In the first of Pundit Arena’s weekly way-too-early season preview pieces, we take a look at the reasons why those from the Banner County can be optimistic during the long winter nights ahead.
With the 2016 inter-county season wrapped up, it is never too early to look ahead to the 2017 season and we will examine all the contenders and see what they might achieve in the new year. First, up the Banner County.
Clare: The Banner County
Managers: Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor, who have had so much success with a lot of the current Clare team at under-age level, have stepped into the top job.
Key player: Like Austin Gleeson for Waterford, Tony Kelly can take control of a game and dominate, even against the best teams. If Kelly plays well, Clare will be close to winning – no matter who they are playing against.
Next superstar: In this category, instead of a “young gun” or “one to watch”, we will take a look at one of the better players on the team, who, in 2017, can upgrade themselves to becoming one of the better players in the country.
For Clare, we’ve picked Shane O’Donnell. After shooting to fame in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, O’Donnell has become somewhat of a goal-poacher for the Banner. Doesn’t always play 70 minutes in a ridiculously talented Clare forward line, but could be on the way to being an Eddie Brennan type player – one who always finds the net when you need it most.
Three reasons why 2017 will be their year:
No distractions: Full credit to Davy Fitz for all he did for Clare but without him, and his antics, on the sideline, Clare can concentrate on hurling. This team proved in 2013 they can go all the way and perhaps a new voice in the dressing room can get them back to those dizzy heights.
They’ve done it before: As mentioned, Clare won the Liam McCarthy Cup as recently as 2013. That’s more recent than anyone else, bar Tipperary and Kilkenny. While the likes of Galway and Waterford believe they can win the sport’s biggest prize, Clare *know* they can win it and will be itching to reclaim the title in 2017.
League champions: The biggest failing we will have with Waterford – look out for their preview in the next few weeks – was their inability to beat Tipp or Kilkenny in big games. Clare beat both those teams in the knockout stages of the league last year. While not the be all and end all, these wins showed Clare can hold their nerve against the big guns in knock-out hurling.
Did last year give them hope?
While their Championship form wasn’t great, they did pick up a big win against Limerick in Semple Stadium so it wasn’t a complete disaster. Add that to the league success and the Banner County have the best base of any side that failed to reach last year’s All Ireland semi-finals.
Realistically, where are they going?
It’s easy to talk up this Clare side but the fact of the matter is they haven’t hurled well in a couple of years. When everything clicks, they are as good as anyone. However, on a bad day, they aren’t sticking their necks out in the chasing pack. They should get back to an All Ireland quarter final and, depending on the draw, could make a semi.
Draw for 2017:
Clare will play Limerick in Thurles in the Munster SHC semi final. It is the third year in a row the sides are meeting in the Championship – Limerick were victorious in 2015, while Clare got the better of their neighbours and rivals last time out.
Why it would be kinda funny to see them fail:
As well as their joint managers, Clare will have Donal Óg Cusack and Liam Cronin involved as coaches, with Kevin Harold in charge of S&C. Despite all these high-profile names, reports suggest that they may add two more selectors to the ticket. With too many cooks in the kitchen, things could get heated and maybe the drama and the sideshow of the Clare backroom team will remain post Davy.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena