THERE is no shame in defeat. Nobody can question the sincerity of the Clare hurlers efforts in Thurles. That they didn’t hurl to their optimum level isn’t connected to an absence of desire to make it happen.
That said Clare’s tactical approach and selection policy is open to scrutiny. For example Pat Kelly was an integral component of Clare’s All-Ireland winning year. Until last year Clare had struggled to find a goalkeeper who consistently held down the position and who had the full confidence and understanding of his defenders and midfielders. Kelly stepped up last year and literally put his body on the line when facing down Anthony Nash in the All-Ireland final.
Why dispense with him when the goalkeeping issue seemed to have been resolved? Donal Tuohy is an excellent goalkeeper and has proven that at U/21 level. However it would be impossible for him to replicate the same understanding, in relation to puck out strategy for example, as Kelly has having filled the role so successfully in 2013. Clare weren’t switched on for Patrick Horgan’s goal from a free after Jack Browne had fouled Alan Cadogan. The goalkeeper has to take some responsibility for that while Horgan’s penalty also seemed to right down the middle and a number of puck outs also went awry. Of course a goalkeeper cannot be entirely blamed for that. Perhaps the outfield players weren’t moving into the space designated to meet the puck outs.
In front of Donal Tuohy, Jack Browne made his championship debut. Management should be applauded and not questioned for going with young players in the heat of championship. After all that’s why Clare won the All-Ireland last September. That said both Domhnall O’Donovan and Seadna Morey must be scratching their heads. O’Donovan is a proven corner back while surely Morey’s blinding pace would have been suited to the threat offered by Alan Cadogan. Morey did a decent job at keeping Cadogan relatively quiet during the second half and would have been confident of doing that for 70 minutes had he been in from the start.
Cathal McInerney is another man who must be wondering what he needs to do to get a start. Following his introduction, McInerney looked sharp and loose in his play, a trait not shared on Sunday by most of Clare’s starting forwards. With Shane O’Donnell and Darach Honan not starting either, McInerney was surely an obvious starter, particularly bearing in mind his intrinsic understanding with Conor McGrath and Podge Collins. McGrath spent much of Sunday alone in a one man full forward line, with Stephen McDonnell unwilling to give an inch. Clare would have been much more potent in attack had McInerney been there for company with Podge Collins roaming around the middle third.
The latter, along with Tony Kelly, was very quiet with neither impacting on the game. The fact that both spent a portion of the 70 minutes marooned in the full forward line didn’t help. Jimmy Barry Murphy must have been euphoric. They couldn’t have been less involved if they had been sitting in the stand. Both Collins and Kelly are at their best in the middle third when granted a bit of freedom to attack the game. Unlike McGrath, McInerney or Shane O’Donnell, neither are comfortable standing around in the full forward line. Kelly played his best minor and U/21 hurling at midfield, while he was outstanding last year roaming from centre forward. Would Daniel Kearney or Aidan Walsh have dominated the middle so much if they had to track Kelly? Cork would probably have left Christopher Joyce on Kelly in any event but even that would have perhaps suited Clare and crowded midfield a bit more.
Podge Collins must also feel somewhat isolated by Davy Fitzgerald’s after match comments on dual players. Reaching the heights of last year was always going to be a huge challenge for the Cratloe man whether he played football with Clare or not. While claiming that the dual player option is a non runner, the Clare manager must surely acknowledge that Aidan Walsh and Damien Cahalane were outstanding for Cork. Both are dual players. Remember the Cork footballers are a division 1 team, unlike their Clare counterparts. Clearly the Cork management teams are working together to make sure that it works, although that will be tested if their footballers reach the Munster final.
The dual player concept only works when the respective management teams work together, which to be fair Fitzgerald and Colm Collins have done until now. The public comments of the Clare manager haven’t helped though and have placed the spotlight on one player, which is not on.
Clare would be better off working out how they conceded 2-11 from frees. A couple of those frees were harsh but most were correct decisions. Clare’s tackling was poor with only Cian Dillon close to his best form. Management should concentrate on improving their defenders tackling technique rather than focusing on the referee. While it’s great for the local and national press to have the Clare manager questioning the man in black, Davy Fitzgerald would be better off to hold off. Although he made it clear that he admired the way Cork played, constant badgering of referees can only turn them against Clare.
On another note the absence of Paul Kinnerk was evident. Taking a lead from a warm up can be misleading yet Clare didn’t look sharp even in the warm up. They lacked the zip and focus normally evident when Kinnerk is overseeing it and that was reflected once the ball was thrown in.