IF Clare win or draw in Newbridge on Sunday, they will be playing Division 2 football in 2017. That would represent a second promotion in three seasons and huge progress for the size five game in this county. Kildare are already promoted, so will surely not be as motivated as they would be if they had to win.
Twelve months ago, Clare played already promoted Fermanagh in their last league game. That time, Clare had to win to stay in Division 3 and they did just that. If Kildare are a bit off this weekend, they could leave the door ajar for Clare to storm in and join them in Division 2. However, given that Kildare will be at home, in front of a large crowd, they are unlikely to be overly relaxed. They will want to put on a show and win.
Here is where it gets complicated. If Clare lose, they can still get promoted as long as neither Offaly nor Tipperary end up on the same points as them. Clare have lost to both and when two teams finish level, the team that won their game is deemed to be ahead in the table. If Clare are beaten and Offaly beat Limerick, Offaly will be promoted as long as Tipperary lose away to Sligo. If Clare lose and Offaly and Tipperary both win, Clare will be promoted due to their points difference. It will all be a lot less complicated if Clare draw or win.
Last Saturday, Kildare hammered Tipperary 2-13 to 1-5 in Clonmel to win promotion. Daniel Flynn scored 1-2 but went off with a hamstring injury late on, which will come as a concern to their manager Cian O’Neill with just eight weeks until the championship.
Kildare were relegated from Division 2 last season and have some very capable players in defenders Peter Kelly, Ollie Lyons and Fergal Conway, while Tommy Moolick is a decent midfielder. While Daniel Flynn will be a huge loss to Kildare, they have quality forwards in Niall Kelly and Eamon Callaghan.
Clare centre-back Gordon Kelly will have a key role to play and speaking after the win over Longford in Ennis, the Miltown man said heading to Kildare with their destiny in their own hands is significant.
“That’s always important going into the last day. You’re not relying on other teams and it’s all in your own hands. It’s quite simple. We’ll go up if we win. If we lose, we probably don’t deserve to be promoted. Isn’t it great? You play for the big games and Sunday is a big game. We’ll work hard in training and everyone will be looking forward to it,” Kelly said.
Kelly was fairly content with Clare’s display against Longford.
“We came out well in the second half and we upped our work rate. We got the scores. There was a strong breeze behind us and the lads worked hard. The goal was disappointing. We turned it over but when something like that happens in the first few minutes, you have to keep doing the right things and taking the right options.”
The latter point is important as Clare prepare for Sunday. When they have played well in the four league games they have won, their decision making has been excellent. However, against Tipperary and Offaly, their decision making was much less impressive. With everything at stake in Kildare this weekend, Clare will need calm heads and top performances.
They will be looking to Gary Brennan and Cathal O’Connor to tie down plenty of possession in the middle third, which will bring their attacking half-backs into the game. Clare will surely start with Jamie Malone in the half-forward line following his five points against Longford, four from wing-forward, while Pearse Lillis did very well at wing-back and kicked two from play.
Having won their last game by 11 points, it’s very unlikely that any alterations will be made to the starting 15. While Malone has had an outstanding league, others who have really impressed include Lillis, Seanie Malone at corner-back, Eoin Cleary and Cian O’Dea. These players will develop even further playing Division 2 football and that’s one of the myriad of reasons why promotion would be such a mammoth boost to football in the county.
The higher the level Clare are competing at, the higher every standard involved in preparing a county team rises if they are to deliver at that level. First, though, they must deliver a performance on Sunday. Winning in Kildare will be tough but the end result will, of course, reflect how Clare played. They are capable of winning this, tying it up neatly. However, if they don’t win or draw and other results promote Clare, they will want to have achieved that with a huge display.
Kildare will start as favourites and should justify that tag but both Offaly and Tipperary should win, which would promote Clare. However, Tipperary will have a huge task in playing Sligo away, so nothing is certain.
By Peter O’Connell