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Clare captain Gary Brennan leads out his team for their National League game against Donegal at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly.

Brennan Braced For Crucial Closing Stages To NFL Division Two Campaign

Clare face the first of two crucial games in Division Two of the National Football League this weekend when Meath are the visitors to Cusack Park.

Successive defeats against Kildare and Fermanagh in the last two previous rounds leaves the Banner fighting to retain their status in the second tier with the clash against the Royals and trip to take on Tipperary to come over the next week.

This fixture hasn’t been a happy one for Clare over the last two seasons, with Meath winning both previous ties by a combined total of 26 points, including a 12 point victory when they last met in Cusack Park in the final round in 2017.

It will be Clare’s first outing since the loss to Fermanagh in Brewster Park a fortnight ago and captain Gary Brennan feels they have now moved on from that as their sights are firmly set on Meath.

“We reviewed that game in the days after and looked mostly at the things we need to work on. There were a couple of good things that we did well so we looked at it in an overall context and then parked it and moved on to thinking about Meath. You might be sick of me saying this now at this stage but that just really is the way we work, it’s from game to game and see what we can improve on and learn from and then try and get ourselves in the best shape possible for the next match. There really is no point in looking in the rear-view mirror. Once the final whistle went up in Brewster Park, it meant that two more points were gone from us and that’s out of our control at that stage. All we can do is look at what we can control and that’s the final two games and in particular this one with Meath on Saturday” said the Clondegad man.

With two games coming in quick succession, momentum could be a crucial factor if Clare are to rescue their season. Brennan feels there were plenty positives to take from the Fermanagh game despite the full-time result.

He said: “I felt we kept the ball quite well during the game and reduced our turnovers significantly. We expected Fermanagh to try and lure us into a trap and then force the turnover and hit us on the break. The other side of that is the fact that we maybe didn’t show enough adventure and try and break the line a little more so maybe those factors balanced each other out. I felt our intensity was much better over the 70 minutes than it was against Kildare where we were flat for the first 35 minutes and parts of the second half too. There were bits like to take from it but the big thing was to get ourselves back to the level of intensity we want to try and play at and have that ready for Meath. We have done a good block of work since that day. A few lads got their chance to impress in a challenge game against Limerick last weekend and those of us who have played a good few minutes so far put in a solid training session so it’s vital now that we have the focus on this home game and get the performance level that we want to hit”.

A number of squad members were also released to play with their clubs during the Cusack and Garry cup opening rounds last weekend, with the likes of Pierce DeLoughery, Alan Sweeney, Gavin Cooney and Cormac Murray all lining out for their respective clubs. Brennan feels breaking up an intense few weeks will help to hit the reset button ahead of a crucial period.

“From a mental aspect, it was a weekend where you weren’t focusing on a game and a big part too is the travelling. On both previous weekends we were on the road to Newbridge and Enniskillen and that’s a bit more time from your weekend gone and it’s certainly more mentally draining than if you were at home. While last weekend wasn’t exactly a break, lads would often rather be playing a match than training, but hopefully from a mental point of view it will have freshened us up ahead of Saturday” he noted.

Speaking after the loss to Fermanagh, Clare boss Colm Collins noted that it was now time to correct the record in terms of their clashes with Saturday’s opponents, and his captain is of a similar mind.

“I think it would be foolish of us not to look at why they’ve had our number in recent games. They’ve caused a lot damage to us so I don’t think we can look on them as just another opponent because we have to be conscious of what they have done in previous years. Management have already highlighted a couple of things we need to be wary of and some of the discipline we showed against Fermanagh will be very important against Meath. They are flying high now in the division and they’re battling very well. They went right to the wire with Kildare and got the goal in injury time to get the win so they’re obviously a team that are in good form and good spirits and will be coming down the road expecting to get two points. It is up to us to bring a performance that will firstly get us into the game and make us competitive, and after that then hopefully be good enough to get us the points” he noted.

Clare faced an ultra-defensive system against Fermanagh last time out with a wall of green shirts camped inside their own 45-metre-line when the Banner went on the attack. Brennan admits while the opposition half may not be as packed this weekend, they will still face a staunch defensive effort.

“I don’t think Meath will be as wide open as people might think they are. It won’t be a massively different game because they can get players back when they want to, no more than we can too so there’s no one innocent of that in total. They will certainly try and play football and try to push more players up the field which is where they have hurt us quite considerably in the last few years so it is up to us to meet that and come with a real intensity. We have to be ready for whatever they will throw at us. From our own point of view, we need to take whatever chances we make. If your shooting efficiency is low, it’s going to hurt you. There are two ways of looking at that in a game in that you can stay thinking about the chance that’s gone or else focus on the fact that you are creating them in the first place and try to create more. It’s something we need to be aware of and take more of our chances. It’s something we will hunt and hopefully the more we create, the better our odds will be of picking up the two points” the captain concluded.

Clare v Meath gets underway in Cusack Park on Saturday afternoon with a 1.30pm throw-in.

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