Earlier this summer, Ger Loughnane declared Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland win to be the “greatest fluke of all time”. While the reaction was certainly divided, many concurred, pointing to the fact that they met neither Tipperary nor Kilkenny, the two dominant forces of this decade, on the way to lifting the Liam MacCarthy.
To their credit, Davy Fitzgerald’s Banner side blitzed the country in 2013 with a swashbuckling running game, beating Waterford, Laois, Wexford, Galway, Limerick and Cork to claim their honours. The fact of the matter is that neither Tipp nor Kilkenny were even amongst the top five teams in 2013, and Clare were full value for their victory.
However, what does cast shade on the unlikely triumph is their form before and after 2013. Looking back on the record books in years to come, Clare’s win will be seen as a complete outlier.
Wins over Laois, Offaly and Limerick (twice) is all they have to show in the championship since. Much has been made of their inability to back up 2013, but also there was not much to precede it.
This was not a team that had been knocking on the door in the previous years. 2010 saw a 13-point loss to a Dublin side that would go on to lose to Antrim the following week. 12 months on, a 17-point loss to Galway left Clare hurling at a low ebb after years at the top table.
Nonetheless, a young team emerged and Davy Fitzgerald steered them to victory.
They have disappeared as quickly as they had originally surfaced. The results of 2010-2012 and 2014 onwards lend themselves to the notion that this was a flash in the pan. However, the raw quality of players involved suggests otherwise.
Things went stale under Davy, and change came at the right time. However, it was anticipated that this young generation of Banner hurlers would rise again under Gerry O’Connor and Donal Maloney.
Surely Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, et al., are too good to simply dwell in hurling’s doldrums for the remainder of their careers?
What transpired on the field of play in the Munster final two weeks ago left the smatterings of saffron support around Semple Stadium scratching their heads. Clare were uninspiring, employing negative and unintelligent hurling.
The new regime was expected to bring with it a new Clare, but we have been treated to the 2014-2016 edition so far in 2017.
This afternoon, they come up against a resurgent Tipperary side, and in truth, the handicap of five points appears generous. The Premier suffered setbacks in defeats to Galway and Cork, but sent a message to the rest of the country with a resounding display over Dublin.
The lethal forward division looked back to their best, and there was an air of 2010 and 2014 about their qualifier run.
Do The Banner have the tools to stop them in their tracks? Absolutely. With one of the most potent half-forward lines in the country, they can ask the same questions of the Mahers as Galway and Cork.
They have the pace to run at the Tipp defence, planning a speedy brand of hurling in order to bypass The Premier’s aerial dominance, which has been the platform for their success.
The key to beating this Tipp side is not stopping the full forward line, but rather cutting out the channels to Callanan and Co.
There is no doubting The Banners’ ability to cause an upset today, but with each passing game, Clare fans have dwindling evidence to draw upon. Referencing performances from four years ago is an exercise in the age-old art of straw-clutching.
Ger Loughnane’s jibe was there to be shot down by the current crop, but it appears they haven’t even loaded their guns.