The quality of games in Division 1A of the National Hurling League has put Clare under pressure in each of their games and, according to selector Jimmy Browne, “ultimately you learn most about yourself when you are under pressure”.
Ahead of Sunday’s relegation play-off with Dublin at Cusack Park (throw-in 4pm), he continued, “We have learned a lot this year. We had very good displays against Kilkenny and Tipperary but we did not get the result we wanted and against Waterford for a big chunk of the game. We have a chance to put that back into the mix for Sunday. That is the strength of playing in this league.
“The great beauty of playing in this division is that you are testing yourself to the upper limit every day you go out and Sunday is another very important test for us,” added Browne.
“We have to perform. There is a lot of importance from a Clare point of view, a lot of importance in terms of getting things right. Dublin are very good, they have proved that with some very good performances. They went to Cork and did something we weren’t able to do.
“There is a lot at stake but it’s about our own peformance. It’s fantastic to have the game back in Cusack Park. There are times when the importance of the crowd comes to the fore. This is a great opportunithy for Clare fans to come to the park for two high quality games and, hopefully, we can repay that loyalty,” he added.
Browne, who guided Monaleen to the Limerick intermediate title last year, admitted last Sunday’s loss to Waterford was disappointing.
“It’s a question of looking at the bucket and asking is it half full or half empty. There were aspects we were very happy with. There were times that the application to the job was very good defensively and in attack but there were parts of the game where the performance wasn’t where it needed to be. We gave Waterford an easy start, got back and then let them back. That was disappointing in terms of where we need to go.
“We created chances and, untimately, one of the things we have learned from Division 1A is that you are always under that little bit of pressure. It’s a great learning experience. We paid a price on Sunday for not been clinical in parts of the game where we needed to be. Waterford are very good, they have been together as a unit for quite a while. They have gone away from home and won tough games. They can stay close enough and when they get chances, they can put them away and we need to learn from that,” the Clonlara man noted.
Sunday is a little bit too soon for Pat O’Connor, Conor McGrath and Shane O’Donnell, he added, but he is hopeful that David Reidy will be fit for the weekend.
“He has made good progress. Lads picked up knocks on Sunday and they have gone through recovery on Monday,” he said, confirming that Niall Deasy “is part of the squad. He has had a very positive year for Ballyea. We have to integrate him into our overall plans”.
In Browne’s view, “Relegation would not be fair, going on our displays in the league. There have been some great and surprising results”.
He acknowledged that this will be the squad’s last competitive game until the championship.
“We have a number of tentative arrangements for high-quality challenges. Players will be back with their clubs and there will be loads of opportunities for lads to get hurling. We expect lads to perform and be leaders for their clubs.
Dublin have been somewhat unlucky in games and they will be looking to Liam Rushe, Chris Crummey, Niall McMorrow, Eamonn Dillon and Ryan O’Dwyer to trouble the Banner men.
Players from All-Ireland club champions Cuala are expected to be available this week, including Paul and Mark Schutte, David Treacy and Darragh O’Connell. Going on their form in the club final, they will be a big asset to the county side.
It’s a big test but Clare have shown they have the ability to match the best. They will have to maintain top form for the 70 minutes and while it won’t be easy, they have the ability to stay in Division 1A.
By sports editor Seamus Hayes