Clare’s senior camogie team round off their All-Ireland campaign this weekend with nothing but pride left to play for when they take on Dublin.
Defeat last weekend to Waterford meant that for the fifth successive season, Clare cannot advance beyond the group stages of the championship, and the fact that their hosts are also out of the reckoning makes the game a dead rubber.
It is a nightmare scenario for a championship fixture with both teams coming into it knowing that in the context of their overall season, the result means nothing in the final standings. Both teams will want to end their season on a high, but it will be difficult to raise a gallop for it.
It will also be difficult for Clare to look back on another season which has seen very little progress in terms of results while the performances have also left a lot to be desired. A 12 point tally against both Waterford and Meath was the most Clare managed to put on the scoreboard, while the fact that no green flag was raised so far is also worrying from an attacking point of view. Clare also conceded more than one goal in three of their championship games with the only shutout coming against Meath. The old failings of not having a great enough scoring spread has also been evident throughout the season with an over-reliance on Chloe Morey frees to make up their scoring tally.
With the curtain set to come down on another season, it really is time for Clare to take a step back and assess what the plan for future should be. The statistics over the course of the last decade do not make easy reading but the simple reality is that facts do not lie. Since 2009, Clare have played in 50 championship games at senior level. Just 10 of those games have resulted in a win, with 4 draws and 36 losses. It means over the last 10 years, Clare have won 20 percent of their championship games, with 72 percent resulting in defeat.
Regardless of how game 51 goes, Clare will retain their senior status for the 2020 season by virtue of their one point win over Meath in the second round. That victory came against a Meath side that played the final quarter with 14 players. The question now needs to be whether or not Clare are realistically operating at a senior level and what needs to happen next?
At the very least, it should be discussed at executive level as to what needs to happen in terms of where Clare camogie is heading. The results outlined above will show that outside of a quarter-final appearance in 2014, Clare have not advanced beyond the group stages in the last decade. Surely that is a statistic that raises red flags as to the progression of the squad? There can be no disputing the fact that the likes of Chloe Morey, Maire McGrath and Orlaith Duggan have all been incredible servants to the game, but the succession plan for the next batch of leaders has got to be in the back of the mind.
With the commitment levels required to play at the top level never higher, there must be a concern that the stagnation of recent years will be something that younger players may look at and opt out. What enticement is there to give up nine or ten months of your life to live the inter-county lifestyle if the prospect of some form of success is not there? There is nothing more deflating than being the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter and Clare have struggled badly in recent years to put any level of consistency together. From 2016 to 2018, Clare won just one game across 13 championship matches. Where is the progress in that?
All Clare Camogie need to do is look sideways at their Ladies Football counterparts. There was a realisation that Clare were simply not competing at senior level and a brave decision was taken to regrade to the intermediate ranks. This has allowed Clare to rebuild and compete at a realistic level while also allowing younger talent to develop at a sustainable rate.
Clare will retain their senior status in the camogie championship for 2020, but if that means another year of hard luck stories and nearly there tales, what good will it have been? At least have the conversation and take the decision best suited to the future, not the short term. It will quickly become near impossible to get players to commit unless they are operating at a level where they can compete so that the long winter nights are worth it when the summer rolls around. There will need to be an element of swallowing pride but would you not rather see a Clare team competing silverware, regardless of the grade, than a Clare team who are staying senior just for the sake of that tag?