NOW, this is a great league format and we don’t want it changed! That was the chatter from Clare supporters leaving the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday because we had relegated Cork, Jimmy Barry, Frank Murphy and even former player Alan Browne, who had suggested before this game that it would a disaster if Cork were relegated, not so much Clare!
That’s us having a bit of cake and eating it as is our right after emerging intact from such a tense ninety minutes of hurling. There were serious positives to take from Limerick, not least our total domination of the last hour of the match.
There is a danger in concentrating on the glaring negative, which was twenty three wides, but when you are still winning games with that erratic figure, then it doesn’t matter if you have a hundred (if you’re still winning).
Clare showed us so much on Sunday. We went to Limerick playing a serious team in Cork, who had to win this game, yet we dominated them and then did it again in extra time. Forget how impotent they were, the importance of this game could stretch much further than simple Division 1A preservation.
Clare’s response to going five points down early in the second half and then again going two behind with two to play was a sign of the character we have seen previously in this team. Coming as it did after the setback against Tipperary, it is yet another sign of wellbeing.
The league was always a means to an end and that end is championship. We needed to finish the league with strong pointers to our starting fifteen for Waterford and we are some way down the road to that.
Colm Galvin’s display deserves special mention. He may have been challenged for man of the match honours by David McInerney, but the leadership shown by this young man only out of minor was at times Lohan-esque. He steadied the ship, he showed something a lot of his fellow forwards lacked, composure, and above all his interventions were all at crucial times. He’s one of our midfielders come Thurles.
McInerney was a very close second. His display was measured and in the second half he simply powered into the game. He carried with purpose and maturity. He starts in our full backline come June.
The last fifty or so minutes saw hugely imporved and commanding dsiplays from all our backs, Pat O’Connor, Pat Donnellan, Brendan Bugler and as usual, Domhnal O’Donovan. Cork had nothing to compete with our power in this sector and we appeared to dominate at will.
Colin Ryan shot more wides than he used to and from placed balls we are starting to lack the consistency a serious teams needs from frees. They are hard won and must be converted. Having said that Ryan was still our most prolific player in the league, again landing vital scores from play on Sunday. Probably our best all round performer this spring.
Seadna Morey had a quiet ending to the league, but one or two cameos on Sunday still suggest he would be more effective closer to the opposition goal. Finding that spot may be problematic because it would require moving someone else.
But who? Would Morey and Galvin be a little ‘light’ manning midfield? That’s one for the management team and not an easy one at that.
Upfront the return of Conor McGrath definitely improves our shape, options and goal threat. He’s still on the comeback trail but what a plus a fully fit McGrath will be in June. He starts then and is a key man.
Tony Kelly’s continues to mature at a startling rate. Two points down with time running out he took responsibility to shoot a point that made extra time a possibility. And we expected nothing less. Fitness permitting, a starter for years to come.
John Conlon is the warrior forward every team needs. He takes punishment for his partners in forward crime and he continuously shows for that punishment. A half forward he is by trade. We’d like more return perhaps from his industry but there isn’t much else we’d change about him.
Darach Honan has given us flashes over the past few weeks and Sunday was his first start in a Clare jersey of note for almost two years. He won the free that drew the game and fired over two key points, one of them with his trademark nonchalism. There’s more in him and we need it this summer. Fit enough and he starts.
Shane O’Donnell has been the discovery of the league for Clare. Kilkenny was his highpoint and he has shown enough potential and improvement to warrant a starting slot. The trouble he has caused some notable opposing backs speaks volume for his quality. He won’t be nineteen until June.
Of course Patrick Kelly has nailed down the key goalkeeping position. He wobbled mid-league but made the key save from Paudie O’Sullivan to keep us in Division 1A. That and doing the simple things right is all you want from a goalie, Kelly is clearly that man.
The management’s league has been a profitable one. They’ve found out plenty about their young team and ended six games with Division 1A status intact. We all would have taken that to start.
They’ve had their rocky moments. The importance of every fixture restricted the room for experimentation but they are to be complimented in going with O’Donnell, David McInerney and a few more and not panicking.
Before Sunday they had been a little slow to act on the line, but they weren’t hanging around in the Gaelic Grounds. Conor Ryan was in difficulty and he was replaced. It was the right call. Peter Duggan’s call to shore was a strange decision as he definitely was making an impact. The selectors answer was that they were wasting time at that juncture by making substitutions. It didn’t impact the game really, the hope is it won’t impact the player. Duggan has lots to offer, especially in the air.
Elsewhere off the bench Cathal McInerney showed us he can’t be ruled out of the equation either. He made a difference and clearly has an understanding with Conor McGrath that could mean goals. He’s back in the mix.
Fergal Lynch’s efforts in a Clare jersey have been much maligned but it is not hard to see why successive Clare managements call on him. His honesty on the field for his team mates around him justify his game time.
We can’t forget Nicky O’Connell, Cian Dillon, Paudge and Sean Collins, James McInerney, Enda Barrett and Jonathan Clancy. All have something to offer, all will be in the mix.
We’re six weeks from the first Sunday in June, albeit interrupted. The first part of this year has been a success. Progress has been made. Well done to all. Now, we drive on.