Clare’s trip to Newbridge on Sunday to face Kildare could prove a turning point in the campaign in either direction.
Victory at the third time of asking in recent years at St Conleth’s Park would ensure that it is the summit of the table that will be concerning Colm Collins’ charges as they make the home turn, while defeat would mean that the search for points for survival will likely become the main focus of attention.
The team has been named for Sunday’s clash with just one change from the side that beat Cork last time out. Cathal O’Connor returns from suspension to partner Gary Brennan at midfield, with Darragh Bohannan making way.
Former Clare player and selector Ger Keane feels that every point from here on in will be worth its weight in gold.
“It’s very tight at the moment and there’s only a few points separating top from bottom, which means there is so much to play for now going into the next round. The games are coming hot and heavy from this point forward so Sunday is simply a massive game again. In terms of the campaign to date, Clare were very competitive against Donegal but they seemed to just pull ahead in the closing stages, but it was still a game that Clare would have taken a lot out of. The Armagh was a really tough one and Clare were probably in the ascendency in the first-half but were lucky in the end to get the draw after being four points down going into injury-time so I would say they were delighted with the draw. The win the last day against Cork was really impressive and very well-deserved. That will be a real confidence booster now for the lads ahead of going up to Kildare on Sunday” said the Kilkee man.
Clare notched 3-9 of their 3-13 tally against Cork from play, with David Tubridy currenly holding the mantle of joint top scorer across all the divisions with 2-20 for the Doonbeg man in the three games to date. Keane feels the signs are all pointing to further progress for the team as the year unfolds.
“To be putting up the tallies Clare are getting without one of the best forwards around in Eoin Cleary is a great sign. David Tubridy is really on form and it’s great to see the younger lads chipping in and then you have the likes of Jamie Malone really coming back to form so there are a lot of positives there. It’s very encouraging to see the younger lads taking on the responsibility with Conal O hAinifein getting a goal the last day and Conor Finucane knocking over two points so that’s a real bonus. It’s going to be a dog-fight from this weekend onwards and it really could go any way. If you get a bad result on Sunday, you could be back looking at a relegation scrap. Clare and Kildare are on equal points and we are only ahead of them on the scoring difference. You just can’t relax at any stage. Every game is going to go down to the last whistle and I have no doubt but that this division won’t be sorted out until the last day either for promotion or relegation. Every day from here is going to be like a county final and Sunday up in Newbridge is going to be no different” he predicted.
Clare have tasted defeat on both previous visits to St Conleth’s Park, even though it was the venue where promotion from Division Three was obtained despite defeat on that day. Keane feels they will be eager to put that record straight.
He said: “There’s never much between Clare and Kildare and the games are generally very open and entertaining to watch. I don’t think Clare will be too worried about that side of it the next day in terms of the quality of the game; they will just be focused on getting the two points. The way they’re playing and the confidence they’re building up and the strength of depth they have in the panel means they are more than capable of going up to Newbridge the next day and getting a result. They’re all working really hard for each other and that work-rate is starting up in the forward line because the lads up there are setting the tone. They get numbers behind the ball and then they’re pushing up and pressing high and then counter-attacking at pace. They’re really entertaining to watch at the moment because they are not just sitting back and drawing teams on them. They are coming to a certain point and then working really hard to turn over the ball and breaking in numbers. The score-line the last day against Cork is testament to the fact that they have a real attacking philosophy along with a high degree of work-rate”.