Clare take on Kerry this evening in the second round of the Munster Minor Football championship Phase Two.
Dermot Coughlan’s side make the trip to Austin Stack Park in Tralee to face a Kingdom outfit who are bidding for a sixth provincial title. The Banner come into the game off the back of a 3-9 to 0-14 loss against Cork last week, meaning they must beat Kerry in order to progress to the provincial decider.
2019 has seen Clare already play five games in the newly revamped minor series, and claimed silverware after beating Tipperary in the Phase One Darrel Darcy final.
Manager Dermot Coughlan is looking forward to the challenge.
“It is all coming down to our last game which is our fifth of the year. We are coming in off the back of a real championship game against Cork last week in Cusack Park. It is all down to this one now and we know we have to win to stay in it and we know what is stake so we can’t wait now. Our lads got great accolades all year but I think they really stood up and were counted last week despite the loss. It was a really psychical Cork team with a good number on the age of 17 and our lads really took the game to them. There were no defensive structures and they never really sat back so they deserve huge credit for that” he noted.
The new structure for the minor championship this season saw Clare in the initial phase against Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Victories over the Shannonsiders and the Premier in the first two games saw the Banner through to the Phase One final, but a late Waterford goal in the last game of the group phase saw the Deise beating an under strength Clare outfit. They regrouped before facing Tipperary again, where a brilliant performance in the Gaelic Grounds saw them lifting silverware and reaching the next stage. Coughlan admits they have learned a huge amount from the campaign to date.
“The first night we played Tipperary in Ennis was a cagey affair because I think both sides knew they would likely be meeting again. That is how it transpired and there was no doubt about who was the better team that evening. The quality of football our lads played was outstanding and they really established themselves as the top team in that Phase One competition. The Cork game was a tough one to take because we outscored them in terms of actual scores on the night but goals win matches and you would be disappointed with a couple of them alright. You can’t fault the lads one bit though because they are going out to play with the game plan that is there. We said when the ball is there we are going to attack and go for it. It was the same in every game we played this year and you are running the risk of those sucker punch goals when you play like that but at underage football, you cannot have any negativity and you just have to go for it. I would back the lads all the way on that. When you see a Cork team trying to drop back the wing-forwards and put 10 or 12 bodies behind the ball, you know you are doing something right in the type of football we are trying to play. We had them on the ropes and they really went for it all the way to the final whistle and we couldn’t ask for any more from them” he said.
Coughlan and his management team were noticeably unhappy with some of the decisions that did not go the way of their team, particularly in relation to some of the challenges dished out to star forward Shane Meehan in the course of the game. The 1992 Munster championship winner feels officials need to work better as a unit to protect players.
He said: “We wouldn’t be happy with it and I am not one usually for complaining about referees. I flagged it early in the game to the fourth official and the answer I got was that it is up to the linesman and the referee to spot it. I said all the tackles were when he was on the ball and were in front of the referee. There were head high tackles going in and the ref had a poor night at the office in my opinion. On the letter of the law, the referees first job is to protect the player. That’s what he is out there to do and ref the game within the rules. When you see high tackles like that going unchecked, it leads to frustration for the players and management and then seeps into the stands to the supporters watching this going on”.
The clash with the Kingdom is unquestionably the toughest task Clare have faced so far, with the champions dishing out a 3-19 to 1-9 beating to Cork in their only game to date. Coughlan feels his squad are looking forward to pitting themselves against the holders.
“There can be no doubt but they are true champions. They’ve won five in a row and beat Cork by 16 points in the first round. They are a quality side, but having all that said we are going down to have a real go at them. There is going to be no negativity on our part and whatever happens on the night, it won’t be from the want of effort. We are going out to play the football we have played all year. We have encouraged them to have a go and keep moving forward and have a cut at it when the chance is on so we won’t be changing at this stage. We are up against a top quality side but this is what you want and this is why we play the game. We have had a good year so far and the one thing I feel that has contributed to that is the new system. They are trying to get more games for lads and that is crucial. If you keep winning, you are guaranteed four games in Phase One, and another two games after that. That is a potential for six games, which under the old system could have been the equivalent of three years football for the so called weaker teams. What you would hope then is that lads come through to senior level and hopefully see eight or nine of them lining out for Clare. If that happens, then this campaign has been a success” he concluded.
Throw in on Thursday evening at Austin Stack Park in Tralee is at 7pm