It was the toughest draw they could have got, goalkeeper Joe Hayes concedes. No mind, though. Such is Clare’s rising graph, they’re not unduly fazed by Mayo’s impending visit.
Yesterday morning’s third round football qualifier draw had the look a minefield about it for Colm Collins’ charges.
On the menu was Mayo, Donegal or Meath. Difficult to know which would have been the most manageable; a trip to Navan, Castlebar or Ballybofey.
Andy McEntee’s side whipped them to the tune of 12 points in the league, while Donegal, by Joe Hayes’ contention, still remain in football’s top six despite performances and commentary pointing to a decline.
Out of the bowl came Mayo. Crucial, though, is that Clare were out before them and so the 2016 defeated All-Ireland finalists will travel to Ennis this Saturday (5pm). As will the RTÉ cameras, suggestive that the first championship meeting between the two counties will be no quick-run race.
Even Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice gave mention of the Banner during his post-match interview at Fitzgerald Stadium.
“Go back to the semi-final against Clare; we treated that game with the utmost respect and we needed to. And I think Clare showed what they are about on Saturday and they will keep showing what they are about, which is no surprise to me.”
During this Munster semi-final meeting at Cusack Park on June 11, Clare led 1-8 to 0-10 when Jamie Malone struck the Kerry crossbar with the game’s outstanding goal chance. The hosts stumbled thereafter and despite being just three in arrears (0-16 to 1-10) on the hour mark, the result was never in doubt coming down the stretch.
Hayes knows they’ll fall similarly short if another 60-minute performance is churned out this weekend.
“Not having to travel is a huge advantage, but it is still one of the top teams coming down to you. It is a massive challenge for us and one we are looking forward to,” says the Clare goalkeeper.
“For us, it depends on which Clare turns up. This year, we’ve been somewhat inconsistent. We’ve put in some good performances and some not so good performances. I felt we showed up at the weekend against Laois. Our forwards worked awful hard and you can’t really complain with 2-18. We were solid in defence too.
“You play football to put yourself up against the big teams. We’ve played a big gun already this year and we came up short.
"We went with Kerry for 64, 65 minutes, but they were comfortable in the end. If we want to be thereabouts come the end of Saturday’s game, we are going to have to perform for the 70 minutes. Anything less won’t be good enough.”
Extra-time aside, Mayo stuttered and stammered for most of their second round qualifier against Derry. And with Paddy Durcan suspended, allied to the shin injury incurred by Lee Keegan, Stephen Rochford’s troops won’t exactly be brimming with confidence travelling down to Ennis. Clare are a different animal to what they once were. The same could nearly be said of Mayo.
“Some people might think they are vulnerable but they still got the goal when they needed to against Derry,” Hayes continues. “I don’t think they’re vulnerable. The kicked on comfortably in extra-time. Some of the best players in the country are playing for them. It is up to us to go at Mayo and see what we can do.
“Galway just about held on when they beat them. Derry will be disappointed they didn’t do it in normal time, but Mayo just looked so strong and comfortable in extra-time. You have to look at what they’ve done over the past couple of years.
"They’ve been within a point of winning the All-Ireland on more than one occasion in recent years.”
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