AFTER a one-week break, Clare will return to hurling league action this Saturday evening when they travel to play Laois in Round 3 at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise at 7pm.
As has been the case with their opening two games, Clare will carry the favourites’ tag but team mentors have stressed that they will be taking nothing for granted.
Laois haven’t had a good start to this season’s campaign, losing their opening-round game to Kerry and then going down to Offaly last time out. At this stage of the campaign, relegation to Division 2 is a serious concern, so they will be expected to up their game.
While Clare have won all recent outings against the Laois men, they haven’t had things their own way and, in fact, have had to pull out all the stops to get victory.
In the league quarter-final in 2014, only four points separated the sides at the final whistle, with Clare ahead on a score of 2-23 to 2-19.
Clonlara’s Darach Honan and Colm Galvin, who missed the game against Wexford, are battling to be fit. It is thought that Galvin may be fit to play, despite having aggravated a hamstring injury while assisting Mary Immaculate College in the Fitzgibbon Cup final last weekend.
Honan hasn’t played since shipping an injury against Offaly in the opening round of the competition. Panellist Cathal Malone is definitely out, as are Tony Kelly and Seadna Morey, who are both recovering from leg injuries.
Jack Browne, scorer of two points in the win over Wexford, suffered an injury while playing with UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup last weekend and it is understood that he will be out of action for a number of weeks.
Dual player Podge Collins is edging ever closer to a return to competitive action but it is unlikely that he will play this week. It is, however, expected that he will play before the end of both the hurling and football leagues.
For their last outing, the Clare panel was stretched, leading the management team to add Clonlara’s Oisín O’Brien to the list to bring the number up to 24 for the day.
Sharpshooter Colin Ryan is expected to be available to line out but won’t be available for the match against Kerry a week later, as he is due to get married on Saturday, March 12.
Brendan Bugler, Aaron Cunningham and Bobby Duggan are among the players pressing for inclusion from the start this evening.
While it is certainly a surprise that Laois find themselves without any points after two rounds of the competition, there is no doubt but that they have put in a massive effort over the past couple of seasons and have, despite these results, made a lot of progress.
That said, Clare are expected to approach the tie in a very determined mood. Undefeated to date this season, there is no doubting the determination of players and mentors alike to maintain that form and anything other than a Clare win this week will be a major shock.
By Seamus Hayes, sports editor