Eoin Brennan previews the Clare ladies football team’s crucial clash with Fermanagh
With their championship lives on the line and no room left for error, can Clare’s true colours finally shine through through this Sunday?
That’s the challenge thrown down by manager Evan Talty after a hugely disappointing opening All-Ireland Championship opener against Leitrim left his players embroiled in a winner-takes-all showdown for the final quarter-final spot in Longford town this Sunday. Now it’s up to them to see what are they made of. I told them coming out on Sunday that this was going to be championship football. You can play all the challenges you want but when Leitrim were in their faces and their hunger and desire was far greater than ours, we didn’t react well.
“The question is now can we bring the intensity that Leitrim brought against us into Sunday’s match against Fermanagh. We’ve now had a game under our belts so there’s no excuses. It’s just up to them to bring it next Sunday or we’ll have a long summer looking on.”
In the immediate aftermath, it was difficult for the Kilmurry Ibrickane clubman to put his finger on what had gone so wrong in Ballinasloe last Sunday.
“In training they were going really well and there was great competition for places and sometimes if things are going too well, you can perhaps get overconfident. So maybe there was a bit of that about the performance but as we saw last week with Longford beating Westmeath, anything can happen in championship football so we should have been ready for it.
“It was always something that could happen as Leitrim had a game played before us and were probably up to the pace of championship. We started well and were 1-2 to 0-1 up but the longer we left them in the game, the more they grew in confidence.
“We then started to panic, revert to type and we didn’t play to our system which made us look pretty average then. It meant that we ultimately couldn’t break them down and when we did, we left ourselves wide open at the back with some very basic schoolgirl errors from the goals we conceded.
“In the heat of a championship match, clear heads and good decision-making are vital but we just compounded error upon error. Ultimately when you concede four goals, you don’t deserve to win any game and the manner in which we conceded them, was simply not good enough for this level of football.
“The most disappointing thing from my point of view is that the way we’ve been playing in challenge matches and training, we didn’t bring any of that here today. We looked very ordinary and very clueless whereas we have a pretty unique system that we play but we couldn’t see any of that today.
“There were no options off the shoulder, we weren’t kicking the ball in and made backs errors by bringing the ball into the tackle.”
And if defeat wasn’t bad enough, the prospect of being without scorer-in-chief Niamh O’Dea through suspension for their make-or-break tie against Fermanagh only added to Talty’s frustration. In terms of refereeing, I think he left an awful lot go for ladies football. I mean they targeted Niamh O’Dea from early on so I can’t understand how he [referee Kevin Corcoran] gave her a red card when she was the one being pulled and dragged all day.
“I actually saw the incident because I had pointed out to the linesman that Niamh had been pulled down by a late tackle. Every time she tried to run, someone was pulling her off the ball and they had their homework done on her but we just hope that for next week, the video evidence will clear Niamh. Outside of that red card or the referee though, that performance simply wasn’t good enough for the standard of player that we have on the pitch. When they got 15 players behind the ball, we didn’t know what to do but the reason that they were able to get 15 behind the ball is that we were so slow to move the ball.
“The really frustrating thing for me is that we have been practising not to carry the ball over and back across the field or not to move the ball backwards and instead to push up. I’m actually hoarse from shouting ‘push up’ but we just seemed to play with loads behind the ball all day and not pressurising them in the right areas.
“We’re better than that and we need to react to it. And look, the bottom line is that we’re still in the championship and if we can get a performance against Fermanagh, we’re still in the same position as if we had won today.”
The scenic route starts with a four hour round trip to Pearse Park in Longford where up against the reigning All-Ireland Junior champions, Clare simply need to show their championship teeth this Sunday.