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Victory is imperative to launch compact campaign

Allianz Football League Division 2 South Round 1
Clare v Laois at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 4pm (Sean Lonergan, Tipperary)

THE prevailing narrative when it comes to Division 2 has always been its ultra competitiveness and relative uncertainty as to which teams are elevated and evicted from the division on any given year.
That script is emphasised when it comes to assessing Clare as having been touted as relegation candidates (nationally at least) every year since winning Division 3 in 2016, they have managed to defy those odds and could have even soared to the top flight had results gone their way last year.
Indeed, in two-thirds of Clare’s league matches over the past three seasons, only a kick of a ball has separated the sides and in the context of an even smaller pool this time around, two of those were minimum results came in 2020 against Kildare (0-11 to 0-10 win), and Laois (1-12 to 1-11 loss), both in Cusack Park.
With two home matches out of three against Laois and Cork imminent, Colm Collins will be banking on Cusack Park to provide an extra impetus in what could be further wafer-thin margins within this southern group.
Clare have beaten Cork in their last three league meetings, even relegating them in 2019.
However, with All-Ireland Minor and Under 20 successes behind them, the Rebels have bounced back to Division 2 at the first attempt and will feel they owe their Munster rivals a backlash, especially in Ennis.
By then, Clare will have visited the veritable graveyard that is St Conleth’s Park, a venue that has thrown up three successive defeats for the traveling Banner to Kildare by an average of four points since 2016. Motivation also won’t be required against Laois this Sunday after an agonising one-point reverse last year.
So even without retirees Gary Brennan and Gordon Kelly, the emergence of an exciting new crop of talent will only add to the anticipation as Clare will look to rebuild on their feet for this year’s compact season.
Most significantly however, having beaten all three opponents in recent seasons, Clare won’t fear anyone and should have built sufficient confidence over the past four years to optimistically be gunning for a promotion spot.
That realistically has to start with a victory over Laois this Sunday, a result that will keep their heads looking upwards in the coming weeks rather than nervously over their shoulders.

Verdict: Clare

Clare Senior Football Panel: Eoin Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown) (Captain); Darragh Bohannon (Shannon Gaels), Cillian Brennan (Clondegad), Eoghan Collins (Ballyhaunis, Mayo), Padraic Collins (Cratloe), Sean Collins (Cratloe), Darragh Conneely (Ennistymon), Gavin Cooney (Éire Óg), Dermot Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Jonah Culligan (Ballyvaughan), Ciaran Downes (Kilmihil), Aaron Griffin (Lissycasey), Kevin Harnett (Newmarket-on-Fergus), Conor Jordan (Austin Stacks, Kerry), Pearse Lillis (Cooraclare), Jamie Malone (Corofin), Dale Masterson (St Breckan’s), Joe McGann (St Breckan’s), Emmet McMahon (Kildysart), Ciaran Morrissey (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Cormac Murray (St Joseph’s Miltown) Killian Normoyle (Lissycasey), Gearoid O’Brien (Kilrush Shamrocks), Tom O’Brien (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen), Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora), Conall Ó hAiniféin (Ruan), Darren O’Neill (Éire Óg), Cillian Rouine (Ennistymon), Ciaran Russell (Éire Óg), Dean Ryan (Na Fianna, Dubin), Stephen Ryan (Kilrush Shamrocks), Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Jack Sheedy (St Breckan’s), Alan Sweeney (St Breckan’s), David Tubridy (Doonbeg), Ikem Ugwueru (Éire Óg), Daniel Walsh (Kilmurry Ibrickane),
Management: Colm Collins Manager), Gerry McGowan (Coach), Enda Coughlan, Declan Downes, Declan O’Keeffe (Selectors), Rob Mulcahy (S&C Coach), Dr. Claire McMahon, Shane McNamara (Medical)

by Eoin Brennan

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