FIRST the reasonably good news. Kerry will field in Sunday’s Munster semi-final minus Colm Cooper (cruciate), 2013 All-Star James O’Donoghue (shoulder) and midfielder Johnny Buckley (ankle). Most GAA people love watching Colm Cooper play but the Clare defence won’t mind the Kerry legend having to sit this one out.
So how do Clare set up about competing with a weakened Kerry? Competing is the key word here. Having played all division 4 opposition so far in 2014, Clare will face a mammoth step up in class this weekend.
Yet what Kerry cannot prevent Clare from doing is competing with absolute intensity and badly needed composure for the entire 70 minutes.
If Clare do that they will have a reasonable chance of making a game of it. Under the direction of Paudie Kissane’s coaching, Clare have worked all year on improving their method of tackling and cutting down on the number of frees conceded.
When they have possession they must seek to hold onto it for as long as possible without running the risk of having the ball but going nowhere with it. In their drawn game against Waterford, Clare repeatedly went over and back the field but did not punch holes in their opponents defence.
On Sunday, to borrow a rugby phrase, Clare must get over the gain line. If the likes of Gary Brennan, Seán Collins or Shane McGrath burst through the first tackle, some space might open up.
But if Clare are slow in their movement while in possession, Kerry will have time to set themselves up defensively, more than likely relieve the home team of possession and hit them on the break.
That’s a development that Clare must seek to avoid at all costs. If both midfielders or even the half backs get sucked forward and nobody fills the hole in the middle, Kerry are capable of taking full advantage of that.
The Clare goalkeeper and back six will remain as they were last Saturday, barring a late injury, while Gary Brennan may be joined by Cathal O’Connor at midfield. The Coolmeen man, who suffered a hamstring injury in training before the first Waterford game, took part in the warm up in Dungarvan. He still felt the injury but another week should be a big help. If Clare are planning to use the Coolmeen man they should start him because if the hamstring goes if he is used as a substitute, it would be a wasted substitution.
Up front Shane McGrath, Seán Collins and Enda Coughlan will probably make up the half forward line with David Tubridy, who may flit between the lines, Shane Brennan, Jamie Malone and Martin O’Leary vying for an inside spot.
The Clare management face a dilemma in deciding whether to start Podge Collins. Although not great against Waterford in the drawn game, Collins brings huge energy and work rate to the Clare footballers. Occasionally his decision making on the ball is not great but his game is perfectly suited to taking on Kerry. Clare need to him them with sustained and intelligent work rate. That’s exactly what Collins will bring and he definitely should start. Another player who has proven his big game credentials is Rory Donnelly. In his substitute appearances against Waterford, Donnelly set up and scored a goal. He also cleverly won a free in the drawn game and his presence would sharpen the forward division considerably. While Clare scored 3-11 last Saturday, it cannot be forgotten that they kicked 16 wides. That’s another reason why Donnelly should start along with Collins.
Tactically Clare have the option of playing with an extra defender if they deem it necessary. Enda Coughlan, who was quiet last weekend, is probably the best man for that role. Coughlan is more effective when facing the ball while his distribution is generally top class.
While every player must deliver a near optimum display, Clare will unquestionably look to certain players for more. Kevin Hartnett has been their best player over the last two games. The Meelick man has developed into an inspirational figure who gives his last drop. He’ll have to do that again against Kerry and even up it another bit. Gordon Kelly is cut from a similar mould and did very well last week. Clare need him and Gary Brennan to take the game to Kerry from the off. If these central players tie down their areas, they can help to establish a foundation for Clare’s attacking division who can cause plenty of issues for the Kerry backs.
On top of their injury list, which up to recent days also included David Moran (knee), Dáithí Casey (dead leg) and Kieran Donaghy (shoulder), Kerry will also have to make do without the retired Paul Galvin and Tomás O’Sé both of whom were central to Kerry’s All-Ireland winning years since 2004.
Lest Clare be lulled into any sense that Kerry are vulnerable, there is no harm in pointing out that their starting 15 is likely to include a midfield of Anthony Maher and David Moran, while Declan O’Sullivan, free taker Bryan Sheehan, Darran O’Sullivan and the exceptionally industrious Donnacha Walsh are proven forwards. While Kerry’s bench is not particularly strong it is likely to include Aidan O’Mahony, Kieran O’Leary and Kieran Donaghy.
Realistically nobody paying their entrance fee on Sunday will expect Clare to win. The initial challenge for Clare is to give it their best show and compete for as long as they can.
Result wise it’s impossible to see beyond Kerry but performance wise, Clare can produce a big one.