WHILE it might be considered premature to state that Clare’s most important NFL Division 4 match of 2010 will be their first, that is the reality.
If Clare beat Wicklow in Cusack Park on Sunday, the result could help them embark upon an early season-winning run. Their second game is away to Kilkenny, with Leitrim at home and London in Ruislip to follow after that. Yet, momentum is totally dependent upon results. Beat Wicklow and it will be much easier for Micheál McDermott, Liam McHale and James Foran to convince their panel that promotion is achievable. Lose the first game and while management will have to somehow remain upbeat, it will be very difficult to lift morale.
Whatever Clare team lines out this weekend, a handful of players will make their league debut. In their 0-12 to 0-9 defeat to UCC in the McGrath Cup on January 17, Clare started a number of newcomers, including Brian Cummins (Corofin), Shane McNelis (Kildysart) and Chris Dunning (Wolfe Tones), while Conor Crowley (Kilmihil), Seán Flynn (Doora-Barefield), Podge McMahon (Clondegad), Gary Leahy (Wolfe Tones) and Diarmuid Daly (Corofin) were brought on as substitutes.
Clare’s chances of winning their opening game have been significantly boosted by the return of David Russell, who was on holiday for the McGrath Cup game. His Kilkee colleagues, Michael O’Shea and Gearóid Lynch, will also be part of the squad for Sunday, which will significantly strengthen the home team’s attack.
However, Conor Whelan is not currently part of the Clare panel and his absence will be a severe blow. Furthermore, Cratloe’s Seán Collins and Liam Markham, who played against Wicklow last year, are not part of the Clare panel at the moment. Another factor that will weaken Clare this weekend is the absence of the Kilmurry Ibrickane inter-county contingent. The club is preparing for their All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Portlaoise on February 21 and will not feature with Clare until their club campaign is over.
Clare drew with Roscommon in Kiltoom last Thursday night (Clare 1-8 Roscommon 0-11), while they beat a weakened Kilmurry Ibrickane selection in Clarecastle last Saturday.
Meanwhile, Mick O’Dwyer’s Wicklow had a very poor run in the O’Byrne Cup. They lost both their opening game to Louth (2-18 to 0-11) and their losers’ group match against Carlow (2-13 to 1-10).
However, the Garden County embarked upon a productive championship run last year, although O’Dwyer claims that Wicklow are not prioritising the league.
Clare are prioritising it, though, and must make a winning start if they are to have any chance of being involved in the promotion shake-up, let alone actually winning promotion.
Clare v Wicklow will throw in at 2.30pm in Cusack Park on Sunday and will be refereed by Michael Meade (Limerick).
McDermott hopes home advantage will help team
CLARE manager Micheál McDermott accepts that Clare’s most important league game takes place on Sunday. The result will set the tone for their entire league campaign.
The Cavan man is confident, however, that home advantage should help Clare to make a winning start in what will be his first NFL match since being appointed manager.
“The most important game in the league is always your first game and the fact that we have it at home, we would hope that the Clare public will come out and support us and see what we’re about,” McDermott told The Clare Champion.
“We probably couldn’t have picked a tougher match to start with but the one thing I always place value in is a home match and I would hope that home advantage will count for something. Over the last couple of weeks in training, we’ve done a lot of work on our football and our fitness. We’re quite confident going in that we can put in a good performance,” he said.
While David Russell, Michael O’Shea, Gearóid Lynch and Barry Duggan have been added to the panel since the McGrath Cup, Clare will enter into the 2010 league campaign without the experience of Doonbeg’s Conor Whelan.
“There’s nothing fully definite on it yet. Conor is taking a break and we haven’t really pushed him into coming back. I would hope that maybe sometime in the near future, he might come on board with us.
But this is all about getting a new start and the door is open to lads playing well in the Cusack Cup. The door is open to lads that want to come in and be part of it. The group we have at the moment is training hard and we’re quite happy and comfortable that they can deliver good performances in the league for us,” McDermott maintained.
Clare drew with Roscommon in Kiltoom last Thursday and beat a Kilmurry Ibrickane selection on Saturday morning.
“The games were used to see what our strongest 15 was going to be for next Sunday. We have, in my view, a good strong panel and we wanted to see lads in game action. We learned a lot from the Roscommon match on Thursday night and we did a bit of rejigging with the team for Saturday morning,” the manager said.
Promotion of no interest to Micko
Wicklow manager Mick O’Dwyer claims that he isn’t taking the league seriously and isn’t concerned what division his county end up in come April.
The eight-time All-Ireland winning manager says that it makes no difference what division a county plays in as they get the same amount of games anyway in preparation for championship.
“The league never bothered me ever, ever. What difference is it to be in Division 4, 2 or 3? You’ll have games in every one of them where you can try players for the championship,” the Waterville man told The Clare Champion on Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t be worried about whether I get up or go down. It wouldn’t make any difference to me. The only thing that mattered to me ever was the championship and I prepare all my teams for the championship,” he added.
Now in his third season in charge of Wicklow, the former Kerry, Kildare and Laois manager says that he will be minus several key players in Cusack Park on Sunday.
“We have about five gone off our panel this year. Young Daly is gone to Australia, young Nolan is gone to England, Tom Walsh is not playing at the moment, he’s playing rugby, and Paddy Dalton is still out with injury. Our full-back, Damien Power has never recovered from the broken leg against Westmeath last year. We’re trying a lot of new fellas and young fellas at the moment. We’ll be short about five or six of the team that we had in the championship last year,” O’Dwyer explained.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing in the league. That’s what it’s all about. We’d be hoping to build a team for the championship and the only place you can try all these players is to have a look at them in the league,” he stated.
As for the experimental rule changes, O’Dwyer feels that changing the definition of the hand pass is pointless.
“Having anything to do with the hand pass is a joke. There’s a grey area around the hand pass and there’s going to be a bigger grey area now. It’s going to make it a lot harder on referees. That was one thing that shouldn’t have been touched,” he said.
The Wicklow is not certain either that the new square-ball rule will work out well.
“The good old days seem to be back for the high ball into the goalkeeper and kill him if you can. That’s a crazy system as well. I don’t know, I think we’re doing too much chopping and changing with our game and with the rules,” he added.
O’Dwyer would have introduced a rule change of his own if he had been asked his view.
“The one rule that I would loved to have seen was to allow the pick-up clean off the ground because there’s a grey area around the pick-up as well. So the one thing to cure that would be to allow people to pick it off the ground and let’s get on with the play. Keep the play flowing. And make sure that there was a clock in all the venues where games are played,” he suggested.
Although favouring the moving of penalties closer to goal, O’Dwyer thinks that messing with rules doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t know what they’re at, to be honest. People up there, whoever were on this committee in Croke Park, they like to be making changes, I suppose, which is crazy. Our game, I thought, was good enough. It should be left alone,” he concluded.