Brian Lohan and company making all the right moves

Perhaps it was because Rory Hayes is a fellow clubman that Lohan felt he could single him out for his poor showing tagging Rory O’Connor in the first half of Clare's League defeat to Wexford
Brian Lohan and company making all the right moves

24 April 2022; John Conlon of Clare celebrates after the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 2 match between Tipperary and Clare at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Perhaps it was because Rory Hayes is a fellow Wolfe Tones clubman that Brian Lohan felt he could single out the defender for his poor showing tagging Rory O’Connor in the first half of Clare's League defeat to Wexford in February.

His analysis was damning. “Yeah, Rory Hayes won’t be happy with his first half performance, 1-4 scored off him and three frees,” highlighted the Clare manager. “It’s an awful lot to be conceding for a corner-back. He won’t be happy with that.” 

Off the back of two All-Star nominations, Hayes’ form couldn’t be questioned but it was a reminder from Lohan that there can be no let-up. The message was heard loud and clear. Apart from being held off by Alan Connolly for Cork’s second goal last Sunday week, the 26-year-old has hardly put a foot wrong since.

“He’s an All-Star nomination the last two years and save for Seán Finn he’s probably the best corner-back in the country,” says Clare’s two-time All-Ireland winner and All-Star defender Liam Doyle. 

“Hopefully, from our point of view there are a lot more matches left this summer but throughout this year and last year he has been consistent and chipping in with a score here and there. He’s typical of the work ethic in the defence, working for one other, covering for one another. They’re helping out in clusters more, giving them that freedom and just assessing what’s in front of them and going at it.” 

Without key players, Clare’s full-back line was exposed in the early part of the league but the decision to return John Conlon to centre-back from the draw against Limerick coincided with a shoring up in the rearguard. Just when it appeared Lohan was satisfied to return the Clonlara man to a more natural attacking slot, he was switched to No 6.

“You have to give credit to the Clare management,” Doyle believes. “90%, if not more of his hurling has been played in the forward line. A lot of people said it wouldn’t work but Brian persevered with it, stuck with it. His performances have spoken for themselves and justified what’s been done.” 

It was also against Limerick that David McInerney and David Fitzgerald, who was excellent against Tipperary the last day, began at wing-back and half-forward respectively. The left half-back was a position McInerney eventually filled by the end of the last championship as he made his way back from injury.

“A move of position is as good as a change and down through the years he would have played in mostly central positions – three, six and nine. It’s a change but not a huge one. If he gives performances like the last two then management will be fairly happy. The way the game has gone, you have to adapt and move into different positions. John going back, David Fitzgerald moving the other way, the Clare management hasn’t been afraid to not just try in one or two games but give an extended amount of time for these players to adjust to these switches.” 

There is a perception that Clare’s backs foul more than others, that Conor Cleary puts himself under too much pressure picking up yellow cards, but Doyle dismisses that theory. “If you go through every game, there are going to a certain amount of fouls committed. If you’re isolated inside there with your own marker one-on-one, you’re going to foul rather than concede a goal. It’s part and parcel of the game now. Sometimes referees are blowing for handy frees too.

“The way the game is gone, full-back is one of the hard positions you can play in. You can be inside and there’s nobody but your man within 30 or 40 yards of you. If you take what’s been scored off him (Cleary), he’s given away an odd free, which as I said is part and parcel of the game. But if you take his record over the last few matches off him from play, it hasn’t been a lot (four points across the Tipperary and Cork games). He had an excellent year last year and he’s had a good one this year.”

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