The Clare ladies senior football team face into their biggest game since the 2001 All-Ireland senior semi-final, when they take on Dublin in the All-Ireland senior quarter-final on Saturday evening in Banagher.
Last Sunday evening Clare scored a comprehensive 2-15 to 0-9 qualifier win over Tipperary, whom they had already beaten in the Munster semi-final. Clare subsequently lost the Munster final to Cork before drawing Tipperary in the qualifier.
Drawing Dublin, who were beaten in last years All-Ireland final in Croke Park, will definitely test the fibre of the Clare girls but perhaps that’s when they will respond best. Despite winning the All-Ireland intermediate title last year, when they beat Fermanagh, 12 of that panel are not part of the current squad for various reasons.
Facing into 2010 without proven footballers and leaders like Majella Griffin, Eithne Morrisey, Denise Walsh and Maria Kelly could have derailed Clare completely. Their league form indicated that it had as Clare were relegated from Division 2 to Division 3.
Once championship time came around however Clare appeared re-invigorated and re-energised. Having won a division 2 and 3 league title in recent years, competed in two All –Ireland intermediate finals and now reached a senior quarter-final, this panel and their management have progressed steadily year on year.
They will approach Saturday’s game in one of two ways. Either they will congratulate themselves on reaching the quarter-final and feel that being there is a bonus and get well beaten. Or, and this is more likely, they will view this as a huge challenge but also a massive opportunity to shake up ladies football and fashion a totally unexpected win. Unexpected outside of the Clare camp but perhaps not within it. Amongst the factors that may motivate Clare could be when they reflect that they were the first intermediate championship winners for five years not to win an All – Star. Furthermore while they were feted following last Septembers All-Ireland win, there is no point in suggesting that the county is gripped by All-Ireland quarter-final fever this week. Few people, outside of those directly involved in ladies football, know that Clare have a match of such magnitude coming up.
They might know on Sunday however if Clare are preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final. This panel has yet to back away from a challenge. Hopefully they won’t decide to do so this weekend.
Led by team captain Sineád Eustace, along with Louise Henchy, Marie Considine, Sineád Kelly, Fiona Lafferty and Niamh Keane, all of whom have plenty of talent and experience, youngsters like Laurie Ryan, Niamh O’Dea and Ailish Considine have added flair and scoring power to the county team.
O’Dea and Eimear Considine are definitely two of the most talented lady footballers in Ireland and are capable of coming up with big scores at crucial moments.
Dublin will field former Clare dual player Noelle Comyns, who is likely to be at full back, while current All-Star Siobhán McGrath will line out at wing back. Siobhán is daughter of former Shannon Gaels footballer John McGrath and she could end up marking her first cousin Eimear O’Connor from Coolmeen.
Dublin have three current All Stars in their team. Cliodhna O’Connor (goalkeeper), Siobháin McGrath and Sinead Aherne (full forward).
It is the first time since 1991 that Clare have faced Dublin in adult championship. That game, 19 years ago, was in the All Ireland B Championship while back in 1989 Dublin defeated Clare in the junior All Ireland final (after a replay at Croke Park). Noelle Comyns was on both of those Clare teams.
Saturday evenings game, which will be screened live on TG4, is the biggest game that this Clare team will have ever taken part in. As long as they embrace and don’t back away from the challenge, they are capable of producing a huge shock. Clare v Dublin will throw in at 6pm in Banager. The curtain raiser will be Kerry v Galway at 4.15pm.