IT IS not too often that a defeated team emerges from any game with their confidence levels enhanced. While a loss is a loss, Clare did play some exceptional football in Newbridge last Sunday.
Eoin Cleary gave an exhibition of shooting from play and while he did miss a chance to equalise from a free, he was one of Clare’s standout performers. More impressive than any of their scores was the off-the-shoulder support from players like Cleary, Jamie Malone, Cian O’Dea and Dean Ryan. On several occasions, during the second half in particular, players timed their support run perfectly, so that they broke Kildare tackles without breaking their own stride. Suddenly, they were in space and had time to look up and send decent ball into the inside forwards.
The best way to kick quality ball is to use support play to create an opportunity. Kick the ball too early and, have no doubt, it will come back to you as quickly as you kicked from your own full or half-back line. Can Clare retain that level on Sunday against Meath? If they do, they can win and secure their Division 2 status for 2018. If Clare lose, they will still retain their place in the division, as long as Down do not win in Cork. Even if Derry beat Fermanagh and join Clare on five points, they currently stand at
-35 on scoring difference, while Clare are at zero. Therefore it would require a huge Derry win and Clare defeat for them to overtake Colm Collins’ team on scoring difference.
While Clare’s support play was noticeably impressive against Kildare, it has to be noted that they conceded 0-8 from frees. One or two of the frees were questionable but most were justified. This is an area Clare need to sharpen up on, particularly with games so tight.
While they have not conceded goals in five of their six games to date, they have conceded a combined 0-36 against Fermanagh and Kildare, 0-13 of that from frees. Cut down that concession rate and Clare have a great chance of beating Meath, whom they have played 10 times in the league, with the Royal County winning eight of those games.
The counties last met in October 2000 in Division 1B, when Meath won 1-12 to 0-11. Clare’s only win was in 1979 in Navan, while they drew at the same venue in 1993. In the 1992 league quarter-final in Ballinasloe, Meath won 0-8 to 0-6. The counties first met in the league on December 4, 1977.
Minutes after Clare’s one-point loss on Sunday, manager Colm Collins was clearly proud of the performance and hopeful that his side can produce the same level in Cusack Park from 2pm on this Sunday.
“That was a fantastic display by the lads. We came out the wrong side of it but I think the important thing now is to bring that with us on Sunday. I don’t think at any time that either team could be confident of having the game won. Even at half-time, when we were down by five points, we felt that we were still in with a great chance of winning the game.
“The overall feeling is one of pride in the performance. We felt we had to freshen things up a little selection-wise. Shane Brennan had an outstanding game and Eoin Cleary was excellent as well. I think that, all over the pitch, everybody gave a really good display. There was excellent kicking on both sides and very good shooting. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best we’ve played this season,” Collins said, before acknowledge that the free concession count is a concern.
“You’ve got to play the game to the referee that you have and if he’s going to be strict on stuff like that, you’ve got to be a bit more careful. I felt we conceded too many frees and of course Kevin Feely is an excellent kicker off both feet. They punished us with that but we’ve got Sunday to look forward to and we’re still in the mix,” he added.
Meath will be hugely motivated too in that a win for them, combined with defeat for Galway at home to Kildare, will promote Andy McEntee’s team.
By Peter O’Connell