Can Clare pull off an upset to match 1992?
By Dara O Cinneide
Clare must limit the Cork forwards to have any hope
Whatever giddiness the Clare footballing public are feeling ahead of their first Munster final appearance in 12 years tomorrow has been further heightened by the inevitable nostalgia surrounding the 20th anniversary of the heroic win of 1992.
There is an unavoidable sense of romance among the diehards ahead of the clash with Cork but deep down the realists among those walking the Ennis Road to the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow must harbour the same expectation the Romans had when they paid up for the fixtures between the Christians and the lions all those years ago. The fear from a neutral perspective is that Clare could end up on the wrong side of a proper mauling.
A quick glance at the Clare player profiles in tomorrow’s match programme only serves to highlight how much has changed since the historic uprising of 1992. Back then, you had club sides like Doonbeg, Corofin, Cooraclare, Kilrush, Milltown and Kilkee conveying talent to a team with a serious conviction built up over months of gradual improvement and mini-triumphs. Tomorrow you will see players from Meelick, Clondegad, Kildysart, O Curry’s and even Cratloe. Even the conviction of 1992 has been replaced by a sense of hopeful pilgrimage based on a few decent showings in challenge games and a recent championship win against Limerick — their first of any description in more than four years.
Anytime in recent years this Clare outfit have had to get a result, they have failed. Two years ago in the league, all they needed was a draw in their last game against Limerick for promotion but they lost by a point. Similarly, earlier this year against Wicklow in Aughrim, they came up short and thus face into their sixth season in the basement division next year. Perhaps that is why their semi-final win over Limerick was greeted with such enthusiasm. The result, which ensured their place in the last 12 of championship 2012, was important but it was probably the manner in which they responded to the second half onslaught from Limerick that offers most hope tomorrow.
Two dramatic late points from David Tubridy, a good interception by Gordon Kelly and the width of a goalpost ensured the Bannermen got their overdue bit of luck but the performances of Kelly, Gary Brennan, Rory Donnelly and Tubridy suggested that these four at least may give the Cork players more to think about than some got from their Kerry counterparts last month.
Limerick have shown in the recent past that if you go in with a definite plan against this Cork side, less heralded teams can give them more bother than a familiar foe such as the Kingdom. For Clare to upset the Cork rhythm tomorrow, they absolutely must have some scheme to limit the influence of the Cork full forward line. Ian Ryan wreaked so much havoc against Shane McNelis, Kevin Harnett and Laurence Healy that Clare simply cannot afford a repeat against the greater threat of Colm O’Neill, Donncha O’Connor and Nicholas Murphy.
Much of the damage limitation ploy will probably centre on dropping men like Enda Coughlan and the experienced Michael O’Shea back behind midfield, thus leaving Tubridy and Donnelly (who excelled against Cork last year) in some space up front.
Micheal Cahill’s physical preparation will have brought Clare on from last year but it would be a surprise if they were to have the aerobic fitness to play the system required to counteract Cork for more than an hour.
While it won’t be in Clare’s interest to engage Cork in physical combat, Ger Quinlan’s experience and Gary Brennan’s sheer ability in the middle should ensure they get some foothold under Joe Hayes’s kickouts at least. I’d expect Alan Quirke to employ all his craft to ensure Clare don’t get a sniff of possession from the Cork restarts.
Last month in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kerry substitutes, James O’Donoghue and to a lesser extent, Johnny Buckley, exposed some of the possibilities of unknown and rarely analysed quantities running directly at the Cork defence but you would have to admire Cork’s composure in ensuring their threat was reduced to a guerrilla enterprise by the time the game reached its concluding stages.
Clare might have the advantage of coming under the radar this time but so much more is going to have to go right for them too.
They need a good start, they need to limit mistakes in a game played at a pace they’ve never before encountered and they need a sympathetic referee. Eddie Kinsella, who takes charge tomorrow, has the advantage of having refereed the corresponding fixture last year when he sent Clare’s Graham Kelly to the line on two yellow cards. I can clearly recall Kelly clattering John Miskella in full view of Kinsella after having received his second yellow in that game. Needless to say a return to such petulance will be devastating for Clare and the need to maintain discipline is critical in taking on Cork, who engaged in some skullduggery of their own against Kerry.
I expect Ciarán Sheehan to have a big game tomorrow and Daniel Goulding will surely be given a lot of game time to further sharpen him up. When Cork beat Kerry last month there was a drumbeat within and beyond the county bounds that suggested that having only one competitive game against Clare in eight weeks to prepare for a return to Croke Park was far from ideal.
There is, of course, merit and plausibility in such an argument but Cork have enough players on the field with points to prove and even Eoin Cadogan’s decision to stay away from the hurling this weekend reveals much about how Cork are treating the Clare challenge.
Hemingway wrote some time ago of the slow death in the hot afternoon, of the sense of inevitability as the matador worked his way towards the denouement of an unequal contest between man and bull.
We don’t know what he would have made of such a contest in Gaelic football but for all the dreaming and for all the yearning in Clare for a summoning of the magical spirit of ‘92, there has to be a sense that their team will labour and eventually buckle under the weight of playing in a first Munster final in 12 years.
With Willie Clancy Week about to kick off for the 40th year in a row in Milltown Malbay today, Clare folk have as many distractions as they need to ensure once again that there won’t be a cow milked until mid-July.
Cork to march on and Clare to stay dreaming of that summer two decades ago. Home