Ever since their 2013 triumph, it seems Clare have become one of the most underwhelming sides in the country. A new management regime brings fresh hope and we’re discussing five reasons why this could be Clare’s year.
When Wexford dumped the reigning All-Ireland champions out of the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2014, it was widely accepted that Davy Fitz’s young Clare side just lacked the hunger of the year before. They would return next year a new side.
Problems began to rise however when 2015 produced pretty much the same season. Last year saw a league title, but once again the championship was not much better. Surely Clare could not have used three years worth of hunger in claiming their All-Ireland title.
A look at the four teams in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-finals is not encouraging. All four teams have regressed hugely. Clare are different however, most of their woes have arrived due to controversy and systems.
A large portion of the 2013 side who captured Liam McCarthy were also u-21 at the time. Making this point even more relevant is that they also strolled through that year’s All-Ireland u-21 championship. To top this point off completely, the managers for that year’s u-21 side were Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor.
Under Davy Fitzgerald, Clare were constantly playing under systems. This seemed to cage certain players talents and restrict them hugely. The vast majority of players have played under the current management duo. Both players and management have a great understanding of each other.
Moloney and O’Connor will have created a winning mentality in the Clare camp. The duo went unbeaten in Munster for five years straight with the Clare minors (two years) and then u-21’s (three years). Clare are in dire need of some self-belief and these two men can certainly provide it.
For years now, the Clare camp has appeared magnetic to controversy. Whether it’s the issue of dual-player status, a discontented player or their manager was in trouble, these issues must have effected the players. The evidence is in the amount of red cards Clare players picked up since 2014.
Podge Collins is now solely focused on his hurling duties, and showed impressive form during the league. If he can regain the form of 2013, it will be a huge benefit to Moloney and O’Connor. There has also been no public issues of any players walking away from the camp.
For the first time in years there also appears to be zero talk of Clare. Neither Moloney nor O’Connor face the media attention Davy Fitz did, which draws no attention to the camp.
A quick look around the country shows their advantage. Wexford are in the middle of another Davy Fitz centred storm. Tipperary appear to be dealing with a storm of their own following Cathal Barrett’s shock dropping. Dublin have endless problems revolving around their manager. Galway are struggling to dampen expectations, while Kilkenny are sweating over injuries.
Clare will be delighted with the lack of attention they have received thus far. They will be hopeful of using their hurling ability to create the attention rather than in-house issues.
Their endless talent pool
Clare have arguably got the most talent in their squad. Unfortunately since 2014 they have largely failed to achieve anything with this squad. Players with the ability of Bobby Duggan and Ian Galvin will be hopeful to cause a stir in 2017.
With all the talent on their bench, let’s not forget the talent on their starting 15. Tony Kelly is in many people’s opinions the best hurler in the country, with the potential to improve even more. He is a real match winner and can change any game.
Players with the ability of David McInerney, Colm Galvin and Brendan Bugler have also proven to be some of the best in the country on their day. Not forgetting the magnificent Conor McGrath who is one of the most dangerous forwards in the country.
With players of this ability, Clare’s underachieving three seasons seem even more shocking. Moloney and O’Connor will be hoping to extract every bit of this talent from their side.
The only top-tier side that Clare have beaten since capturing that 2013 All-Ireland has been Limerick. Who have Clare got in Sunday’s Munster semi-final? Limerick.
Limerick have been struggling just as much as Clare in recent years, if not even more. They have shown no signs of huge improvement over the spring, once again failing to escape division 1B of the league. The Shannonsiders are currently lacking confidence.
If there was a dream draw for Clare’s new management side it was Limerick in a Munster semi-final. Yes, it is a local derby, however Clare should still be extremely confident of progressing. Clare failed to reach the Munster final under Davy Fitzgerald’s watch.
Victory on Sunday would give Clare a fresh approach, avoiding the qualifiers for the first time since 2008. The direct route could work a treat for this Banner side. Playing with the cushion of a guaranteed All-Ireland quarter-final would be beneficial to Clare’s hurlers.
There is also a huge chance of capturing a first Munster title since 1998. Victory in this competition would be a huge confidence booster, and also Clare’s first significant championship win since the 2013 All-Ireland decider.
They have done it before
Yes, Clare have struggled for the past three years. However, one major factor is that this group have climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand in September previously.
They’ve been there and done it before. Only two other sides in this year’s championship can say the same, Tipperary and Kilkenny. The wheels appear to be coming off the Tipperary wagon, while Kilkenny are faced with several injury worries.
This year’s favourites are Galway, who haven’t claimed an All-Ireland in almost 30 years. Waterford must go back even longer to point to their last victory. Most other counties are in the same boat. Not Clare however, the All-Ireland victory will still be fresh in their minds.
Could they do it again this summer? Nobody yet knows, however Sunday will prove to be a massive indicator as to whether they have returned as serious challengers to the throne.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena