ALL involved with the Clare footballers know that if they have any chance of competing with Kerry on Sunday in Ennis, they will need to be much more clinical and energetic than they were against Limerick on May 28. Their second-half display was particularly limp and given that Clare conceded two early goals against Kerry last year in Killarney, at the same stage, they simply must be switched on for as close to 70 minutes as possible.
“A lot of them would have been happy with how they played in parts of the match against Limerick. In Division 2 this year, we played poorly for 20 minutes against Cork but still ended up winning the game. But when you play against a top team, the pace of your game cannot drop at any stage. If the pace of your game slows down, it has to be because you wanted it to slow down.
“That first 20 minutes of the second half, when we had all the ball the last day, we did nothing with it. Maybe we switched off. It just got very dead. It kicked off again in the last 10 minutes. It kicked off a little bit too much for us with the goal at the end. We know that if we switch off the next day for a minute, the game could be over. We didn’t start for the first five minutes last year in Killarney and the game was over,” Clare selector David O’Brien said.
Having spent months preparing for Limerick in the provincial quarter-final, Clare have had two weeks to ready themselves for the league and Munster champions.
“You set targets all year. Since last October, we’ve been thinking of trying to beat Limerick in the first round of the championship. So for seve months, that’s in the back of your head. What can happen sometimes is that when it gets to the game, you’ve it played over so many times in your head, the game nearly becomes an anti-climax.
“This week, everything is fresh. There was no talk of Kerry until last Sunday week. It’s probably easier to prepare for a second round of the championship because fitness wise, those things are done but you have less time to think about it. Players are more on their guard because every bit of information they’re getting is new. It’s about upping our performance.
“We got to the quarter-final last year and we’re trying to break into the top group on a consistent basis. Kerry are the best team in the country so far this year. They won the league and if you want to reach the top level, you have to play against the best teams,” added O’Brien, who is in his second year as a selector.
A noticeable aspect against Limerick was the number of short kick-outs. Both teams took that option most of the time, which led to Clare captain Gary Brennan not featuring in the game as much as the home county needed.
“It was probably a nightmare to be in the middle of the field the last day. Limerick went very short with their kick-outs and then they crowded the middle so much that when Joe [Hayes] would look up, he could see nothing on. Our priority is to go long but we always had somebody free at the back. So it ended up being a game of short kick-outs. If you’re kicking the ball out, you might have a 60% chance of winning it in the middle of the field but if your corner-back is free and there is a 100% chance he’s going to win it, you’re going to give it to him. It’s not ideal. We have three or four lads that would go up with anyone. You could see some great high fielding the next day, which will be great as long as we’re the ones doing it.”
O’Brien discounted opinions he had heard which suggested that the bench should have been emptied or that substitutions could have been made earlier, to add energy to the team.
“There was this suggestion the last day that we empty the bench. I thought that was disrespectful to the lads that came on. We never empty the bench just for the sake of it. We felt the last day that it was gone a little bit flat and we made a couple of changes. Lads had ran themselves into the ground and we took Kevin Harnett off at the end because he was injured. I thought it was disrespectful of people to suggest that we brought on players for a minute to give them a run. That will never happen. We just felt that we needed to up the intensity of our game in the second half.
“For the first 20 minutes of the second half, it never came into our heads to make substitutions because we were in control and we thought it might spark,” O’Brien explained.
Meanwhile, the Miltown Malbay man said that last weekend’s controversy regarding the three Cusack Cup games, which did not take place, was something that the Clare management team had no control over.
“It was out of our hands in that the players were never going to be playing the weekend before Kerry. It was something we had spoken about ourselves over the last few weeks. We knew that if we beat Limerick, those club games were there. I think clubs probably knew about it as well but everyone had the heads down and said nothing. We couldn’t say anything because we were worried about Limerick.
“At the start of the year, we looked at it. There has to be more transparency somewhere. If clubs want their county players for every game, they might have to play two games in quick succession in March or April or a midweek game,” he maintained.
“It didn’t really make much sense to fix it but, in fairness to the masters fixtures people, they can only do what they think is best and wait for people to come back to them. Obviously no-one came back to them until it was too late. You’re into the last couple of rounds of the Cusack Cup, where games are important. You’d feel sorry for the players because it’s suggested that they are wrapped in cotton wool but they sacrifice everything in their lives to be ready for Kerry.
“I don’t think clubs expected them to play and anyone we’ve been talking to have said they should have been released. In fairness to the clubs, nobody has said that. It’s unfortunate but it seems to happen a lot. Ideally, you’d love the clubs to have them for every game but if that’s the case, there will have to be something about when the games are played,” O’Brien reiterated.
By Peter O’Connell