Colm Collins has had a few anxious moments, awaiting results from elsewhere over the course of the seven National Football League campaigns he has presided over.
Thankfully the news has always been positive and the Banner have preserved their status, and in the 2016 instance, been promoted, on the back of same. A sprinkling of luck is always a welcome, and indeed necessary, ingredient along all journeys of note.
I have never gone along with the line that we are better off in Division 2. We have, in this present squad and management, the ambition and talent to mix it with the big boys, but will only get to the top echelon when we are consistently good enough. In 2020, we weren’t and ultimately the final table cannot be argued with. In this year’s programme, the two best teams Clare met, were promoted, and both teams relegated, lost to the Banner. Of the three remaining sides, Clare lost to two, and beat the other with all three games being decided by the minimum. Tight margins indeed.
Over the course of the seven games, Colm used plenty players, with some seeing NFL action for the first time. The round 5 victory in Breffni was undoubtedly the highlight as a diligent and disciplined Clare deservingly took the spoils against a Cavan outfit seeking their fourth victory on the bounce. What a significant win it proved to be. Joe McGann announced his senior arrival with an excellent finish, only bettered by an outrageous one in the victory over Fermanagh. Goals are often a lot more valuable than simply three points, and McGann’s brace were instrumental in ensuring that Clare will enjoy a fifth successive season in Division 2. Gavin Cooney (Westmeath), a David Tubridy penalty (Laois) and Cian O’Dea (Armagh) are the only other players to join this year’s green flag list. With most teams deploying the extra defender to protect the “D”, goal chances can be as rare as hen’s teeth, but when manufactured, simply must be availed of. The return to action of Jamie Malone and Gary Brenann significantly boosts Clare’s chances in this regard and with Eoin Cleary and Keelan Sexton in situ, Clare has seldom had such a bounty of proven goal getters. Our spread of point scorers in the most recent league games, has not set pulses racing so majors will be required for a sustained championship run.
Colm has often spoken of the value of competition for places within the squad and he certainly has that now. To name a match day 26 is a feat, and no doubt an argument or two, in itself, not to mention choosing 1 to 15, with serious options available in every line. Stephen and Dean Ryan, Kevin Harnett, Seán and Podge Collins, David Tubridy and Gavin Cooney are not used to, and will not wish to get used to social distancing during championship matches, so training games should be both interesting and intense. Expect changes to last weeks starting 15.
Tipperary in Thurles will be a hard nut to crack. Their inside line, of Quinlivan and Sweeney are talented two footed marksmen capable of kicking big scoring returns. Cillian Brenann and Gordon Kelly are their likely opponents and will be well up for the job, with Kelly particularly impressive last weekend. Clare’s middle eight have, I believe, a discernible edge but will need their GPS trackers on overdrive to ensure the Tipp two do not get the quality ball, they thrive on.
When Clare attack at pace, running diagonally off the shoulder, with a mix of crisp kick and hand passes, as best illustrated last Saturday by Eoin Cleary’s first half score after a turn-over by Cian O Dea, it is football of the highest quality. Since the league resumed, we have mixed the brilliant with the very ordinary, but with two competitive games now under the belt, these Banner boys are well capable of reaching a more consistent standard of scoring than their Tipperary counterparts.
Clare needed goals to claim victory in the 2019 league decider at the same venue. Sunday is likely to follow suit but Colm Collins has, I believe, an even stronger squad this time round. The bench will, no doubt, have a telling role to play, but the combined efforts of all, should prevail and guide Eoin Cleary and co. to a Munster semi. Go n-eiri go geal leo.