After a seven month wait, Clare’s 2020 National Football League campaign resumes this weekend with crunch Division Two penultimate round tie with Fermanagh in Cusack Park.
The Banner come into the game knowing that victory will not only move them further away from the relegation mire, but would also set up an outside shot at finishing in the promotion spots on the final day when Armagh will be the opponents. Defeat for Fermanagh would see them relegated to Division Three ahead of their final round clash with Laois.
Clare’s last outing came on March 1 when Joe McGann’s goal was instrumental in securing a 1-14 to 0-15 win over Cavan in Breffni Park. That result sees Clare just above Kildare in the relegation places on the head to head rule, and two points clear of Sunday’s visitors who are sitting bottom of the standings.
The Banner have recorded two wins so far in the Division Two campaign with victory over Kildare in Cusack Park along with their Breffni triumph. There have also been three defeats, with two of those, against Westmeath and Laois, being only by the slimmest of margins. There was a seven point loss to Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park also but the result againt Cavan leaves Clare with a real chance of moving up the rankings.
Sundays game is a fixture that has generated plenty talking points over the last week after Fermanagh announced they were ceasing all activity following an outbreak of Covid-19. That two week isolation period is set to end this weekend, but speculation that the game may not go ahead continues. GAA’s Director of Player, Club and Games Administration Fergal McGill outlined last week that it was unlikely that the GAA would be in a position to grant any postponements for the remainder of the National League series and added that there was a strong commitment from the GAA to see all of the 2020 competitions finished within the calendar year.
Clare boss Colm Collins says no one wants to see any squad placed at a disadvantage as a result of an outbreak of Covid-19 and added that his preference was for the game to be played rather than a walkover coming into play.
“As far as we are concerned, there was never any uncertainty around it. At all times, we were working on the assumption that we were going to be playing a match next Sunday and that was it. We never deviated from that at all. We want it played and we have no interest whatsoever in gaining any advantage out of this. If there is anything we can do, we would be happy to do it to help them out. I would like the fixture played because I cannot see any other way out of it. We have Armagh the following week and every other team in Division Two is waiting for results. We have Tipperary in the Munster championship the week after that so I just hope that everything will go ahead and things will be alright. It is not ideal I know but the reality is that it could be ourselves tomorrow, we just don’t know. All we can do is not be complacent and take all the precautions that we can and hopefully keep your squad as Covid free as possible in this climate, because at the moment it is nearly impossible to keep it entirely Covid free” he noted.
Clare’s cause was boosted over recent weeks with the news that All Star nominees Gary Brennan and Jamie Malone had linked up with the panel once more while Aaron Fitzgerald is also back in the squad after recovering from a knee injury. Podge Collins, who played a key role in Clare’s promotion to Division Two in 2016, is also back with the squad after his departure from the hurling panel.
Collins will be without one of his key men though as Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Dermot Coughlan is set to miss out on the rest of the 2020 campaign after suffering a knee injury, while Ciaran Russell is also nursing an injury ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
The Cratloe clubman outlined that everyone is enjoying being back together once more and feels the energy in the group is evident ahead of a potentially busy few weeks.
“It is great to be back and it is great to have the lads training with the kind of energy they have been showing so it is all good. There has been a great appetite and we found there has been a great bite to it since we came back. Lads are just delighted to be back and it is showing. It is possible that may have come from the fear of not having anything at all and you can see that everyone is enjoying it so it is all good. It is so important that people have something to look forward to. That is not just in terms of players and management, but also the spectators. Hopefully these games will be there for people to see on television in whatever form and it will be good for everyone. It is great to be looking forward to that and hopefully the preparations are going good. We will be hoping to put in three good performances in those games and that is all we want” he said.
With Brennan, Malone, Fitzgerald and Collins all being added to the panel since the pause button was pressed in March, it leaves management with a headache to not just narrow down to the starting 15, but also to decide on who makes the cut for the matchday squad. The manager admits it is a welcome headache and feels the quality available to them is of a really high standard.
“We are delighted with everyone that is in and delighted with the effort that everyone is making. It is going to be a nightmare just picking the panel, not to talk of picking the team. The brilliant thing about that is you have real options on the bench so hopefully we get it right. We don’t always get it right, but hopefully we will. There is serious competition for nearly every position on the pitch. There was some serious quality in the club championship and some great football played. There was a genuine effort on behalf of most teams to play really good football and that was good to see. You always want to play at the highest level you can and that had been our objective from day one. It is vital that we do that and if we can push it further then that would be great too” he stated.