CLARE’S Division 2 future is entirely in their own hands. If they can somehow pull out a Newry-like performance in Pairc Uí Rínn on Saturday from 7pm, they have every chance of getting a result, beating Louth at home in their final league game on March 25 and assuring themselves of a place in the same division next year.
While Jamie Malone will be available again, following his two-game suspension, Clare will have to plan without Ciaran Russell, who was red-carded against Roscommon.
Gordon Kelly is still suspended, leaving Clare scarce, particularly defensively.
If Clare lose, which is likely given that Cork will be buoyant following Sunday’s win over Meath, their Division 2 status will rest on beating Louth and hoping that they don’t end up in a three-way tie.
Clare have a score difference of -19, which is significantly worse than Meath and Down. If Clare finish level on points with Down, they will stay up, given that they beat the Ulster county in Newry. If they finish on a three-way tie, they will go down.
In the short term though, Clare must look to rise themselves again. They have a good record of emerging from a defeat with a decent subsequent performance. Remember they beat Cork in Ennis in the 2017 league and only an injury-time goal divided the teams when they met in January’s McGrath Cup final in Mallow.
Clare know they can compete with Cork but the home county are definitely improving and their confidence is rising.
While Clare addressed their defensive limitations when they deployed Russell as a sweeper against Tipperary, they need to look at that strategy again. Somebody else, possibly Jamie Malone or Seán Collins, will have to fill that role in Cork. Clare should even look at deploying both as double sweepers, with a licence to break forward as often as possible. Putting it simply, Clare need to make themselves difficult to break down, keep the score as low as possible, frustrate Cork and try to hit them on the break.
Clare also need to up their tackle count all over the field. That might be difficult for the three or four remaining forwards if they are playing one or two sweepers and Seán O’Donoghue as a third midfielder. Cork are not world-beaters and Clare will be confident of taking them and might feel that they don’t need to significantly alter their strategy.
In reality though, if they are to have a chance of winning in Pairc Uí Rínn, they must set up to play on the counter. Clare have the legs to do that but maybe not the time to put a detailed plan into place. Still, they have plenty of experienced footballers, who know that the key is to cut down on what they are conceding, in the belief that they have enough to kick a winning total.
Clare will be stretched to get a result in Cork and won’t unless they rethink their current strategy.
By Peter O’Connell