THE Clare footballers will be seeing plenty of Fraher Field both this weekend and on May 23. They still have time before worrying about their championship date with Waterford late next month. This weekend, it’s all about trying to win promotion to Division 3 at the second attempt.
Although only a point separated Clare from Limerick in Ennis last weekend, Limerick were significantly better. That said, Clare at least finished impressively and almost dug out a draw. If they had, they would be already promoted.
Clare and Waterford are level on 12 points each, while Limerick are a point behind on 11. If Clare win, they are promoted. Simple enough. If they lose, they will remain in Division 4 unless Leitrim beat Limerick in Carrick-on-Shannon. A draw may not be of any use to Clare either if Limerick win as Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s team are just a point worse off than Clare on scoring averages.
Along with motivating their side for the weekend, which won’t be difficult given what is at stake, the Clare management team must pick the starting 15 that can first compete and then win in Waterford.
Their team selection will be heavily influenced by who is available. Declan Callinan, Ger Quinlan and Joe Hayes were all substituted injured against Limerick.
All three would be significant losses. Hayes saved Clare twice against Limerick, following on from an equally impressive display in Pearse Park against Longford. If he doesn’t recover sufficiently from his groin strain, will the management consider recalling Dermot O’ Brien, who has big game experience and played superbly for Kilmurry-Ibrickane in the All-Ireland club final on March 17?
Conor O’Loughlin is a decent goalkeeper with underage inter-county experience but it would be a gamble to throw him against Waterford.
Darren Hickey is likely to start at full-back after playing well there last Sunday, when moved onto James Ryan, while Laurence Healy will fill one corner. Although he wasn’t introduced against Limerick, surely Martin McMahon must be considered for the other corner-back spot, with perhaps Enda Coughlan, Gordon Kelly and Shane Hickey (if Callinan is injured), filling the half-back line.
Hickey played much better at wing-back, when moved from corner-forward, where he looked lost.
Mark Tubridy was too loose against Limerick and was caught for five points from play by Seánie Buckley and Eoghan O’ Connor. However, he played well against Longford at wing-forward and should be started there against Waterford. His work rate will be needed in that sector, with Gary Brennan and David Russell certain to start in midfield. Ideally, Brennan would be utilised at full-forward but Clare can’t afford to leave him there.
Alan Clohessy will probably start at centre-forward, flanked by Tubridy and Barry Toner, while Michael O’Shea should start in the corner along with David Tubridy. O’Shea was first to virtually every ball against Longford and Carlow and is unquestionably more dangerous when located in the inside line. If Brennan starts at midfield, Clare are still minus a target man. While Ger Quinlan may not be fit, it might be worth putting the O’Curry’s man on the edge of the square if he is. He is very capable in the air and can kick a score and would provide Clare with a viable target to complement the movement of Tubridy and O’Shea. If Quinlan doesn’t make it, Mark McCarthy would be another viable option in the full-forward line. Clare need confident players taking to the field in Dungarvan and McCarthy doesn’t lack in that department, while he played well when introduced for Kilmurry against St Gall’s.
Clare face a sizeable but definitely not an insurmountable task in Dungarvan. Waterford are unbeaten under new manager John Owens and will be very confident on home territory.
Clare need to get it right inside and outside the white line. As long as they are totally focused, don’t panic and believe in themselves, they are well capable of providing football in this county with a huge boost. They will have to fight on their backs to pull it off though.
Based on recent displays, this is the Clare team that should start against Waterford fitness permitting:
Joe Hayes (or Dermot O’Brien), Martin McMahon, Darren Hickey, Laurence Healy; Enda Coughlan, Gordon Kelly, Declan Callinan (or Shane Hickey); Gary Brennan and David Russell; Mark Tubridy, Alan Clohessy, Barry Toner; David Tubridy, Ger Quinlan (or Mark McCarthy), Michael O’Shea.
Players on the bench who could make a difference include Gearóid Lynch, Chris Dunning, Graham Kelly at wing-back, Shane Hickey and Mark McCarthy if they don’t start.
** Waterford v Clare will throw in at 2.30pm in Dungarvan on Sunday.