Clare threatened to embark on a period of dominance and kick off another hurling revolution winning the All-Ireland title in 2013 along with three Under-21 titles in a row in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But the reality is they have nothing since that success back in 2013.
2016 saw Clare vacate a third championship in a row without getting to play in Croke Park. In fact Clare have only been in Croke Park in three seasons out of the last ten seasons. It is a remarkable stat for a team that have managed to win an All-Ireland title, one of only three teams to do so in that time.
But Clare’s loss to Galway spelt the end of another poor season. Spirits were high when Davy Fitzgerald brought Donal Óg Cusack in as coach along with the returning Paul Kinnerk. While the manager remained in place, the fresh faces in the backroom team were seen as something needed in order for Clare to resurrect the glory of 2013.
In Thurles in April, one could have been forgiven for thinking Clare were back. A Tony Kelly-less Bannner side took on Kilkenny and blew them away with a pace and intensity that hurling hadn’t seen in ages. It was the league and it was April, but the Banner exposed Kilkenny weaknesses and were seen as the best placed team to dethrone the Cats.
They went on to win the league title. It was only the league but for a team who hadn’t won a meaningful championship match since 2013, a trophy was great way to build confidence. Clare looked to have a spring back in their step. Tony Kelly, Aaron Cunningham, Colm Galvin, Podge Collins were back to their energetic best and there was an injection of pace from new players.
They were fancied to be real All-Ireland contenders, but now find themselves out of the championship after a very poor showing. They played four games resulting in two wins and two losses. There’s no such thing as a good defeat but they were particularly bad looking at Clare’s league semi-final performance.
Their victories were nothing special either. It was just a very poor championship season from Clare and Davy Fitz really needs to reassess his next move. Eddie Brennan used the term “crossroads” to sum up Clare at the moment and it really is the best word. They just have not gone in any positive direction since 2013.
A lot of people classify 2013 as a soft All-Ireland, something that this writer doesn’t agree with. Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway adapted to what happened in 2013, other counties have now fallen behind in trying to counteract these changes.
Clare have been pretty awful since their All-Ireland victory for a few reasons. Firstly, Davy Fitzgerald’s management of the Podge Collins debacle in 2014 and 2015 was horrendous. Collins was possibly Clare’s key man in 2013, he was the link between defence and attack and Davy totally failed in his management of the situation.
While Collins returned to the hurling fold this season, it is clear as day that relations between the two have been damaged and this can only have had a knock on effect on the rest of the panel. Without Collins playing well, Clare have drastically lacked energy and this is something Fitzgerald must take flack for.
In terms of this season alone, Clare looked like an extremely over-coached team. The pace and intensity and openness they showed against Kilkenny disappeared in the summer, when it should have been the opposite. The weather gets better, the ground gets harder, it is made for pace and flair, but Clare had no spring in their step in the championship games.
They persisted with Cian Dillon as a sweeper. Take Dillon out of it for a second and although he had injuries during the season, this writer felt Clare’s use of David McInerney was atrocious. One of the best defenders was used at midfield. Clare were obsessed with protecting their full-back line, even though they possess probably the best full-back in Ireland.
With a full-back like David McInerney, there is no need for sweepers. He is more then capable of marking the best forwards out there and Clare should have put a lot more faith in their players and their defence.
Clare won an All-Ireland in 2013. Granted they used a sweeper in two of those games but when it came to the All-Ireland finals that year, they went man for man and played some of the best hurling we have seen. They have top class forwards in Conor McGrath, Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell but they have come nowhere close to getting the best out of them.
The Clare management have to take a lot of responsibility for Clare’s performances over the last three seasons, in this writers opinion. They have not gotten the best out of their players.
Davy Fitzgerald should go. He delivered an All-Ireland, and fair play to him and it was fantastic to see him on the line yesterday after having health issues earlier in the week. But he has taken this group of players as far as he can, he should step aside and allow someone else to bring this talented bunch forward.
Clare need to go back to basics, and basics in this context is just going out and playing hurling. Clare have looked like confused robots in this year’s championship.
They most definitely are underachieving and big changes are needed if yeahhhoooooo’s are to be heard again in September. For now, attention has to turn to their footballers.