FOLLOWING their three league defeats in 2016, all away from home, Clare won their subsequent games. Their reaction to those losses is why they are currently playing Division 2 football. A similar reaction is now required if Clare are to avoid a struggle to hold their current status. Outside of the panel and management, very few Clare people expected them to beat Galway in Salthill last Sunday.
However, there was a definite expectation that Clare would compete hard for the hour and 10 minutes and, at the very least, push Galway. That did not happen, which was the most disappointing aspect of their display.
In most of their league and championship games, over the last three seasons in particular, Clare have brought an honesty of effort to the field. Whatever the result, that effort level has not often dipped. It did last Sunday, though. Their tackling, tracking, support play, decision making when in possession and a cutting desire to win 50/50 ball was well short of what is needed in Division 2.
Weather conditions were exceptionally difficult but the basics of Clare’s game were lacking. Unless they considerably brush up on these basics, they will not live with Cork either.
Cork beat Fermanagh 1-14 to 1-9 in Pairc Uí Rínn last weekend and join Clare on three points in the table. They drew their first game away to Galway, before losing to Kildare in Newbridge. Both Clare and Cork are just one point off the bottom of the table and two adrift of Galway. Every game in this division assumes a huge significance, particularly after Down and Derry’s victories over Meath and Kildare in Round 3.
Clare will again be without Gary Brennan and Seán Collins on Sunday and their absence, along with Shane McGrath, who has withdrawn from the panel, leaves a void in terms of depth on the bench. While all of Clare’s substitutes against Galway are very capable footballers, few of them have much experience at this level and, in fact, sub-goalkeeper Pierce Deloughrey and Seanie Malone were the only subs to have started a league game. That leaves nine subs who don’t have a league start between them.
Therefore, Clare will have to aim to take control of the game with the 15 who start and hope that any of the substitutes brought in will take to the field with Clare in a winning position and not chasing the game.
Cork are speckled with some outstanding footballers in captain Paul Kerrigan, Donncha O’Connor, Brian O’Driscoll and full-back Michael Shields. However, this side is definitely not on a level with other Cork teams from around the late 2000s. They would not have been relegated from Division 1 if they were.
That said, Cork will travel to Ennis relatively confidently. They will expect a decent challenge from Clare but not one that will derail them. Clare will have to meet Cork with a ferocity, unity and vehemence not evident last Sunday.
Every Clare man needs to up his game, on and off the ball. In fact, how they position and apply themselves when Cork have possession will have a significant bearing on the result. A viewing of the DVD of the Galway game should be enough to drive it home that similar lethargy on Sunday will result in a second successive defeat.
After Sunday, Clare will not play again until March 19, when they travel to play Fermanagh in Enniskilleen. That will be followed by another away game to Kildare in Newbridge.
Therefore, Clare will not play at home again until they take on Meath on April 2. A result on Sunday would be a significant lift and, in practical terms, a huge help.
Expect Clare to go old school and bring a ferocious work rate and change of attitude with them to Cusack Park. That is the most basic requirement and if they deliver on that, they will have a chance of forging a result.
By Peter O’Connell