CLARE will be seeking their third successive championship win over Limerick when the ball is thrown in at 2pm in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday.
If the teams’ respective league displays are an accurate barometer, Clare will start as warm favourites. Four league wins were enough to secure promotion to Division 2, while Limerick were relegated to Division 4. When they met in their league tie in Newcastle West, Clare won 1-14 to 0-11, which followed their 0-15 to 0-13 championship win over Limerick in Ennis last May. Clare also defeated the Shannonsiders when they met in the 2012 Munster championship at the Gaelic Grounds, playing exceptionally well in the first half, although they faded badly in the second period.
This weekend’s game will be the 39th Munster championship meeting between the counties with Clare winning 23 of those fixtures. Limerick won just a single championship game between the counties from 1909 to 1980, when they met 19 times. Five of their 37 Munster championship meetings have finished level.
While Clare will play down their promotion and suggest that it will have no impact upon their championship performances, that is surely not the case. Most of the current panel have been involved in two promotions inside three seasons and that must be huge for their confidence. Remember a core of those players spent the first seven or eight years of their inter-county careers playing Division 4 League football. They have more than earned a crack at Division 2 but will also be well aware that to really make it as a top team, they must make an impact on championship.
In the unlikely event of any Clare player feeling a bit too confident come this weekend, they will be mindful that they only beat Limerick by two points in last year’s Munster quarter-final. Following a subsequent defeat to Cork in the semi-final, Clare were knocked out of the All-Ireland qualifiers in Cusack Park by Longford. 2015 was a poor year for this team championship-wise.
But rather than focus on the outcome as Sunday approaches, Clare are more likely to concentrate on ensuring that they get the basics right and get an edge in each sector.
Retention of up to 70% of kick-outs for example is a necessity if a county is to win a championship game against decent opposition, while Clare will be seeking to win at least 50% of Limerick’s kick-outs. Other pivotal elements include ensuring that their rate of turnovers is low, while trying to put in as many effective tackles as possible in an effort to disrupt Limerick. Of course much depends on a person’s definition of a tackle. Is it a clean dispossession of an opponent or merely impeding an opponent from doing why he would ideally like to with the ball?
When it comes close to 4pm, the team leading will be the one who doesn’t give possession away cheaply, executes more tackles which lead to turnovers, retains most of their own kick-outs and, rather crucially, puts away their chances.
All of those elements are part of what produces a result and that’s how most teams approach a game, rather than focusing completely on the outcome after 70 minutes of football. Get those basics right in most areas of the pitch and the result will more than likely reflect that.
In players like Martin McMahon, Joe Hayes, Gordon Kelly, Gary Brennan, Cathal O’Connor and David Tubridy, they have enough of men who will ensure Clare are totally focused. Promotion was a huge achievement but that will come more into focus when they return to 2017 pre-season training this winter. For now it’s all about under-pinning their promotion with championship results. Winning any championship game is huge but as this Clare team evolves, the expectation is that they will beat Limerick for the second time in succession in Munster.
Presumably Limerick will be supremely motivated. They will not fear Clare in any way and know enough about their opponents to come up with a viable game plan.
In players like Ian Corbett, Seanie Buckley, Johnny McCarthy, Ian Ryan and Peter Nash, they have players who will be very confident of delivering big displays. It is likely that Limerick will have noticed that Clare kicked some very impressive tallies during the league campaign. When they had control of a game, they really put the likes of Longford and Westmeath away.
It would make sense that Limerick will try to play Clare on the break and filter back in numbers whenever their opponents have possession. If Limerick opt for a 15-on-15 approach, they will be well beaten. Clare have too much quality in attack, with players like Eoin Cleary and Jamie Malone emerging as leaders and regular scoring threats.
The longer Limerick stay in the game, the more they will sense that they have a real chance of winning. On the assumption that Clare will be prepared tactically, they should make it beyond their neighbours again and into a Munster semi-final meeting with Kerry on June 11 or 12 in Killarney.
By Peter O’Connell