Brendan Bugler believes Clare’s consistency so far in this year’s Championship bodes well for their aspirations this weekend.
With Brian Lohan’s side travelling to FBD Semple Stadium for their quarter final showdown with Wexford, the pressure is on to replicate the performance produced in the epic Munster final a fortnight ago.
Bugler feels that although Wexford have been building momentum ever since they managed to defeat Kilkenny on away soil in the final round of group games, Clare’s consistent performances will ensure they are confident of reaching a first All Ireland semi final since 2018.
“Clare have really good hurlers. There is a massive desire there and they have given a performance every game. It’s been a really good year so far. This is another test and a big challenge. It’s such a huge occasion but I’m sure Brian will have worked on getting them back up for this game again after the Munster final.”
The former All-Ireland winning defender has soldiered with many of the current crop. He has seen first hand the work that the experienced players within the set up have put in through the years.
Bugler knows from experience the dedication taken to perform at the highest level and the sacrifices that this bunch of players have made to ensure they can peak on the biggest stages. Bugler is full of praise for the consistent focus on self improvement the squad, especially the experienced campaigners possess.
“I think everyone that goes in to an inter county panel has to commit. They decide to give it their all. Those boys have dedicated so much of their lives to playing. Outside of training they are putting things aside to ensure they perform to the best of their ability. There is a huge commitment there.”
“With John Conlon, his mindset alongside his hurling obviously and the way he looks after himself has helped him keep going as long as he has. These guys are role models and real heroes. They devote so much time to the cause. They need huge support now and there’s been great goodwill towards the group this year.”
One key aspect of the Munster final was the individual battles across the field. Two ferocious individual battles involved Conor Cleary and Aaron Gillane renewing acquaintances while Rory Hayes and Seamus Flanagan enjoyed an interesting battle.
The need to get the match-ups right is a vital component of the game, with Wexford left with the arduous task of trying to marshal an in-form Tony Kelly.
Although there has been debate surrounding the Wexford centre-back man-marking the Ballyea talisman, Bugler feels that Darragh Egan’s side may employ a similar strategy to Limerick and allow Kelly to roam.
“It’s a hard one to call when you are dealing with a player like Tony Kelly. He’s just so good. They might rotate and have three or four guys pick him up at different times. Limerick went with zonal marking so Wexford might do the same.”
“Sean Finn picked him up when he was in the full-forward line. It will be interesting to see what Wexford do. If he’s anywhere in the half forward line Reck will probably pick him up. Reck has had a very good year so it will be interesting to see do Wexford try keep him free to start attacks or whether he goes on Tony. It’s a big call.”
Although Wexford have enjoyed an up and down campaign to date, the St. Flannan’s College teacher feels the Slaneysiders had enough chances to beat Dublin earlier in the campaign.
He also believes their performance against Kilkenny was similar to Clare’s pair of games against Limerick in this year’s Championship with the local rivalry bringing the best out of both of this weekend’s quarter-finalists.
“I thought Wexford were alright against Dublin. They had enough chances to win that game. Against Westmeath they were poor but they bounced back from that. They knew they needed a win against Kilkenny and they delivered. It comes down to rivalry. You have the Clare-Limerick rivalry and it’s the exact same there.”
“It comes down to fine margins. There’s nothing between a lot of the teams so it’s just who can deliver on the day.”
The two time All-Star believes both sides have had ideal preparation for this encounter. Bugler feels Clare needed a break after the ferocity of the Munster final while Wexford’s win over Kerry ensured they built upon their win over Kilkenny.
He believes Clare have the quality to progress to a final four showdown with Brian Cody’s Kilkenny side.
“After the Munster final there was no harm in the extra week’s break. They are both in a similar enough situation. If Clare play to their best and Wexford do the same, I think Clare win as I feel they’re a slightly better side.”
“Every game Clare have played so far they’ve delivered. They have produced performances that show all that’s good about Clare hurling. It’s a tricky game but if they can get to the heights that they did against Limerick they have every chance.”