CLARE can look forward to tomorrow’s All-Ireland championship quarter-final with Wexford secure in the knowledge they have a full deck from which to deal.
Wedensday evening saw proposed one-match suspensions of Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan overturned on a technicality and the Banner can face the Model county at full strength in Thurles.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of Shane O’Donnell has been one of the stories of this year’s Championship to date. The Éire Óg man has suffered with concussion and missed the 2021 inter- county campaign as a result.
His return to action has been slow but well managed as he has slotted in seamlessly, scoring nine points in the Championship to date while lining out at wing forward. O’Donnell scooped the GAA/GPA Player of the Month award for May with manager Brian Lohan hailing the work that the star forward has put in.
“There was never a doubt over Shane’s quality. He’s a really exceptional individual with exceptional skill. Unfortunately, he had that bad injury and he suffered with that,” said Lohan.
“It’s a real credit to him the way he has got himself back and up to pace in the Munster Championship. That next level now is to get him up to pace for the All-Ireland series. Like us all can we get to the All Ireland series pace of it?”
The former All-Ireland winning defender admits it has been tough to recover from the Munster final defeat. In what was the best game of the Championship so far, both Clare and Limerick contributed to one of the great Munster finals.
The level of physicality was raised a few notches from anything Clare have experienced so far. The reigning champions just managed to find a way to edge over the line as their bench made a telling impact while Limerick’s experience proved critical in extra time.
“It was a tough, physical encounter with a lot of pressure on all areas of the field. There was tough hitting and in an encounter like that in those conditions there was very little space. The recovery was needed and we need to be ready for Wexford now.”
Lohan admits the desire of the players was one of the main takeaways from the game while the work of the backroom team ensured his players were able to mix it physically with the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions.
“There was a lot of desire, work rate and fitness on show. The fellas put everything in to it. It was a committed performance from not just ourselves but the 26 (on the matchday panel), the 41 and the people behind the scenes. The team appreciate the effort that people made to support the team.”
“Great credit goes to the backroom team. They are a tremendous bunch. We have proper people there whether it be S+C or nutrition or hurling coaching. The medical team have put in a lot of hard work all year. It’s a great effort by all of them.”
When it comes to management, especially at this level, there is a fine line between focusing on the opponent and one’s own performance. The need to get key match ups correct is vital as there are no second chances for any team now.
Alternatively, Clare will be looking to get more out of their attacking unit, with Limerick’s defence edging the battle their way in the second half and during extra time. Lohan believes it is a balancing act between focusing on Wexford’s marquee players and trying to impose his side’s gameplan on to the Leinster side.
“It’s always a balance. From our own perspective, we will try to get our gameplan right and try impose it on them. We are hoping to counteract them. We have to rely on our expertise. Ken (Ralph) and James (Moran) have been exceptional in analysis and drawing up game plans.”
“We have to improve from where we were the last day because we are coming up against an excellent Wexford team. That’s the challenge for us.”
The four time All-Star believes Wexford are peaking at the right time after a draw and defeat in their opening two games of the Leinster Championship. A demolition of Laois was followed by s share of the spoils against Westmeath, which left Darragh Egan’s side on the brink of exiting the Championship.
However, a gutsy win against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park coupled with Galway defeating Dublin helped the Slaneysiders finish third in the group and secure a Preliminary Quarter-Final spot.
A routine win over Kerry duly followed last week with Lohan keenly aware that Wexford are entering form at the right time.
With Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald in attack, he believes his side are in for a stern examination of their credentials.
“If you look at Wexford they are probably reaching the peak of where they’ve been all year. They started well in the league and then had a blip but they have great momentum now. They had a nice game against Kerry down in Kerry. They ran out easy winners there and got good game time under their belts. Their prep couldn’t be going better.”
“They are a really robust, strong, physical outfit. Everyone seems to know their job and they are very god at what they do. They have tremendous players, some of the best players in the country so we have to produce a performance.”