Defiant Clare seniors keeping hope alive in the county

Within the space of a week the minors and U20s crashed in championship — the former to a record 40-point defeat to Cork and the latter by 13 to Limerick.
Defiant Clare seniors keeping hope alive in the county

Clare goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan celebrates his side's first goal, scored by team-mate Cathal Malone, during the qualifier win over Wexford. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

If it’s true that every cloud has a silver lining, then the belligerence shown by the Clare senior hurlers in extending their summer towards the business end of the championship couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Elsewhere, things are in a state of chassis: The spat between clubs and the county board over structures and finances that began before a ball was pucked this year still bubbles away under the surface, while on the field it’s been much worse.

Within the space of a week the minors and U20s crashed in championship — the former to a record 40-point defeat to Cork and the latter by 13 to Limerick.

The seniors are the exception though, outliers and lone wolves plotting a path through the backdoor of the All-Ireland Championship — unheralded and underdogs for every game, but defiant as they search for the same kind of momentum they had in 2013 when sweeping all the way to Liam MacCarthy Cup success.

“Clare have been building and will be confident going into this game,” says Colin Ryan, who was the championship’s top scorer in 2013 with 0-70 to his name.

“It would be a great lift if the senior team went on a run. If they were to beat Cork, they’d really be in a great place and could be looking at Dublin in an All-Ireland quarter-final and anything goes from there. It would really help lift the spirits of the county,” he adds.

Spirits may have been crushed in some quarters after those minor and U20 defeats, but Ryan plays down their immediate significance, by instead pointing to extenuating circumstances on and off the field.

“There were a lot of underlying issues with those losses,” he argues. “That U17 team was really unfortunate as I don’t think they were looked after that well during lockdown when they were U16s. That’s a problem for another day and how that became an issue.

“The U20s had been cruelly dealt a couple of bad injury blows with Cian Galvin and Shane Meehan ruled out. They are arguably two of their best hurlers, while losing Mark Rodgers to the seniors was another huge blow.”

The seniors, meanwhile, despite all the doom and gloom, have gone about their business away from all the noise.

“People are underestimating this Clare team,” says Ryan. “They have been constantly on the rise and progressing and when you compare this year to last year, there’s certainly a far more balanced team there.

“John Conlon has settled into centre-back and they have tried to play a different way with him starting attacks. The defence looks more solid with Diarmuid Ryan there and I would like to see David McInerney go in there for the weekend. Elsewhere Colm Galvin, David Reidy, and Aron Shanagher are all much better players this year than the last few years.

“Do we have seven or eight top-class inter-county players that are going to be in the running for All-Stars every year? No we don’t, but the team is working really well together.

“In 2013 it was the likes of Pat O’Connor, Domhnall O’Donovan, and Cian Dillon, the lads that you aren’t talking about as much, that gel a team together and fill those positions that you need and do that quiet jobs that they don’t get the plaudits for.”

Credit for this job of work and ethic goes to manager Brian Lohan, with the team being an embodiment of the way the two-time All-Ireland winner and four-time All-Star performed in his own playing days.

“Brian appears to be getting a song out of an awful lot of players that maybe wouldn’t fit in in other years in the way that Clare were playing,” says Ryan.

“The team is really fighting hard, is very balanced and, for sure, Clare will have a much more settled team.

“Cork are probably going in with more questions than answers and probably looking at how they counteract what happened against Limerick, while Clare are really settling into this championship and understanding where they’re at. That’s why they can win and take the next step.”

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