For Clare’s elite soccer clubs, February is generally a month for fine tuning and preparing for the business end of national and provincial competitions.
Unfortunately for all supporters of Clare soccer, this is the first year for quite some time that there is no representative in the latter stages of the standard bearing competitions.
These are competitions that all Clare clubs are striving to win in order to be the first to claim that major title, which has eluded so many great Clare teams in the past. It is hard to believe It’s now 30 years since the great Avenue Utd team played in the FAI Junior Cup final, and while Newmarket Celtic have played in a number of Munster Finals in that time, Clare are still no closer to having a club win that big one.
This year is no different, and I think even the most avid supporters of Avenue United, Newmarket Celtic and Shannon Town will agree that they all have regrets over the manner of their exits from this year’s elite competitions. The chances to progress were wide open considering some of the other teams knocked out in earlier rounds. What does this mean? Is it just down to bad luck or is the standard of Clare Soccer good enough? That is the question.
The one competition that Clare soccer has real pedigree and history in is the Oscar Traynor Trophy and as previous winners we have proven we can mix it with the best leagues in the country at this level. As a former Clare manager and player, I can assure readers the level of support from the Clare District Soccer League for this competition has been unquestionable and unwavering over the years which is remarkable considering the lack of support and respect some of the bigger leagues give to it. It’s not too long ago that Clare were struggling to win games at this level, let alone think about winning the competition. Since 2010 we have been consistently competing at the business end, taking home two titles in that time and were beaten in two finals.
Wexford come to town this Saturday for a quarter final, in what should be a cracking game (weather permitting of course). It will prove to be a difficult challenge for a Clare side that I’m sure will relish the chance in front of a big home crowd. Speaking of history, its 10 years now since Wexford came to Doora for the Oscar Traynor Final in 2010. As a player that day, I can tell you we were seriously primed to bridge the gap and take home our first title for a number of years. We won a semi final against Cork AUL in Turners Cross against the odds and we really felt having home advantage for the final would help us lift that trophy. That was despite the final being played just six days after the semi final.
That was the day we were introduced to a seriously good Wexford team, probably their best ever, and included the likes of Paul Murphy and a certain Lee Chin at right back. We got our tactics badly wrong in that second half and paid a heavy price as a result but the performance of Paul Murphy for Wexford will never be forgotten. He has always been a pivotal figure for his club, North End United, and will certainly be a player that Shane Keegan and his team will have to be very careful with as he has the ability to dictate the pace of a game dropping all the way back in to defence picking up the ball from his goalkeeper and centre backs.
In saying all that, this is a very good Clare team. They are extremely organised and possess players who know how to get it done. Wexford were part of a three team group and while they scraped a late winner to defeat the Leinster Senior League, they were surprisingly well beaten by the Defence forces. Performance really does not matter for Clare, it is all about the result and I fully expect the Banner to be in the hat for the last four after the game.