a fortnight ago in a hard-fought tie but there had been no element of panic within the squad anyway. Between management and players, this is a hugely experienced group, even allowing for the legendary figures that have stepped away in recent years.

This time around, only Mary O’Connell is unavailable after taking time out to go travelling, but the Doyle sisters - Kellyann and Aoife - are back, having missed the march to O’Duffy glory with cruciate tears.

There is an anxious wait to see what the prognosis is on a knee injury suffered in training by player of the year Miriam Walsh, but other than that it’s all hands on deck.

Like Walsh, Claire Phelan got married at the end of 2022, to Emmett Byrne, and she admits to giving some thought about whether the time was right bring the curtain down on a stellar career, one characterised by classy stickwork, an astute brain to read the play, powerful bursts out of defence and a bloody-minded refusal to back down from any challenge.

Truth was, the 29-year-old Lisdowney defender wasn’t ready to head off into the sunset.

"The target is on our back now again but we have to find another