DEFENSIVELY Clare produced their best display of the 2014 season, conceding just six points. Given that Clare conceded big scores and soft goals against Tipperary, Carlow and London, tightening up at the back was a definite priority for Paudie Kissane and his coaching team as they prepared for the game in Antrim. In fact the home county scored just three points from play and didn’t score at all until the 35 minute. Of course it must be noted that they were playing into a near storm in that opening half.
Another area where Clare did well was on their own kick out, retaining the vast majority of them while they managed to win more than half of Antrim’s second half kick outs.
Underlining their physical conditioning Clare definitely had more possession than Antrim, particularly in the second period, when they held possession impressively and ran at the Ulster county.
However there are several areas where Clare can improve, most notably in their shooting for scores. A 16 wide tally confirms that. While 13 of those wides were kicked with the wind, Clare must try to play in almost the same manner with the breeze as they do against it.
They kicked far too early in the first half when an attempted pass, often took one bounce and ended up going wide. Clare should really be trying to play their possession game even when with the wind and only kick when a clear opportunity arises.
Moving Gary Brennan to full forward made sense although nothing came off the move in scoring terms. That said Shane McGrath hit the post in the 16th minute, when shooting for goal after being fed by Brennan. The Clare captain could have been greedier on that occasion and perhaps had a go for a goal himself.
All season Clare have worked on not picking up yellow or black cards and indeed not giving away scoreable frees. Cathal O’Connor was the only player to be yellow carded by Clare did concede seven frees inside their own ’45. Even against Carlow they conceded nine frees in that area of the pitch, which underlines that as they prepare for the league final and for championship, these are areas that they must work on improving.
In terms of what player was mostly on the ball, Shane McGrath topped that list, followed by Seán Collins and wing back Ciaran Russell, who started what was just his second inter-county game at any level.
Tackle counts is an area obsessed over by county management teams and with Clare putting in just over 40 tackles (approximately) on Sunday, that number will have to increase as the level of opposition rises later this year. Of course it’s impossible to get the tackles in when your own team have the ball and Clare did dominate possession in Creggan, particularly in the second half.
On a completely unrelated note, the Kickham Creggan’s facilities were excellent and particularly impressive given that they are club and not inter-county grounds.