After a weekend of missing one another, David Tubridy fields the call on Sunday evening. Before we delve into his 11 seasons with the Clare footballers or their latest trip to Killarney, there’s an afternoon of shocks to parse through.
Longford dumping Meath out of Leinster, he did not see coming. Carlow scoring a first championship win over Kildare since 1953, on the other hand, was no major surprise. Not for him, anyway. The Clare corner-forward has a couple of friends in Carlow and knew they were motoring well.
Scrolling through Twitter, he came across a stat highlighting how seven counties from Division 1 and 2 of the league have now been knocked out of their respective provincial championship. More than you’d expect for this time of year.
Clare finished third in Division 2 this spring. They’ll be joined in the league’s second-tier by Kildare as well as Meath next year and yet it is they who are looking to cause another shock — rather than be the victims of one — at Fitzgerald Stadium.
Tomorrow’s clash with Kerry is their fourth Munster semi-final meeting in five years, their fifth championship collision in the same period. The margins of victory for Kerry have been four, 12, 11, and six points.
Those series of defeats would suggest there remains a considerable gap between the counties and yet belief has never been stronger in the Banner camp that they can topple the Kingdom. Certainly, Colm Collins’ charges know they can live with them, as they proved this time last year in Ennis.
“It is just a great buzz to go out and play in a Championship match knowing you can upset a big team. I was looking at the results today; I was full sure Meath would beat Longford. There’s a great buzz when you see upsets all over the country,” says the Doonbeg native.
Tubridy joined the senior squad in 2008 and in his first six seasons, there were two Munster championship wins and none in the qualifiers. Since Collins came in as manager ahead of the 2014 season, they’ve chalked up five wins in Munster and five more through the backdoor.
“We beat Cork in the league this year and last. If you told me that back when I started, I wouldn’t have believed you. This is how far Clare football has come since then. It’s great.
“It is easier to train and you are looking forward to championship and to facing Kerry, knowing you have a chance of upsetting them. That’s a great feeling.
“In 2012, we got to the Munster final. Cork beat us by 12 points. Our reward for getting to a Munster final was meeting Kerry in the fourth round of qualifiers. They beat us by something like 19 points (2-22 to 1-6). That was only six years ago. It shows the distance Clare football has come. It is more enjoyable these days.”
At the recent Munster Championship launch in Bunratty Castle, Colm Collins admitted to tolerating players during the early part of his tenure who wouldn’t exactly be top of the class for commitment. These were talented guys who management needed while they sought to build a panel. That’s no longer the case and, as results show, the Banner are stronger for it.
“Whenever a manager has rung me, I have always given everything to Clare football. Before Colm came in, we weren’t getting the full dedication of players from around the county,” says Tubridy.
“When Colm came in five years ago, he put this belief into us that we are as good as any team out there. We are close [to a scalp], we just need to step it up another gear to get it over the line.
“Unfortunately, we have come up against Kerry the last few years. If we had been on the other side of the draw, we could have been in a few Munster finals.
“Last year against Kerry in Ennis, we were a few points up early in the second half and struck the crossbar. That changed the game in Kerry’s favour. They went up and kicked five points straight away. That took the wind out of us.
“If we could just beat one of those teams, it could prove huge for everyone on the panel.”
In that defeat to Kerry, Éamonn Fitzmaurice got a return of 1-2 from his bench. Clare’s replacements failed to score, as was the case when they scraped past Limerick in their Munster opener last summer.
This was duly noted by management, with a raft of new faces afforded game-time in 2018.
In their latest Munster quarter-final win over Limerick last month, five subs — Gavin Cooney, Conor Finucane, Gearoid O’Brien, Conal Ó hAinifein, and Martin O’Leary — contributed 0-6. Three of this group — Ó hAinifein, Cooney, and Finucane — were championship debutants.
“The bench has been a big part of the difference between ourselves and Kerry in the past. Colm is always trying to strengthen the bench and it was really encouraging to see the contribution they made against Limerick. We’ll need more of the same this weekend.”
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