Getting the home venue was important was Colm Collins’ view when the draw for round three of the football qualifier pitched Clare against Mayo at Cusack Park.
“All three teams in the draw with us are formidable opponents with Mayo, probably, the highest rated. Being involved at this stage of the qualifier means teams are playing good opposition.
“They had a tough game with Derry on Saturday and they won’t be taking anything for granted. Mayo bring a tremendous following and, hopefully, Clare can match that,” the Clare boss added, confirming he will have to again plan without the injured Shane Brennan and Liam Markham.
Mayo were put to the pin of their collar to get past Derry in Castlebar and indeed, for much of normal time, they played second fiddle to the Ulster side. Once the match went to extra time, they were in control.
That scare is sure to have them more alert this weekend and with Ennis resident Donie Buckley in their backroom team, they are sure to travel to the Clare capital armed with plenty of information on the side that Buckley previously managed.
“Donie will know Clare inside out but, then, there are no real secrets anymore, as every one is doing their homework on the opposition,” according to Collins.
“There is pressure on Mayo, they have been one of the best teams in the country over the last five years and they have been unfortunate that they haven’t won the All-Ireland in that time. They have probably been the second-best team for the last five or six years,” he added.
Mayo will be looking to the likes of Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Tom Parsons, the O’Sheas, Andy Moran, the O’Connor brothers, Diarmuid and Cillian, and goalkeeper David Clarke to drive the challenge. Player of the year last year, Lee Keegan, is considered a doubtful starter, having hobbled off the pitch on Saturday.
Kevin McLaughlin is another experienced forward in the westerners’ line-up, while Conor Loftus and Jason Doherty made a huge impact when introduced against Derry. Indeed Loftus scored the goal which brought the Connacht men back into contention.
Keith Higgins is likely to be available, having missed the game with Derry following his sending off in the Connacht semi-final against Galway. Patrick Durcan is out, however, following his sending off in the win over Derry.
Clare won’t finalise their starting line-up until later this week but it’s likely to be along the same as that which comfortable disposed of Laois on Saturday.
The defence excelled last weekend with Kevin Harnett, Gordon Kelly, Dean Ryan and Martin McMahon especially prominent. They will need to repeat that form and improve, if possible, in order to close down the Mayo men.
Clare’s well established midfield pairing of team captain Gary Brennan and Cathal O’Connor will need to be at their best to get the upperhand on a Mayo midfield that will include Tom Parsons, who is in fine form this season.
Mayo also have a very strong defence and it will take a big performance to get past the likes of Clarke, Keegan, Colm Boyle and Ger Cafferkey.
The experience gained from Clare’s impressive runs in both league and championship over the past three years was evident in Portlaoise. They need to build on that if they are to trouble the Mayo men however.
One member of the Clare panel is well versed on the challenge that Mayo presents. Eoghan Collins, nephew of manager Colm, plays his club football with Ballyhaunis. He will be well able to provide his team mates with information on the strengths and weaknesses of the westerners.
The game will kick off a big weekend for the county, as attention will then switch to Thurles and the hurlers on Sunday. First, however, the focus is very firmly on Saturday at Cusack Park. Yes, Mayo carry the favourites’ tag but Clare caused a number of upsets in last year’s qualifiers and fans are not without hope of another extended run this season.
by Seamus Hayes sports editor