WHILE Clare used the McGrath Cup to give younger players a run, there is no ignoring the fact that they will start the 2018 league without several experienced defenders.
Goalkeeper Joe Hayes has retired, while Liam Markham has opted out for work reasons. Dean Ryan is in Australia, while Kevin Harnett is recovering from a shoulder operation.
Martin McMahon and John Hayes have yet to return to the panel and it is unclear as to whether they will. Liscannor’s Darren Nagle is now in Australia.
However, Éire Óg’s Ciaran Russell is back training, having recovered from a hamstring injury.
Clare manager Colm Collins, who is starting his fifth season in the post, says that the absence of those players is a “natural progression” and that it will afford opportunities to younger defenders on Saturday against Cavan.
“It’s the natural progression of things. A team develops for one reason or another and you’re going to be without some players. Certain players you might think are irreplaceable but the facts are that everyone is replaceable. It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up and some of the lads who have got the opportunities have done very well. We’re going into it with confidence. You can’t beat when the real action starts. You can’t ask for any more than a home game at the start,” Collins said, ahead of the league opener.
He does not accept that standards of preparation have improved during his time in charge. Collins maintains that Clare teams were preparing at a high level, prior to him taking over as manager.
“There was nothing wrong with what was happening, even when we were down in Division 4. I was here a lot of nights, when Micheál Cahill was the strength and conditioning coach, and that was as professional as you could get. They were an excellent set-up. Division 4 or Division 2, you prepare as well as you can but the big focus in Division 2 is if you give the ball away cheaply, you’re going to get nailed to the cross. At this level, if you’re careless with possession, mistakes are punished.
“It was good that the McGrath Cup ended up the way it did, where the last weekend was free and we weren’t playing a competitive match. I think it was important that we could work on our own stuff,” he said of the two-week break between the McGrath Cup final and the first league game.
The Clare manager says that having four home league games, compared to three last season, could be significant.
“We love playing in Cusack Park and we perform really well there. The only overnight we have this year is Down, which is great. You can control everything for the home games. Everyone sleeps in their own bed and you think that you’re better prepared. With away games, there’s a little more to it. Each week, we’ll be trying to improve on what we did the previous week,” Collins said of Clare’s approach to their seven league fixtures.
By Peter O’Connell