It was as early as the first week of February that Cian Dillon was championing the “off the cuff” approach favoured by Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney.
The latter pair may have been in the job no more than four months, but Clare’s joint-managers certainly didn’t hang about in dismantling the rigid style of their predecessor.
Dillon described Fitzgerald’s system as “structured”, whereas the new lads on the sideline were keen for the players to “play with freedom and do what’s natural”.
Central to this philosophy was abandoning the sweeper role, with half-back Pat O’Connor earlier this week admitting he was never a fan of having a seventh body in the Banner defence.
Former Clare hurler Frank Lohan holds a similar view to that of O’Connor and is looking forward to watching a Clare team this weekend that isn’t hindered or restricted by the negative approach.
“Results over the years have shown that the sweeper isn’t effective,” said Lohan.
“You won’t win big games with a sweeper. There are too many negatives associated with it. You never see Kilkenny or Tipperary employing a sweeper.
“One of the main strengths of this Clare team is that we have very good forwards. You must play to your strengths and you’re not doing that if you isolate them by only playing five forwards. You’re giving an advantage to the opposition because you’re giving their defence more time on the ball and more time to deliver better ball into their forwards.”
This, in part, meant the All-Ireland win of 2013 was never built on. The last three championship campaigns delivered just three victories from 10 games. There was no Munster championship win and no August involvement. Lohan, a two-time All-Ireland medal winner, says the team underperformed.
“I think they’d probably view it that they should be achieving more than they have done. If that’s underperforming, then yes they have [underperformed]. The players that are there have won an awful lot at underage, have that All-Ireland in 2013 and a league last year. So, they have won one or two competitions, but the 2014, ‘15 and ‘16 championships weren’t what they’d expect.
“Clare are an extremely talented bunch. They’re probably sick of people saying that about them. They haven’t been back to Croke Park since 2013.
There is a new management team this year and they’ll be keen to get off to a flyer.”
With Limerick also under new management, Lohan has labelled Sunday’s game in Thurles as “huge” for two counties seeking to reestablish themselves.
“If you get a win, it guarantees you a Munster final and guarantees you an All-Ireland quarter-final, at a minimum. For both teams, that could make your summer.
“It is also a huge game for both teams given the result of the Cork-Tipperary game and how that has brought an element of uncertainty as to who will win Munster. The team that everyone thought was top of the pile in Munster is gone. And even in the life cycle of where this Clare team is at, it is a huge game for them.”
Were Moloney and O’Connor’s charges to do the business at Semple Stadium, it would mark the county’s second provincial championship win since 2008. Lohan feels their poor Munster form of late is somewhat overdone.
“You can go back a lot further than nine years. I know from my own playing days that we had a good run for two or three years, but then after that, it was lean enough. Winning a few matches in Munster has been difficult for this county for a long, long time. If they could get a win on Sunday, it would go someway to correcting that poor record.”
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