For all the progress the Clare footballers have made during Colm Collins’ six seasons at the helm, rising, as they have done, from the league’s basement tier up to Division 2, as well as securing the county’s first All-Ireland quarter-final appearance, game-to-game consistency at summertime has been an issue.
On only two occasions since Collins took the reins in 2014 have Clare managed back-to-back championship wins. More pertinent still is that both arrived in the same season, Clare overcoming Laois, Sligo, and Roscommon on their way to that aforementioned last eight appearance in 2016.
Winning a Munster quarter-final has never been a problem. And it’s been much the same story with regard to the second round of qualifiers, aside from the 2014 reverse at home to Longford.
Where trouble has regularly presented itself is the Munster semi-final hurdle and round-three qualifier, the latter being the fence which ended their championship involvement in 2017 and 2018. This evening’s assignment in Mullingar offers the opportunity to reverse that trend, a third round draw which pits against one another two counties of relatively equal ability.
“You are looking for consistency, to put a couple of displays together. That’s obviously very important,” begins Clare boss Collins.
“I’ve been very fortunate in that these have been a really super bunch of players to work with. On their day, they are a match for anybody. There is a great chance this weekend to get into the bowl for Monday morning’s draw, but, by the same token, Westmeath will also feel they have a great chance. It depends on the day, in terms of who plays and who shows up. What was encouraging last weekend was that they played some really good football in Carrick-on-Shannon.
I was very happy with our scoring efficiency because against Kerry we had some very good chances which we didn’t convert. We dropped six balls short which is terrible stuff.
"There were a lot of scorable chances not taken, and it wasn’t like they were attempted from the next parish. In Carrick-on-Shannon, we converted what we created, which was good.”
That nine-point win over Leitrim was Clare’s ninth championship victory on the road, under Collins. In total, they’ve played 14 championship games away from Ennis during his tenure, losing only five, three of which have been at the hands of Kerry. It is a record which compares very favourably to their away league form for the same period, with the Banner coming out on top in only eight of 24 fixtures. Mind you, Collins quickly rolls off the very important league points they bagged while on their travels.
“We have a bit of history where we do play well away from home. That is a help. In 2014, we went up to Antrim, needed a win [to make the Division 4 final] and got the win. This year, we got the necessary win in Thurles to stay up in Division 2. We won in Páirc Uí Rinn in the league, won in Newry, beat Sligo on their home patch in the championship. All these things show that we really don’t mind whether we are at home or away.”
Get over the Lake County and the Super 8s shoots into view, but Collins is refusing to even mention that step.
“There has been not one word about it. It is forbidden. Westmeath is the only thing I have wanted to hear all week. If we can get past Westmeath, then there will be another game to play. I think it is foolish to look further than what is directly in front of you. The minute you take your eye off what is in front of you, that’s when things go pear-shaped.”