Clare sights not wandering to final dozen ahead of Sligo meeting

Joe Hayes is unsure which provincial runners-up await Clare should Colm Collins’ side do the business in Markievicz Park this afternoon.

The Clare goalkeeper is sick of being told that the Banner men are on the softer side of the football draw, but he still isn’t sure who they’d be up against were they to secure a rare fourth round spot.

“Is it the Leinster runners-up,” he asks, before adding “and the Connacht runners-up, I think.”

He’s correct with his second assumption, but it is defeated Munster finalists Tipperary, rather than the losers of tomorrow’s Dublin-Westmeath Leinster-final, who also provide potential fourth round opposition.

Not that he’s looking that far. Who are Clare to be contemplating last 12 football when in the 16-year history of the qualifiers the county has reached the fourth round on just one occasion?

“We were there in 2012 when we lost the Munster final to Cork. When you lose a Munster final you wind up being in the last 12, it wasn’t a case that we won a couple of games through the backdoor to get there,” remarked Hayes.

“Listen, we are concentrating on Sligo and nothing else.”

And rightly so for when it comes to the fourth round, Sligo have developed a knack of making sure they’re still in the mix. The Yeats County, whether it be through a Connacht final appearance or a decent backdoor run, have appeared in the final qualifier round on four occasions since 2010.

“Sligo were in the last 12 last year and the year before that. How many points were they up on Roscommon at half-time in the Connacht semi-final? I know they were disappointed with their second-half, but they have some top quality players in Mark Breheny, Adrian Marren, Kyle Cawley, Niall Murphy and Cian Breheny.”

The Clare custodian is also quick to add that little should be read into their Division 3 league meeting at the end of January. The home side bossed proceedings from first whistle to last and won with seven to spare, 1-11 to 0-7.

“We had a month more work done than they had. That was January. This is July. Sligo will be a completely different animal. They’re going to be used of the pitch too. I have never played there. Enda Coughlan, maybe, played there in the early 2000s. Clare travel to Markievicz Park off the back of last weekend’s narrow win over Laois – the 0-14 to 1-10 victory representing just the county’s fifth qualifier win since their inception back in 2001. Even more impressive was the manner in which the spoils were claimed; the home outfit held Mick Lillis’ side scoreless in the final quarter as they reeled in a four-point deficit before edging in front at the death.

“Collectively, we were very disappointed leaving Killarney after the Munster semi-final. Individually, then, a lot of us were disappointed with our own performances, myself included. So it was great to come out on the right side of a real battle last weekend.

“I don’t think people realised how bad conditions were. Everyone thought the conditions were shocking at the Connacht final simply because they could see it on TV, but they were nearly worse below in Ennis. It was great the way we clawed ourselves back into it.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of enough of those close games over the years. There was Kildare two years ago, Down back in 2011. We lost that game by a point.

“We played Offaly in 2010 where we were winning, then they came back and levelled it. The game went to extra-time and we wound up losing it in extra-time.

“It is down to us to make sure we are on the right side of them kind of results. They have been few and far between over the last couple of years. We won one last week which we needed to. That was a start.”


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