AS Clare prepare for their third league game of 2015 in Cusack Park on Sunday, they do so in the knowledge that if they are to avoid fighting relegation, this is a must win game. Sligo are in even more dire need of the points following defeats to Limerick and Fermanagh.
In losing to Louth, Clare simply spilled possession much too often. Although they played decent football in the opening half, once Louth gained in confidence and stepped it up, Clare were left floundering. Losing Ciaran Russell to a black card and Cathal O’Connor to injury, adversely affected Clare. They had to move Shane McGrath to midfield and Shane Hickey to wing back, which resulted in their attack becoming unbalanced while they couldn’t win sufficient primary ball in the middle of the field.
Not scoring in the last 27 minutes is a reflection of Clare’s second half display which if replicated this weekend, will lead to certain defeat.
Clare must up their level significantly this time out, protect possession and retain their shape when Sligo have the ball. Another area Clare will be looking to improve upon is protecting their full back line which they left exposed against Louth. Regularly a two man Clare full back line was left with too much empty space in front of them, allowing Louth to kick long diagonal ball into space, which made it exceptionally difficult for players like Dean Ryan, Martin McMahon and Stephen Collins to defend.
With Kevin Hartnett unlikely to start the Clare defence is likely to remain as it was against Louth while Gary Brennan and Cathal O’Connor will start in the middle.
The make up of the Clare attack will be very interesting. Shane Hickey played very well at centre forward, until moved to wing back against Louth. Hickey kicked three points from play when in the half forward line and should be retained in that position, where he is well capable of bringing other players into the game. Seán Collins and Shane McGrath offer work rate and scoring threat at wing forward while David Tubridy, Podge Collins and Shane Brennan are likely to start in the full forward line. Pat Burke did well against Wexford but was not so impressive against Louth. He definitely offers a physical dimension to the Clare inside line but perhaps lacks a turn of pace. Burke could offer a viable option from the bench when Clare need to shake it up in the second half.
Starting with Tubridy, Collins and Brennan in the full forward line offers variety. Podge Collins is at his best when afforded a free role in the middle third, while if needed he can be posted as an extra defender if Clare need that at any stage. Furthermore Shane Brennan can alternate between the full forward line and midfield if Clare need an option in the middle, whether that be on kick outs or if one of the starting midfielders needs a break. David Tubridy also thrives in the half forward line where space is easier to locate than closer to goal. Therefore that starting full forward line offers plenty of variety in that any of the three could be posted outfield for a stint, leaving two inside, giving Clare a blend of options. While Clare shouldn’t panic after losing to Louth, a partial shake up is needed. They don’t have the resources to make more than a change or two and won’t have that luxury until players like Kevin Hartnett and Cathal McInerney are back from injury.
Clare made no impact from the bench against Louth and long term that is something that they will seek to address. On Sunday it’s all about somehow winning the game and not worrying about how this is done.
Clare v Sligo in the NFL division 3 will throw in at 2pm on Sunday in Cusack Park.
By Peter O’Connell