INADVERENTLY, Davy Fitzgerald drew unhelpful attention upon himself and Clare by not attending the All-Ireland press night in Ennis.
In a year in which most of his important decisions, relating to what happens on the field, have been vindicated, that was a poor call by the Clare manager and his advisers. The only way Clare will avoid being rounded upon by the national media is if they win on Sunday.
While Fitzgerald might justifiably feel he is entitled to make up his own mind if he attends these events or not, in effect he turned a negative focus on Clare by staying away.
In contrast, Jimmy Barry Murphy was available to all sections of the media at the Cork press day in Pairc Uí Rínn. That level of co-operation guarantees nothing and will mean nothing if Cork lose but it does suggest the Cork manager is more comfortable dealing with an All-Ireland final build up. By not making a fuss over it, he is in reality down-playing the role of the media. In refusing to attend his own county’s press evening, Fitzgerald is, by his actions, indicating that the press is a factor in the build-up to Sunday.
As earlier indicated, decisions made relating to team selection and most match day changes, have worked virtually seamlessly. Yet moving Tony Kelly from centre-forward to midfield wasn’t exactly an Einstein moment from the Clare manager nor was the selection of Podge Collins in a roving role.
Collins was a used substitute against Waterford and has since played some of the best hurling seen in the country this year. Management deserve credit for implementing these changes and even more of it for pitching Conor Ryan in at centre-back and deploying Pat Donnellan in a sweeper role. Those moves bamboozled Galway and Limerick, even though John Allen must have known what Clare were up to.
Maybe he didn’t but Jimmy Barry Murphy certainly will. If Clare go with the sweeper again, Cork will be ready. It will be fascinating to see if Cork will leave Pat Donnellan free or will they push a seventh forward up on him? Alternatively, they might opt to push a half-forward closer to goal, albeit allowing a Clare half-back to remain loose in the middle third. A third option would be to place a free man in the middle third, hope that he hits over a couple of early points and draws Donnellan into that zone.
Of course, if Clare alter their tactical strategy they could puzzle Cork to the point of distraction. While Clare have hurled superbly in the last two games, a number of players have yet to set the championship alight. Knocks and injuries have impeded John Conlon, while Darach Honan has yet to deliver a display reminiscent of his U-21 magnificence.
Conor McGrath’s work rate has been immense but the Cratloe man would like to add a decent scoring return to that fondness for not avoiding the hard yards.
Unlike former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who last week admitted he didn’t have a plan B when it was clear the Irish economy was imploding, the Clare management team need at least three viable plans.
Plan A has got them this far and it might get them over the line. It’s unlikely that it will though. Cork are surely not so naïve that they will fall for the sweeper trick again? Clare could opt to marginally reshuffle their attack for the first few minutes, to put a doubt in Cork’s mind as to who the defenders are picking up.
Whatever tactical approach Clare opt for, the key to its execution will be the fluency of support play, movement and enlightened option-taking evident against Limerick. Cork, presumably, will set out to impose their own game on Clare and somehow unhinge their support play. The handiest way to do that is to win primary ball and to hold onto it before delivering, which is exactly what Clare will attempt to do. Essentially both teams will adopt a relatively similar approach, although Cork will not start out with an extra defender unless Clare stick with their five forwards in attack.
On an aside, it was noticeable against Limerick that Clare supporters were vastly dwarfed by the, albeit mostly silent, men and women in green. Up to now, this Clare team has not been fully backed by the county. That will change on Sunday, of course, when Clare may well need passionate encouragement from the stands to deliver. The county needs to pull together for this one.
So where can Clare win it? Before the semi-final it was suggested the Clare bench was more potent than Limerick’s. They weren’t needed that day but Cathal McInerney, Nicky O’Connell, Shane O’Donnell or Peter Duggan are capable of coming on and turning it on for Clare. They have the temperament and the quality to do an Eamon Taaffe on it. What the Tubber man did in the 1995 final resonates to this day. If Clare are to win it, the county could be idolising another of the dugout contingent come Monday morning.
By Peter O’Connell