DONAL O'GRADY: Clare’s ideal world: In a final with much to work on

Reviewing this game, Clare will have concerns. Donal O’Grady breaks down the areas they need to work on.

Jimmy Greaves was fond of the saying “it’s a funny old game”. The game between Clare and Limerick fell into that category. Clare were 2-5 to 0-3 in front after 20 minutes and coasting. Then Limerick rattled off 1-5 in five minutes to level matters as Clare failed to add to their tally. Mr Momentum was favouring the men in green at this stage and one would have expected Limerick to power ahead.

However, they failed to score for the final 10 minutes of the half while Clare grabbed hold of proceedings again, rattling off five points down the stretch before the break.

Overall, Limerick had 47% possession to Clare’s 53% while the Treaty hit 11 wides to the Banner’s four in the first half. Wides, particularly those that sail over the heads of the inside attackers, sap morale and Limerick sent too many aimless Hail Mary deliveries from their own half.

They played the first 20 minutes with Kyle Hayes, their most impressive attacker, at full-forward. However, he lacked support. Graham Mulcahy and Peter Casey played too far out and Limerick persisted in sending ball into the corners, where Hayes was fighting a lone battle. When there is a big target man you need to play him at the edge of the square with support players coming around quickly for the break.

Scoring power was the difference between the teams. Clare’s Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath, two of their inside attack, notched up 3-5 from a tally of 3-12 from play. Limerick only managed 2-8, depending on placed balls for their other eight scores.

I wrote last Saturday that speed is king in the modern game. McGrath and O’Donnell have good pace and can take on defenders. O’Donnell’s acceleration is a potent weapon as he can glide away from defenders in an instant. Once he gets one on one with the keeper he remains cool and batts the ball in or slides it deftly to the side of the netminder.

Limerick’s inexperienced corner-backs defended well on occasions but overall had tough debuts. However, the qualifiers will be an ideal vehicle for development.

When Limerick review this game they will be disappointed with the three goals they conceded.

It is always the little mistakes that matter. Kyle Hayes, in attempting a handpass, gave away possession. Then ‘keeper Nickie Quaid joined the contest for a high ball that he should have left to his full-back. He fell. Shane O’Donnell pounced on the breaking ball, striking a powerful ground shot home.

The second Clare goal resulted from another minor error. Full-back Richie McCarthy appeared to have won the ball. However, he was off balance and it got caught under his feet. O’Donnell swooped and netted with a trademark strike.

The third was the defining moment of the game, coming 15 minutes into the second half. Limerick corner-back Sean Finn, in splendid isolation, drove a long ball straight to Colm Galvin. Meanwhile, his direct opponent Conor McGrath had drifted across to the other side. He was unmarked as he tracked Galvin’s long delivery. When it landed at the edge of the small square he knocked it past the advancing Quaid. It gave Clare a six-point cushion which they more or less held to the end.

Clare’s early dominance was about tempo, clever positioning and support play. Podge Collins played centre-half forward and drifted back into midfield, taking up good positions. There was a big gap in front of Limerick’s centre-half back Declan Hannon and Clare’s midfielders took advantage.

Clare’s defensive work, good support play, clever running and passing looked impressive. However, after 20 minutes Collins drifted back too far. Tony Kelly’s influence at right-half forward was minimal and their midfield influence waned.

For a spell, the Treaty half-back line began to win possession from long Clare puckouts and from misdirected forward deliveries. This coincided with the move of Kyle Hayes to wing-forward and his pace and strength troubled Clare wing-back Gearóid O’Connell. The swap with David Dempsey benefitted both. Hayes was the pick of the Treaty forwards. After a strong run in the first half, had he elected to pass inside instead of shooting, it might have yielded another goal.

Cian Lynch dropped deeper towards midfield and Limerick played with three men in the full-forward line. This gave them a better structure.

Reviewing this game, Clare will have concerns. Goalkeeper Andrew Fahy went to his knees to save the shot from Cian Lynch that led to the goal. This is never a good technique as one has no recovery for the breaking ball. He backed off for the second goal instead of staying put or moving forward a step.

Clare finished the game with 14 wides. David Reidy, their freetaker, contributed five of these from placed balls, a conversion rate of only 50%. Inter-county freetakers need to be converting 90% of their chances. That’s a big worry. The scores from frees weren’t needed last Sunday but in the words of the late Frankie Byrne, “they might be someday”, particularly when they face tighter opposition.

Questions remain about the balance of the Clare half-back line, while Tony Kelly was well below his best. He had a long club season. He might need a break or maybe he needs to be centrally involved. He hit a very poor wide in the first half from the tightest of angles. He never took a step when he had the goal at his mercy and he was easily hooked. Most unlike him.

Although Clare bossed the game after half-time they were actually outscored by Limerick. They only scored four points from play, going 10 minutes without a score and only scoring two in the final 18. Their half-forwards dropped very deep into midfield with top goal scorer Shane O’Donnell playing almost as a wing-forward. This may be a throwback to the last few years when they fell back once they were ahead by five or six points. Changing a culture takes time.

With five or six bodies in midfield, the temptation was to hit long deliveries whereas this team need to link the attacks through their half-forwards.

Clare are in a Munster final. Limerick are in the qualifiers. That may suit both managements nicely as they seek to develop their potential.

Limerick customer not always right

Clare’s ideal world: In a final with much to work on

Reading my favourite hurling writer’s column last Saturday, in these pages, I reflected on a sentence scripted by Mr McEvoy: “If John Kiely has the men in green playing the breakneck, hip-to-hip stuff of old, he’ll have gone a considerable way towards placating his customer base”.

Do any managers attempt to placate their ‘customer base’?

Unlike in the retail trade, where the customer is key, the bottom line for managers, and for fans, of hurling teams, club or county, is winning. Do Brian Cody or Jim Gavin consider what style of play fans desire? Did Donegal’s Jim McGuinness? They know that winning All-Irelands keeps the fans happy. Winning with style is a bonus.

Some pundits say that Limerick do well when they play the ‘Limerick way’. I’m presuming they mean playing with determination and getting ‘stuck in’ to the opposition. But what happens on the days when the opposition are as determined? What style of play do the Treaty follow then?

John Kiely is intelligent and shrewd. He knows that following a blueprint that has yielded very little in the ‘All Irelands won’ column — one since 1940 — is not the way forward. Hurling has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. It is now a possession game. First-time or ground hurling has disappeared, because defenders now play from the front.

Interpretation of the rules has confined ‘the shoulder’ to history. Attempting to ‘shoulder’ is now the quickest way to earn a yellow card, or even a red, if it is deemed high. Kiely will develop a style of play to suit the players available. If this falls into the category of ‘traditional Limerick hurling’, so be it, but hurling has moved on.

Limerick need change and the ‘customer base’, hankering after ‘real Limerick hurling’, needs to check the stats.

‘Derring-do’ is essential to win an All-Ireland, but it will only bring you part of the way. In the past, many Limerick 15s had ‘derring-do’, but they were lacking in other areas. Limerick need to win an All-Ireland in the next five years. Hurling in Limerick needs a title. The supporters need a title. An All-Ireland win sustains the sport. It inspires the next generation.

Kiely will hope to find the magic formula to bring Limerick to the promised land. He may set mini-targets, or small objectives, along the way. But placating the customer base may not be one of them.

  • Arsene Wenger has signed a new two-year contract at Arsenal. Now there’s a man who may have to placate his ‘customer base’ in the not-too-distant future. He could have gone as a hero after the FA Cup final this year, but obviously feels he has more to offer as manager. Hopefully, he walks away singing Edith Piaf’s ‘Je ne regrette rien’.


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