They have been down this road before so forgive Micheal McDermott for being cautious.
In 2010, Clare had an unblemished record after six games of their Division 4 league campaign and only needed two points from their last two ties.
But a coveted promotion spot slipped from their grasp when they drew with Limerick, lost to Waterford and have been battling to escape from the basement division ever since.
Today they fly to London for a joust tomorrow with the home side in Ruislip. Their promotion prospects are strong and healthy on the back of three consecutive victories over Limerick and Carlow, both by slender one-point margins, and a decisive six-point win over Leitrim last week. Second in the table with three games to go yet McDermott is not dreaming of life in Division 3 yet.
“Because of the position we were in two years ago, we’ve consciously made an attempt not to talk about promotion this year,” he said.
“We’re just fully focused on every game and we’ll be approaching it in the exact same way. Division 4 is a real battleground as everyone has one eye on promotion at all times. In other divisions, people are happy with consolidation but that’s not the way it is in Division 4.
“But there’s a very good spirit in the camp. We set ourselves a target of four successive victories at the start of this month and we have three of them in the bag from the games against Limerick, Carlow and Leitrim. The win over Carlow in particular was a huge boost as we played second fiddle for long stretches. We were down by four points before stealing the game from Carlow late on. I think momentum from that stood to us against Leitrim.”
That sense of optimism has trickled down to other layers of Clare football. The county U21 side fashioned a notable victory over Limerick in the Munster quarter-final last Wednesday week and now face Cork next Wednesday night in Páirc Uí Rinn. Six of the U21 squad — Shane Brennan, Stephen Tierney, Darren O’Neill, Sean O’Driscoll, Paudge Collins and Conor Ryan — are part of the senior setup yet only Brennan will be in Ruislip tomorrow.
“We’re discussed it with the U21 management who we have a very good relationship with. We wanted to do everything in our power to ensure the U21s are in the right frame of mind for next week’s game. Their victory over Limerick last week was a really good boost and while they face a huge challenge against Cork next week, I know it’s one they’re looking forward to rather than fearing.”
In an ideal world, McDermott would like it if that U21 representation on the senior squad was swelled further. The key ingredient in that victory over Limerick was the opportunism of full-forward Cathal McInerney who helped himself to 2-1. McInerney is a strong figure at senior level but that it is in hurling, with Davy Fitzgerald’s panel.
“Cathal is a fantastic footballer and he showed that for the U21s. Of course we’d love to have him with the seniors but the truth is that hurling is his first love and we’ve always known that.
“He’s been going very well with the Clare senior squad. Realistically for a guy of his age, I don’t think it’s possible to be a dual senior when you’ve college commitments involved as well. You have to think of player welfare.”
One attacker who has made a fine impact for Clare this spring is Shane McGrath, a Dublin native from the Thomas Davis club, who has linked up with the county under the parentage rule. McGrath is son of former Shannon Gaels and Clare star, John, who played for the county throughout the 70s and helped Munster win the inter-provincial title in 1977.
“Shane’s settled in very well and he’s a good addition to our forward line. He is very interested in it and has great Clare blood in him, with both his parents hailing from the county. He’s one of six players on our panel based in Dublin but we train in Limerick IT on Tuesday nights and they travel up and down for those sessions.”
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