CLARE’S best displays this year have been when they have played with freedom and abandon. They have totted up significant scores in several games but have conceded far too much defensively. It might seem a bit churlish to point to areas of concern given that they hammered Carlow by 19 points but unless Clare can balance all out attack with a more coherent defensive approach, it is very unlikely that they will come close to matching Kildare.
A few things must not happen. Half backs cannot steam forward in front of the ball, while one midfielder must sit if the other attacks either on or off the ball. If a half back or midfielder attacks, one of the half forwards not directly involved in the move will have to drift back to prevent Clare being caught on the break. Players not on the ball will have to be as vigilant as those who are. Kildare will cut through Clare if they leave holes, are turned over and are hit on the break in numbers.
Another key area for improvement is in the tackle when the opposition are on the ball. If Carlow are able to land points from 50 yards, under no pressure, rest assured that Kildare will do likewise except it will be more often. Remarkably Clare only conceded six frees against Carlow but giving away frees downfield would slow down their opponents. Clare need to be a bit more cynical in the right areas.
As impressive as Clare were in their support play and shooting in attack, the half forwards in particular simply must up their work rate and turn over more ball or at least slow down Kildare if they are breaking from deep. This would give some chance to the Clare full back line, who cannot do much if Kildare overlap and come at them in numbers.
Selection wise management have one big decision to make. Shane Hickey would normally be a nailed down starter but unfortunately for him he had to retire early against Carlow, for the second successive game. Dean Ryan came back in and produced a display, which underlined his determination to claim back his corner backs shirt.
That’s the biggest decision facing the Clare management. Both Eoin Cleary and Podge McMahon looked very sharp when brought on but it would be very harsh to displace any of the starting forwards after last Sunday’s hammering of Carlow. Cathal O’Connor is also very keen to regain a starting place, while Martin O’Leary didn’t feature last Sunday after having been ill the week before. The longer Clare stay in the championship the more options are coming to the fore.
Clare manager Colm Collins accepts that they must sharpen up defensively against Kildare if they are going to deliver what would be a surprise victory.
“There was a lot of things to like about Sunday’s display but there’s also lots of things that we can improve on. We’ll be focusing on tidying up those things this week. When you play against really strong teams you won’t get away with some of the mistakes we made against Carlow. But I think we have the capacity to tidy them up. We’ve an excellent bunch of players and they’ve done absolutely everything asked of them all year long,” Collins said on Monday.
“The home draw was important. We were going to be playing a decent side at this stage anyway so the important thing was that we got the home draw. Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd there and we’ll put in a good display and hopefully get the win,” he added.
Speaking in Carlow on Sunday, Collins couldn’t but praise his players although he didn’t deny that a few defensive cracks need addressing.
“There was some good scores and we played some good football. We moved the ball fast and there was good finishing at the end of it. There was a lot of things to be happy about but you’d be a bit displeased with some of the scores we conceded. If you come up against division 1 teams you can’t concede those kind of scores. It’s as simple as that,” the Cratloe championship winning manager stated.
Kildare hammered Down last weekend and will be warm if not overwhelming favourites to advance to the last 12.
They have some top class players in wing forward Padraig O’Neill, wing back Emmet Bolton, inside forward Niall Kelly and full back Hugh McGrillen.
Clare have a decent chance of causing an upset. Their promotion to division 3 has been followed by three decent championship outings against Waterford in their replay win, Kerry in the Munster semi-final and Carlow.
Playing five championship games is breaking new ground for this Clare team who could have beaten Kerry had they completely believed that it was possible. At this stage they must know that they are good enough if they play to near their peak. Kildare will be backed by a significant following and will be confident of easing past Clare. However Clare can really put it up to them although it probably won’t be enough to beat the Lily whites and stay in the championship.
Clare v Kildare will throw in at 7pm in Cusack Park on Saturday.