A place in the Super Eight series of the All-Ireland senior football championship is the prize on offer for Clare when they take on Meath this weekend in the final round of qualifiers.
The Banner booked their spot in Round Four after a gritty one point win over Westmeath in Mullingar, and now face a fourth showdown with the Royals since 2017.
The Leinster outfit have held the upper hand in clashes between the two counties in the National League, coming out on top in all three of their showdowns in Division Two, including this season when they were 1-12 to 1-7 winners in Cusack Park.
Meath come into the game off the back of a 16 point loss to Dublin in the Leinster final, while manager Andy McEntee’s alleged row with a local journalist in the aftermath of the defeat made national headlines.
Clare boss Colm Collins feels it was always going to be a huge test no matter what name came out of the hat with them in the draw.
“We were aware of the four teams that were in the pot and we have played all of them in recent times so we didn’t really mind who we got. As it turns out it was Meath who are a team we have played a lot so we will be familiar with them as they will be with us. A lot of work goes into researching teams that you would not have come across that much but a lot of the work on Meath would have been done prior to the league game so it is only what happened since then that we will be focusing on” he noted.
All four of the potential opponents have crossed swords with Clare in recent league campaigns, with Cavan and Galway both securing promotion from Division Two while Meath did likewise in 2019. Collins knows that the opposition at this stage of the championship was always going to be a big name.
He said: “We know that the nature of the qualifiers is that as you go along, the level of opposition you are meeting goes up all the time and this is the biggest challenge that we will face. It is well within our grasp to get the right result and if we play to the level we know we can, we are well capable of winning this one”.
It will be a Meath team who are still hurting from the manner of their defeat to Dublin in the Leinster final, as they only registered 0-4 over the course of the contest while conceding 1-17 to their local rivals. Collins is braced for a backlash.
“They had a tough day in Croke Park but they have a good bunch of players and an excellent guy in charge of them so I am sure they will be well prepared. They would like nothing more than to get back on the field and try to atone for that defeat so we will have to be at our best and we are well aware of that” said the Kilmihil native.
Last weekend’s win over Westmeath marked just the second time Clare have put championship victories back to back under Collins’ tenure, as they withstood a late surge from the home side in Mullingar to progress to the next round. He was pleased with how they fought right to the end.
“We showed great battling qualities I felt and it turned into a real contest. It is great to win those type of games and you would have to be very proud of the way the lads stood up and eked out the victory without playing as well as we can play. Delighted with the win and it was great to be still listening to the radio on a Monday morning for the draw. I have said it so many times that we are so fortunate in Clare to have the bunch of players that we do. The county should be so proud of them because they are really stand up guys. They walk the walk and do what they say they are going to do and there is quite a bit of class there too. I think all of the good qualities of these lads were on show last weekend and it was a fantastic win” he said.
A huge Clare following made their way to Mullingar last weekend and Collins is hopeful of similar support this time around.
“One of the first thing we noticed when we walked out onto the pitch was the amount of Clare jerseys that were all around the grounds and it was great to see. That type of support is just great to see and it is very much appreciated by management and players so hopefully that continues” said Collins.
Clare will be without the influential Conal Ó hAiniféin for the clash with Meath after the Ruan native suffered a shoulder injury during the win in Mullingar.