Clare v Westmeath at Tuam Stadium Galway, Sunday, at 2pm (Garryowen McMahon, Mayo)
IT’S essentially a crossroads of sorts for the Clare ladies’ footballers this Saturday. Having failed to win a knock-out championship tie since contesting the All-Ireland Intermediate Final five years ago, the Banner crave a breakthrough against a major opponent just to even validate their developmental progress, writes Eoin Brennan.
And they certainly don’t come much bigger than Westmeath who are not only favourites for the title, having paid their dues in the 2020 final against Meath in December but are also only down from senior level since 2019.
Experienced forwards Leona Archibald, Fiona Claffey, Ciara Blundell and Lucy McCartan are still in situ from their last knock-out meeting with Clare in the 2016 National League Division 2 Semi-Final.
Clare will be extremely wary of that attacking prowess, having conceded seven goals so far in just two group outings.
Perfect timing then for the potential return of former captain Laurie Ryan whose influence and leadership could provide the missing piece of the jigsaw if sprung into action on Saturday.
The attacking triumvirate of Niamh O’Dea, Chloe Moloney and Grainne Nolan’s understanding and scoring power will be another essential ingredient if Clare are to take the scalp of the Lake County.
Both sides have actually had a similar journey to this juncture as Westmeath suffered a major opening round shock defeat to Longford while Clare were similarly humbled on their first day out against Leitrim.
They would bounce back to winning ways, but Westmeath’s convincing 2-16 to 1-04 group decider victory over Wexford appeared to signify a full recovery whereas Clare only impressed periodically against Fermanagh, even though their passage to the quarter-finals was never in doubt.
With this being a do-or-die clash, no better time then for Clare to produce their most consistent performance, with this heavyweight bout easily being the tie of weekend if both can play up to form.
With two teams set to come down from senior level at the end of 2021, it’s arguably now-or-never for both teams to reclaim their top tier status.
Clare supporters have witnessed both good and bad so far in contrasting dress rehearsals but any remaining doubts need to be put in the rearview mirror as now more than ever, it’s time to shine for Evan Talty’s side.