Clare v Kildare
@ Cusack Park, Ennis 7pm
THE last time Clare won an All-Ireland Qualifier game before Sunday’s win over Carlow was way back in 2006 when the long journey to the fourth green field and a date with Antrim in Casement Park was rewarded with a great win.
It set them up for a home tie in Cusack Park against Fermanagh, a team that only two years previously had gone all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final through the Qualifiers and were unlucky losers to Mayo after a replay.
That Fermanagh game was one that Clare could have won, only to fall short in the closing ten minutes as the Erne County powered by All Stars Barry Owens and Marty McGrath got home by 0-15 to 0-10.
Still, leaving Cusack Park that day, the feeling was that Clare had a football team again under the management of Donie Buckley and Michael Brennan.
They had, but after Buckley and Brennan departed a few months later things fell away once more.
Indeed, it’s not until now that the feeling of Clare having a football team once more as they embark on what will be their fifth championship match of the season, a first time in 97 years that they’ll have racked up this number.
Why stop there though? Why not get a sixth game out it?
What an opportunity this is for Clare! A home game and against a Division 1 side, yet at the same time it’s against a side that should certainly hold no fears for Colm Collins’ emerging side.
After all, Kildare didn’t exactly shoot the lights out in Division 1, ending up the year relegated, while Clare went in the opposite direction in moving up to Division 3 for 2015.
Allied to this, Kildare are the great underachievers. Huge money and huge resources have been invested in Kildare over the years and while they’ve taken some big scalps and are a proven team in the Qualifiers, they’ve still always come up short.
They haven’t won a Leinster title since Mick O’Dwyer’s time in 1998 and 2000, while they’ve always been out-gunned when it mattered most.
Still, they’ll come to Cusack Park in confidence, buoyed by their impressive 1-18 to 0-11 win over Down in Páirc Esler on Sunday. The Lilywhites had a great spread of scorers, with all six starting forwards scoring as well the two midfielders.
They’re strong at the back with Hugh McGrillen and Emmet Bolton being their stand-out players while up front in the absence of the retired Johnny Doyle players like Padraig O’Neill and Eoghan O’Flaherty have stepped up to take more responsibility.
Clare will be undaunted, however, as they look to build on the impressive display against Carlow. Like Kildare, all of their starting forwards scored, the midfielders too, while of the subs Paudge McMahon and Conor Cleary had impressive cameos.
It will be much harder against Kildare’s well drilled and at times blanket defence, while getting things right at the back is the key – it goes without saying that shipping 2-13 like they did last Sunday will see them on the losing side.
It’s still a tall order for Clare, but a win isn’t out of the question.
Getting into the same position as they were against Kerry at half-time in the Munster semi-final has to be the first target. Do that, then build instead of falling away badly as they did against the Kingdom.
Then, who knows, even though the Lilywhite might just prevail by a couple of points.