It is a familiar match up that never gets easier. Clare travel to Fitzgerald Stadium this Saturday as they come up against a fancied Kerry side this Saturday (throw in 7pm).
Clare are monitoring the fitness of Jamie Malone while Kevin Harnett looks set to miss out with an achilles injury.
Colm Collins’ men face an extremely difficult task when they go head to head with arguably the most in form side in Ireland.
Clare have no second chances with this year’s championship run on a straight knockout basis and any hopes of Kerry taking their opponents lightly appear slim due to their own exit at the hands of Cork in last year’s Championship.
However, Clare will enter this game with some confidence after a courageous display against Mayo, where they lost by four points after trailing by 2-13 to 0-8 at the break.
Colm Collins was encouraged by Clare’s second half display but he is aware that if his side are to have any chance of upsetting the odds on Saturday then they must build on that second half performance and produce that for both halves against Kerry.
“It is imperative the next day that we put two halves together. We need to ensure we have just as good a first half as a second half. Against better teams you won’t get away with playing well for just one half.”
That sentiment is echoed by captain Eoin Cleary who believes that Mayo game and his side’s league campaign has prepared them for the huge challenge they face against Peter Keane’s Kerry side.
“In the second half (against Mayo) we showed what this Clare team is about.
“We got physical with them and we played football the way we like.
“The pleasing thing from the league was our consistency in performance. In previous years, the consistency hasn’t always been there.”
Fiztgerald Stadium does not hold fond memories for Clare in recent years as they suffered a 22 point defeat in Killarney in 2018 while losing 2-23 to 0-17 in 2016 at the same venue.
However, Cleary believes past results will have little bearing on this contest as he seeks to lead his side to defy their underdogs tag against this star studded Kerry outfit.
“We can’t dwell on previous games against them. If we produce the performance we produced in the second 35 minutes against Mayo then we will have a chance of getting a result in Killarney.
“We are under no illusions that we are in for a tough challenge but these are the type of games you want to be playing in.”
Clare face the difficult task in trying to shackle arguably the best player in the game today in David Clifford while also keeping tabs on his brother Paudie, Sean O’Shea, Killian Spillane and co.
Collins believes that his side will need to defend from the front as they seek to reduce the quality of ball that Kerry’s talented attackers will work with in Killarney.
“Quality forwards need to be marked tightly. We know how good Kerry’s attack is but we also know that their supply chain needs to be disrupted so we need to work hard throughout the field.”
The provincial system is something which Collins has spoken out against in the past.
Despite Tipperary upsetting the odds, Kerry and Cork have monopolised the Munster Championship.
Collins stated, “It is what it is at the end of the day. I think everyone knows my thoughts on it but we have to accept it now and prepare for the challenge Kerry will pose.”
Cleary acknowledges that the pandemic has ensured there will be no ‘backdoor’ system, he agrees with his manager that the system which is currently in place is not the best one.
“With the Covid situation we will take what we can get and get on with the task at hand. I believe certain elements of the Championship have gone stale.
“It’s something that’s been widely discussed in the media so we will go out and try build on our league campaign.
With the pandemic leading the GAA to decide that the football championship will be completed in a straight knockout format, Cleary knows that Clare cannot afford a poor start.
The Garda, who works in Roxboro, Limerick, insists that his side will not reflect on last year’s disappointing opening round Munster Championship defeat to eventual provincial champions Tipperary.
In that encounter a bad start saw them fall 1-3 to 0-1 behind as they battled valiantly but were never able to truly recover.
“It was a game that we did not perform in at all.
“It left a sour taste especially as we got close without being at our best. It did leave a sour taste as we didn’t show what this Clare team is about.
“This year we’ve shown what we can do and we hope to do that again against Kerry,” he conluded.
by Ivan Smyth