IN the aftermath of Clare’s 2-23 to 0-17 Munster Championship semi-final defeat to Kerry in Killarney on June 12, the concession of two goals in the opening five minutes was highlighted as central to Clare’s compliant demise. Those goals were a massive set-back and sucked confidence from Clare.
The fact that they managed to kick 0-17 was seen as an impressive total and while it was a decent return, contained within that statistic is a worrying figure. The starting six forwards kicked just 0-3 from play between them in 70 minutes of football. David Tubridy, Eoin Cleary and Podge Collins put over a point each. If they are to get beyond Laois on Sunday, the Clare forwards must up that return considerably.
On the plus side Pearse Lillis, who came on for the black-carded Podge Collins seven minutes before half-time, kicked three superb points from play, while Gary Brennan and Cathal O’Connor put over 0-3 between them from midfield. The ideal scenario this weekend is that Clare’s midfield partnership again offer a regular scoring option, while the starting forwards increase their scoring return and assist count. In the modern game, forwards are not solely judged on what they score. Their tackle count, tracking and the number of plays they are involved in are totted, which presents a rounder picture of their contribution. Still, if a forward isn’t scoring, he is not doing his primary job. So it’s clear that while Clare must defend with increased alertness and put pressure on the Laois kickers, up-field issues must be addressed too.
A bit like a forward, the role of a defender these days doesn’t involve merely marking his man. All backs must be able to support the play and even kick the odd score. Yet they must never completely neglect their main role; to defend. It’s not glamorous or noticeable and requires total concentration but the basics of defending include tackling without conceding frees, cutting down on space before a ball is delivered from outfield and ensuring that not too many backs attack in tandem, leaving open the possibility of being caught on the break if play breaks down.
Laois have some quality attackers in Donie Kingston, David Conway and Ross Munnelly, who made a match-winning contribution when introduced 16 minutes from time against Armagh.
Munnelly is the only Laois man still involved to win a Leinster medal in 2003. The 33-year-old is still a valuable contributor and will definitely come in at some point, if he doesn’t start on Sunday.
Laois have a very capable midfield duo in Brendan Quigley and John O’Loughlin but defensively they are suspect. It is likely that Gary Brennan could flit between midfield and full-forward or, at least, attempt to get on the end of some diagonal deliveries, arriving late from the middle.
Clare need to produce a season-defining championship display and this is the day to do it. Their league promotion was a very praiseworthy achievement but winning this will back that up. This is the type of game that this Clare panel is well capable of winning but first they must play to a level they have not managed since beating Kildare in the Division 3 league final.
Laois will start as marginal favourites, on the basis that they are match sharp and Clare have simply not produced yet this championship. Expect them to go at Laois aggressively, with intent and hopefully a touch of quality from 2pm on Sunday. Do that, improve their defending, decision-making and finishing and Clare can win this. They exited the championship 12 months ago against Longford in Cusack Park. A repeat of that type of performance and result would represent a costly set-back to this group of players.
By Peter O’Connell